Roy Evers: 'Using Castings to Make Castings' at St. Louis Precision.
When discussing how his 30-year-old vision of running a foundry that produces cast tooling has survived, Roy Evers, president, St. Louis Precision Casting Co. (STLPCC), St. Louis, constantly works expressions such as these into his verbiage.
The son of a foundry entrepreneur, Evers has established himself in the metalcasting industry as a maverick by starting his own business against the advice of experts and with nary a penny to spare and surviving in one of the toughest casting niche markets around--and one that relies nearly entirely on the success of the foundry industry itself.
Evers' devotion to the motto "use castings to make castings" has taken STLPCC and its capabilities into various markets until finding where its niche was best suited. As a foundry working for foundries, STLPCC has found a unique way to not only market its product but to add pride and strength to the industry.
Following a Dream
Growing up in an entrepreneurial atmosphere, Evers was not foreign to the ideals of starting a business. His father owned a number of businesses in St. Louis, including a nonferrous foundry and a pattern shop for the construction and farming industries. Evers spent time at each of these shops, learning the ropes of the industry.
Following college and an apprenticeship at his father's pattern shop (Consolidated Pattern & Manufacturing Co.), he pursued the formation of his own foundry that specialized in cast tooling. It was a case of "the bird wanting to leave the nest to see if it could fly," according to Evers. "I never considered buying a business. I thought that if you wanted a business, you start one."
Being familiar with foundry processes and equipment, Evers chose a niche that was a natural extension of patternmaking and toolmaking. "Coming from the metalcutting side of tooling, I thought I would be able to speak my customer's language and get inside his brains and know what he wanted," he said. "I could appreciate what was important to him."
Despite suggestions from established foundrymen to abandon his vision for lack of money and experience, Evers, in true maverick fashion, moved ahead with his plan. "I knew I wanted to be a foundryman," he said. "I didn't have a second choice."
In 1971, with only $100,000 in capital and without equipment, customers or a telephone number, Evers opened STLPCC's doors without any help and began to turn his dream into a reality. With his "burning fire in the belly" and unlimited desire to work, a major reason behind Evers' successful venture was that he had no escape route. "I was mortgaged from here to there," he said. "If it didn't work, the alternative was bankruptcy. A 'plan B' was not part of my thinking because I believed that the minute I started making plans about what I was going to do if I should lose, I already would have lost."
For Evers and STLPCC, the watch word was survive. "Survive today so that you can come back and do it one more day," according to Evers. He knew the kind of castings he wanted to make, and a multitude of surveys sent to potential customers in various industrial markets indicated who would want to buy them.
In STLPCC's early years, its primary market was aluminum and beryllium copper cast tooling for the domestic shoe industry. A decade later, this industry began to move offshore, while the U.S. automotive industry chose to "stand and fight," according to Evers. This industry was changing from eight to four cylinders, from fabrications to castings, from iron to aluminum in the powertrain and suspension systems, and focusing more on improved fit and finish, which changed the way foundries did business. "It caused anguish, and, in some cases, dislocated businesses, but it also created opportunities," said Evers.
In reaction, Evers moved his foundry away from nonferrous cast-to-size tooling for the shoe industry and found a niche in producing ferrous near-net-shape cast tooling for the automotive industry. Evers had noticed the increasing use of aluminum in this sector and decided to cast iron and steel tooling for these parts. "We grew with the trends and today are happy to be partnering with one of the world's leading industries," he said.
Today, the foundry industry accounts for 90% of STLPCC's 450 current jobs, with 60% of foundry tooling going to permanent molders and 30% to sand casters. For this market, it casts patterns, coreboxes, permanent molds, dies and short-mn and prototype pieces up to 1600 lb in carbon, tool and stainless steels (60% of its metal use), and Meehanite iron. It produces its cast tooling in nobake sand for other markets such as automotive, farm implement and construction.
"We definitely are a niche operation," said Evers. "We are not in the mainstream of the foundry business, and we don't try to be all things to all customers. Some jobs don't fit our capabilities, and some of the best jobs are the ones you don't take."
Because of the types of jobs STLPCC undertakes, it does not make sense for Evers to automate his operation. The foundry always is producing low numbers of a certain casting, leaving no opportunity to perform a preproduction run. Shop floor workers, who are cross-trained in all foundry functions, must be able to improvise and work with the type of pattern the customer gives them and get it right the first time. "The clock is ticking from the get-go, and we cannot allow for high scrap rates," said Evers. "Yield is not in our vocabulary."
Just as he was in the early 80s, Evers always is prepared to make changes for the better of the foundry. "In the years ahead, other processes and materials will improve and evolve," he said. "As an industry and as a company, we will react and innovate. Our niche position--specialty cast tooling for the foundry industry--will contribute to our continued success."
Use Castings to Make Castings
In an era where foundries are starting to extol the benefits of castings, Evers wants foundries to heed their own words. All foundries do not share the same outlook on whether to use billets or castings for their tooling needs. For 30 years, Evers has worked to open foundry management's eyes to the benefits of cast tooling. According to him, if the toolmaker has an unlimited supply of space, horsepower and technology, and he doesn't mind throwing away 75% of the original material in the form of chips, the billet is formidable competition.
Evers sums up his support of castings, saying, "In real estate, it's all about location. In our business, it's all about geometry." Near-net-shape castings are good value and the more extreme the geometry when comparing the finished product to the starting cube, the greater the value, according to Evers.
Northbend Pattern Works, a steel pattern shop in Harrison, Ohio, and a customer of STLPCC's, has realized the benefits of cast tooling compared to billets. "In terms of machining time and cost, it would be prohibitive to use billets," said Northbend Owner Dale Ziegler. "The larger the job, the more time machining takes, and using near-net-shape cast tooling cuts the time in half."
According to Evers, the forging industry is STLPCC's main competition, and he's always striving to find ways to sway customers toward castings. "We're familiar with the forging specifications, and sometimes our customer's specs were written from the steel mills or supply houses," he said. "In most cases, we can match those eye for eye. In some, we can do even better.
"We shouldn't overlook the fact that the basis of the patternmakers and moldmaker's whole reason for being is the casting process," Eversadded. "Without foundries, they would have no reason to exist, so it is logical that castings are confidently used and competing processes specified only if they have a clear advantage."
The forging industry does not worry Evers as much, though, as does the potential of ever-enhanced technologies being developed. "I'm concerned about getting blindsided by some new technology that comes along," he said. "It might sneak up on us and wipe out the entire industry. We just don't know what's lurking out there."
Quality Comes First
For most of STLPCC's history, there had been no formal quality assurance program. The technique employed was "do the best you can and listen to the customer." The result was a string of profitable years propelled by repeat customers.
In 1990, Ford Motor Co., a customer of STLPCC's, invited Evers to participate in its Q1 program, a process developed for suppliers who demonstrate management commitment to, and support for, continuous improvement in quality and productivity. The invitation would have been foolish not to accept, according to Evers. This process took 3 years and 3 months to complete. "At the beginning of the project, we thought we were a pretty good foundry," said Evers. "By the completion date, we were very good and could prove it."
Shortly afterward, the foundry looked to complement this certification by participating in MAC 2000, the Meehanite Metal Corp.'s quality program. Unlike ISO and QS, MAC is foundry-specific and recognizes the needs of casting producers and purchasers.
"Both programs are important in that we see some jobs that we otherwise might not get a look at," said Evers, "Most importantly, our bottom line is healthy."
President, St. Louis Precision Casting Co.
Education/Degree: Bradley Univ.: Peoria, Illinois B.S. in Engineering.
Immediate Family: Sons-Eric, Kevin, Adam, Daughter-Anne
Professional Assns: AFS and the Steel Founders' Society of America.
Metals Cast: Tool steels (H-13, D-2), carbon steels (4140, stainless steel 303, 304) Meehanite irons.
Capabilities: Nobake molding
Melting Capabilities: Coreless induction
Capabilities: Heat treating, magnetic particle inspection
Tooling Markets: Foundries automotive construction equipment
1999 Shipments: 1 million lb.
1999 Net Sales: $3 million.
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|Author:||Bastian, Kevin M.|
|Date:||May 1, 2000|
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