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Hunter marks 25 years of molding innovations.

Hunter Marks 25 Years of Molding Innovation

The 1960s were golden years for foundries in America. In 1961, nearly 13 million tons of ferrous castings, alone, were shipped. By 1967 shipments of iron and steel castings surpassed 19 million tons, an all-time high at that point. For U.S. metalcasters, business didn't get any better than this.

The huge and growing demand for castings during the decade created pressure on foundries to produce castings, faster and better. For most foundries, this meant making more molds faster and better. The molding department was the key to meeting the growing needs of casting customers.

The need for well-trained molders had been talked about for years. In the boom days of the late '50s and early '60s, the chronic shortage of experienced molders, or even people who wanted to be molders, became one of the industry's most serious concerns.

Mold Line Automation

The foundries best equipped to react to the growing shortage of experienced molders were generally associated with high-volume work, notably those producing castings for the automotive industry. Although cost was a factor, there were other reasons why the existing automatic molding systems were out of reach for most medium and small foundries. Maintaining the equipment required knowledge of pneumatics, hydraulics and electrical controls. Such extensive knowledge was not needed with jolt-squeeze molders.

The new molding systems also required a higher level of expertise in areas like sand control; relying on the hand molder's "feel" for the right amount of moisture was out of the question.

Probably the most important and costly factor was that foundry patterns, many of which were matchplates, had to be adapted to the new high-speed, high-pressure molding equipment.

Maybe no one saw what was happening in the molding area better than Al Hunter. Born in Canada, Hunter spent his early years working his way through college and being a floor molder at John T. Hepburn, an iron foundry.

"When I was in the foundry, I was a floor molder but I watched people making matchplate molds and saw the amount of labor going into it," Hunter recalled. "Matchplate shops were all over the place and they were all labor intensive. Most people in the matchplate shops were on piecework, and the men were shoveling sand and working as fast as they could because their pay was based on how much they produced. They didn't always produce the best quality castings."

After working as an engineer with Dominion Engineering in Canada and Beardsley & Piper in Chicago, Hunter had an idea on how to automate the flaskless matchplate molding process. In 1964, he started his own company to develop his idea. The problems of cost, maintenance, sand control and existing matchplate patterns were all considerations in his design, making auitomated molding available to the small- and medium-sized foundry.

The first Machine

Al Hunter's first machine, which came off the drawing board in early 1964, was designed to accept existing matchplate patterns of the size being used by hand molders. It was developed to be a very forgiving machine in that it could produce quality, high-pressure sand molds from less than ideal sand.

The machine also was designed to be rugged, smooth operating, easy to understand and compact to the point where it would easily fit into the space of the jolt-squeeze machines it was designed to replace. Minimum installation cost and fast start-up were additional features important to foundrymen wanting to improve their operation.

Hunter began building his first machine, named the HMP-10 for "Hunter MatchPlate" molding machine, in his garage until he needed three-phase electrical power to operate and test it. He then rented a 2600 sq ft building in Skokie, IL, to finish the job and to manufacture additional machines.

That first machine was sold in October 1964 to Moline Malleable, St. Charles, IL. There were some brief start-up difficulties that had Al concerned for awhile, but all worked out well. In fact, it was almost an instant success.

During this early period, Moline Malleable, now Moline Corp, allowed Hunter to bring in visitors as if it were his own factory. Due to strong interest at the time, foundrymen were willing to travel to Chicago to see Hunter and the Hunter HMP-10 in operation at Moline. Word of mouth took over and the backlog of orders for the HMP-10 grew.

(Note: This original HMP-10, which was bought back from the Moline Corp in 1971, is now on permanent loan to the foundry program at the University of Alabama/Tuscaloosa.)

The company, during its second year of operation and with 12 employees, manufactured and shipped 12 HMP-10s. Most of the original 12 employees are with the company today, including Hunter family members; Vince Janis, vice president of sales and service; and Bill Nimmo, sales manager.

With business growing, Hunter Automated needed more space and rented a 9000 sq ft facility in Morton Grove, IL. That same year, the company made its first sale outside the U.S. as two HMP-10s were shipped to Fittings, Ltd, in Ontario.

1967 marked two milestones in Hunter's history. First, Hunter signed its first international licensing agreement. Second, the 100th HMP-10 was shipped to North American Foundry, Fort Smith, AR.

In 1968, with 39 employees, Hunter moved into its newly built plant, a 43,000 sq ft facility in Schaumburg, IL, its current location.

Today, 25 years and four expansions later, Hunter has manufactured and shipped nearly 1700 machines to foundries in 16 countries. These include molding systems, automatic coresetters, complete molding systems and abrasive cut-off machines. In addition, some 250 molding systems have been manufactured and sold by Hunter licensees.

Training and Service

The Hunter story isn't just one of having a good idea, building and selling it. Hunter realized early on that while automating a small foundry addressed a pressing need, it also created others. Hand molders in the past were expected to maintain their own equipment; however, the new automated systems required mechanical skills and knowledge that most molders did not possess.

The concept of the machine was that it had to be simple and flexible enough to make a variety of molds. It had one configuration and was designed to be universal in performance. But it was realized that it would also present new maintenance problems for many foundries.

The company's first step was to implement a telephone service assistance program. That was followed up with a factory instruction class on a regularly scheduled basis.

"Foundries could send their maintenance people to our factory and we would not only show them the machine, but also introduce them to the principles of automation, which included hydraulics, pneumatics and electrical circuitry," Janis said. "Since 1970, we have trained 2407 maintenance people in 191 classes held in our factory."

Another problem was that of repair parts. "Generally, the smaller the foundry, the less able or willing a company is to maintain an inventory of spare parts," Janis said. "Recognizing this, we've always maintained a large inventory of spare parts for our customers. Presently, our parts inventory is in excess of $4 million, and when you realize that we specialize in the green sand molding process, that's a significant commitment to customer support."

He added: "We've also maintained a policy that whenever a design improvement is made, we consciously try to make it so that it can also be retrofitted onto existing equipment. When a customer needs an older part, he can replace it with the new one and upgrade his machine at the same time."

Toward the Future

In looking ahead, Al Hunter was positive feelings about the foundry industry, green sand molding and his own company.

"Green sand molding is going to be around after a lot of the other processes are gone," he said. "I'm not afraid of green sand molding disappearing. My main concern is other processes like weldments, plastics and other materials replacing castings.

"Our philosophy hasn't changed during the last 25 years. Our goal remains to do the best job we can in green sand molding, but we're never going to make a casting better than the pattern used to make it and that is one of the future's concerns. What our customers are telling us is that they need to make closer tolerance parts. The equipment available today can do the job if the tooling is accurate. I see that getting much better."

The company's future looks positive, too. Bill Hunter, who has been active with the company since 1964 and is now president, said Hunter's direction remains the same.

"Green sand molding is our specialty, and we've spent a considerable amount of money in the last ten years on research and development on current and yet to be announced products," he said. "We're in a good position to supply the foundry industry with the best molding equipment available anywhere."

And for Hunter, "anywhere" includes the international market. "We're now making significant penetration into the international markets, where previously we were not a significant force," Bill Hunter said. "We're also looking at producing larger machines which will extend our market and choice to the foundries."

On the future of the foundry industry in general, Al Hunter, now chairman of the board and director of product development, said: "I'm not worried about it. I see foundries getting better and better. As long as we keep working at it, we'll all be OK."
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Foundry Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Hunter Automated Machinery Corp.
Author:Kanicki, David P.
Publication:Modern Casting
Article Type:company profile
Date:Nov 1, 1989
Words:1565
Previous Article:Competing in the 1990s; no longer business as usual.
Next Article:SPC for small to medium foundry's sand system.
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