Gary Bases, President, BRIL Inc.
In an era of corporate reorganization, mergers, and globalization, metalcasting is one of several critical industries (which also includes brick, refractory, and insulation manufacturing) that requires a well-educated workforce in order to remain profitable and competitive. More specifically, all these industries are alike in requiring an immediate commitment to fundamental research — research that is essential to providing innovative solutions and technological developments for the brick, refractory, and insulation materials being used in metalcasting operations. Achieving these goals requires not only a coordinated commitment to education and research programs from the engineering, science, and technology sectors, but also requires an effective networking of these academic and industrial concerns for a qualified work force. Continuing education can achieve these goals.
Melting and holding systems remain some of the core operations of a metalcasting process, but metalcasting today is not the same as it was 20 years ago. Furnace outages are fewer. And, the workforce has aged. No longer do metalcasters and OEMs have the expertise to monitor the proper installation of brick and refractory. Also, the workforce installing these materials on large projects, such as new rotary kilns and electric arc furnaces, has little or no experience working in metalcasting operations.
Working in metalcasting requires a special understanding of all the different types of furnaces and equipment, their unique operational requirements, and the high degree of multi-directional expansion that can occur. Yet, how many people that work in metalcasting really know or understand even the basics of proper material selection, what constitutes a proper installation, or heat loss?
Most plants and manufacturers do not even take into consideration furnace heat loss. Yet, it has been proven that insulation installed to save energy saves money at a rate that is essential for efficient plant operation. Most operators are unaware of the six key factors that are critical to understanding heat loss: wind velocity, ambient air temperature, surface temperature, "K" value, emissivity factor, and operating temperature. It seems that the metalcasting industry has forgotten that minimizing heat loss will save energy. Saving energy means the plant will use less fuel to reach and maintain the furnace's operating conditions.
Recently, President Bush made an instructive comment: "Energy is a problem that requires action; not politics, not excuses, but action," he said. Obviously, the action that the president was referring to should be applied to the metalcasting industry, too.
Educating today's metalcasting work force is an essential objective for the industry. This includes the plant labor as well as management personnel. Specifically, all of them should have a working knowledge of every aspect of brick, refractory, and insulation, from design to installation. This should be a mandatory requirement for those working in a metalcasting operation.
Everyone working in the metalcasting industry — plant managers, engineers, operators, purchasing managers, maintenance workers, professional and service engineers, and installation contractors — will benefit from a continuing education program that sets a standard for proper material applications and provides the information these professionals need to improve their furnace and plant reliability, to increase energy savings, and to prolong the life expectancy of their equipment. Most important, these much-needed programs should show how improperly designed and installed systems cost the industry millions of dollars in rework every year.
There is no greater need in the industry than a better educated work force, nor a more urgent time for it than now. Eventually, and perhaps quite soon, the air-pollution requirements currently imposed upon this country's gas and electric utilities will be extended to cover the metalcasting industry, too. When that happens metalcasters will be required to add very expensive air-pollution control equipment, such as precipitators, baghouses, scrubbers, and selective catalytic reducers, to contain sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), mercury, and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Insulation and lagging systems will be a big part of this work, and will represent almost 7% of the total construction cost for these projects.
A little knowledge pays off
Lower fuel costs always coincide with lower equipment and maintenance costs. Energy savings can only be achieved by properly designing and installing brick, refractory, insulation, and lagging, and this effort begins with a better educated work force. The longer these systems stay in place and meet their thermal and energy requirements, the longer the furnaces and equipment will remain in normal operation.
The lack of experience in the work force, the lack of accepted industry standards, and the lack of training are among the reasons that the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) now offers Continuing Education Institute Short Courses on insulation and lagging. ASME understands the importance of these components, and recommends that all plant managers, plant engineers, plant operators, maintenance personnel, professional and service engineers, installation contractors, and labor crafts, take continuing education courses.
Knowledge is everything! As workers in the metalcasting industry learn more about brick, refractory, insulation, and lagging, the industry will be served and strengthened.
Gary Bases is the author of The Bril Book, a complete guide to brick, refractory, insulation, and lagging systems. He is an ASME Instructor, and president of BRIL, inc., an independent consulting firm specializing in brick, refractory, insulation, and lagging. Contact him at Tel. 330-665-2931 or [email protected]