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Willard Industries pioneers new EPC applications.

"Persistence & determination alone are omnipotent." Calvin Coolidges words are the everpresent motto at Willard that exemplifies the attitude which has enabled this company to successfully embody the EPC process into a jobbing foundry environment.

The question of whether or not the expendable pattern casting process is a viable alternative to other metalforming methods, including other metalscasting techniques, will usually lead to a variety of responses. In one camp, foundries have written the process off and they will tell you that they have no intention of considering it. A much larger group, made up of foundries and casting users are sitting back waiting for EPC to prove itself. But a handful of foundries have committed themselves to developing the process and to demonstrating that it does indeed have a future.

Include Willard Industries of Cincinnati, Ohio among the latter.

The expendable pattern casting process is considered a net shape process that uses foam patterns made from expanded polystyrene that are exact replicas of the casting to be produced. Among the reported benefits of the EPC process is design flexibility not afforded by the more traditional molding processes; the elimination of cores to define internal surfaces and binders required with other systems; and a reduction in many secondary costs, such as machining, often required with other metalworking processes.

The EPC Decision

Founded as a pattern shop in 1938, Willard evolved to include both green sand and permanent mold operations with 75 employees. As it is stated in the Team Willard mission statement, they are fiercely dedicated to building a "Quality operation which is both rewarding to our customers and ourselves." In 1985 management engaged in the restructuring of an old foundry with a modem mentality and made the commitment to EPC. After two years of concentrated marketing and equipment research the first EPC customer was secured and resulted in the foundry investing nearly $150,000 in a prototype line that would allow them to qualify the process and to specify the building of a full-fledged production line.

Several factors went into Willard's decision to invest in EPC, according to Kristy Conway, vice president/sales. "When we made the decision to get into expendable pattern casting, what we wanted to do was to build on our existing green sand and permanent mold operations. We didn't invest in these areas because they didn't show the growth potential of EPC."

When we decided to go with EPC, our goal was to offer three molding processes," Conway explains. The customer would come in with their design and production objectives, and we would guide them in the right direction. The strategy was to parallel the three processes, and later, if the part design lent itself to a conversion and if it made economic sense, we could convert the casting from permanent mold or green sand to EPC."

The first EPC work didn't come easy. It took two years of selling and testing prototype work for Willard to get their first true production job in foam. As more applications came on-line the decision had to be made: was Willard willing to take the next big step that would solidify its commitment to EPC?

The answer came in the spring of 1989 by way of a $2 million investment to install a production EPC line. The 26-flask system could produce castings from up to 30 foam pattern clusters an hour.

During the next two years, Willard's EPC grew to 15 full production jobs that run 100 to 12,000 parts monthly.

To date 24 tools have been built from which casting are in current production. Of the 15 active customers no one accounts for more than 15% of sales. Willard is now profitably manufacturing EPC on a jobbing basis.

Nearly all of the parts are being produced for large original equipment manufacturers. About half are new part designs, with the rest being conversions from other processes. But Conway admits that We're not close to tapping the percent of market we had in mind early on."

Under Development

While the development of EPC goes back to the mid-1940s, it wasn't until the 1980s, when the original patents expired, that significant commercial development of the process began taking place. For all practical purposes, technologically, EPC is in its infancy. No one knows this better than Willard Industries.

Confronting Willard and the handful of foundries committed to making EPC work are a variety of obstacles, most of which are directly related to the learning curve associated with any new technology. Chief among these, says Conway, is hesitancy on the part of many casting users who are just beginning to learn about and understand the process.

Interest on the part of the casting user is, in fact, high, Conway says. "We get a lot of customers who want to try EPC for their parts. In many cases, the process is just not applicable to the part design, so we tell them that up front and try to help them out in another molding process."

Reluctance on the part of potential customers is usually the Some may have tried EPC in the past, and it didn't work out well for them. In the case of converting a part from one process to EPC, the hesitancy usually comes when faced with another investment in new tooling when patterns for the other process already exist. "It's an educational process," asserts Conway. We have to continue educating them on the design and cost-saving benefits of EPC. We have to talk about things like no cores, which means less tooling. We have to tell them about reducing or eliminating machining, about design flexibility and the other advantages of the process that are meaningful to them as customers."

One of the bigger hurdles that EPC will have to get over is the lack of standards. Normally a design engineer has at least some generic standards that they can work from," says Conway. With green sand and permanent mold, we reference published standards. With EPC we speak only f rom our experience. It's going to take a little time to develop the types of standards we have for other more conventional processes."

But Conway isn't discouraged with the slow, steady pace in developing new applications in EPC. Noting the success Willard has had in the 15 parts now in production, she sees more in the near future, pointing to a project the foundry is currently working on. "The castings are transmission parts that have been designed exclusively for EPC. They can't be made with any other process.

"The more castings we get in the field, the faster things will happen. The process has already begun to feed on itself. As our customers get more confidence in EPC, our confidence grows as well," Conway says.

Supplier Support

To keep the momentum going, Conway feels strongly that the foundries are going to need increased participation from their suppliers. For the foundries involved, expendable pattern casting represents a completely new experience, particularly in the area of materials. Whereas the traditional foundry operation concentrates on sand, binders and metal, the uniqueness of EPC calls for the development of new knowledge in the plastics used in the foam patterns, adhesives in the glues used for building patterns and clusters, and ceramics used in the pattern coatings.

Because these and other aspects of EPC are new for most foundries, most rely heavily on their material suppliers. "We're not yet making the perfect castings that I think EPC is capable of," says Conway. "We need continued support from our suppliers to keep improving the process. We need more refinement of glue joints. We need refractory coatings that will enhance the surface finish of the casting. We need to know that a foam pattern will produce a quality casting before we put it into production. I think the foam molders need to more accurately measure for pattern dimensions and density."

Tooling is another area of concern for Willard Industries. "We need more shops willing to make tools for EPC," says Conway. "I think, as the process moves along, more companies will get involved."

In general, Conway believes that many of the suppliers need to develop more of the "foundry mentality," as she calls it. "They have to be just as quality conscious as the foundry and have to exert every bit as much statistical and dimensional control as we do in the foundry. After all, the casting is only as good as the pattern."

Foundry Changes

If Conway feels strongly about supplier support, she feels equally strong about changing the traditional "foundry mindset" too. She explains it this way: "Producing a white styrofoam pattern is not success. No one can use it until it's metal. And until that metal part is on someone's product and working as it should, it is nothing."

So, along with improvement in materials, Conway acknowledges that changes were needed by the foundry as well. "We had to work hard to change a lot of attitudes in the foundry. We had to change how a lot of people thought and educate them about the fact that we were dealing with a whole new process. We told them that we needed their total dedication to this project."

So, with a team headed by Jayne Gruenberg, CEO, Bob Sohngen, president, Conway, and Paul Thompson, vice president/lost foam, Willard has put together a group of EPC specialists who have themselves, grown up with the process. And this, Conway believes, is the real linchpin in Willard's current and future success with EPC.

Eventually, Willard Industries would like to bring the toolmaking operation into their own pattern shop. "Parts made with EPC are as expensive now as they are ever going to be," Conway says. Right now, we are subcontracting nearly everything, except for the casting operation. Down the road, we intend to bring a lot of this in-house so we can eliminate the subcontractor markups and the scrap that drives the price up."

As far as Willard is concerned, the sooner they can move these operations in-house, the better. One of the biggest frustrations the foundry experiences in getting a new EPC job off and running is the time it takes in working with its subcontractors. "It's extremely lengthy," says Conway. "In our green sand and permanent mold operations, we get the drawing, build the tool in-house and, following customer approval, move it right into production.

"With the situation we now have with EPC, we have to get the tooling built outside and then go through two sample submissions: one for the pattern and on for the casting." The foundry's go I is to get these operations in-house within three years. "Once we get these things humming along as they should, you'll see a lot more castings tooled up in EPC," Conway adds.

Over the Hump

When Willard made the $2 million investment in 1989, Conway says they were hoping for a two-year return on their investment. "We're in our fifth year now, but we're still enthusiastic about EPC and its potential. I suppose if I were a new owner and walked in here and saw what we've spent on EPC and what we've returned, I would say get out of it immediately. But anyone could say that. That's the easy way out.

"We haven't lost sight of our goals. Sure there have been some frustrations, but we're over the hump, and it's been proven that EPC is a viable process. We see EPC as producing the bulk of our new sales in the future. Green sand and permanent mold will continue servicing our traditional business, but it's with EPC that we'll see our new business," Conway asserts. "We're still encouraged."

Asked what message she would like to give current and potential customers for EPC castings, Conway simply says: "If you like it now, stay tuned because it's going to get much better!"

David P. Kanicki Publisher/Editor

Susan P. Thomas Executive Editor

Application: Cluster Hub[TM] FMC

Casting Size: 5.5 x 5.0 in.

Catsing Wt.: 2.3 lb

Alloy: A356-T6

Conversion: Investment Casting

Features: Net shape

Benefits: 50% piece prices reduction, uniform wall thickness

Life: 200,000 pcs.

Application: Brake Pump Housing

Casting Size: 3x4x6in.

Casting Wt.: 1.9 lb

Alloy: 355-T6

Conversion: None

Features: Cast to size holes: 0.125, diameters: 0.160 & 0.180, 17 net shape details

Benefits: Machine tool capital reduction, 14% weight reduction, 0.160 diameter intersecting hole unattaiable by any other method, cast or machined

Est. Tool Life: 250,000 pcs.

Application: Radiator Tank

Casting Size: 11x27 in.

Casting Wt.: 6 lb

Alloy: 356F

Conversion: Single cavity semi-permanent mold

Features: Net shape

Benefits: 20% piece price reduction, tool interchangeability, improved pressure tightness, improved cleanliness, dimensional stability, climinated wall variation

Est. Tool Life: 400,000 pcs.

Initial gating design is established in single plane prototypes. Current production capability is 12-on, 360 pieces per hour.

Application: Fuel Control Housing

Casting Size: 12 x 9 x 3 in.

Casting Wt: 6.1 lb

Alloy: 355-T5

Conversion: Diecasting

Features: Cast-in serpentine fuel passage, cast to size connector window, cast to size mounting holes with chamfers

Benefits: Tooling investment reduction, assembly eliminated, 10% machining reduction, improved pressure tightness

Life: 400,000 pcs.

Application: Stator Frame

Casting Size: 18 in. H x 18 in. OD

Casting Wt.: 70 lb

Alloy: 356-T6

Conversion: Centrifugal

Features: Cast to size mounting bolt holes, cast-in lifting lugs, cast to size through holes to drill tolerances, cast to size drain holes, outside body net shape

Benefit: 20% weight reduction, increased cooling capacity, 20% machining reduction, 75% cleaning reduction

Est. Tool Life: 50,000 pcs.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Foundry Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:expandable pattern casting
Author:Thomas, Susan P.
Publication:Modern Casting
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Aug 1, 1991
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