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Building a better Benton Foundry: while many foundries today thrive on the "big deal," Benton Foundry prospers by offering complex castings with quick leadtimes for short and medium production runs.

Benton Foundry isn't willing to make every casting that comes their way. In a present day climate where in any foundries are looking for as much work as possible, Benton has the luxury to look for customers that they feel will be a good fit. "It all starts with communication," said Fritz Hall, president of Benton Foundry. "There are a couple jobs that we won't take because of their policy in purchasing.

"So many foundries are tonnage driven that they lose sight of what it takes to be a profitable foundry," said Hall. "We're a profit driven foundry, quoting only about 80% of the requests for quotes that come in. The rest may be too small, too big. wrong metal or wrong customers. Not all customers are created equal."

The luxury of being able to select its customers is a direct result of its diverse product offering. When the current management took over Benton Foundry in 1975, they saw the need to diversity their customer base so that the firm could serve the widest possible spectrum of customers. In 1975, the firm had three customers that consisted of more than 50% of its sales. Today, no customer represents more than 10% of business and no industry represents more than 15%.

While Benton doesn't have any "major customers, it has a very specific customer base. The firm specializes in short and medium volume production runs, with an average run of less than 100 molds. In order to impress these potential customers, Benton had to reduce lead-times to 2 3 weeks, and follow-through with quick production on the foundry floor.

Benton has achieved a 97% on-time delivery rate by constantly upgrading its facilities and keeping an eye on the technological curve. In recent years, they've added new automatic molding machines, revamped their melt system and coremaking operations, and taken a chance on new casting metals, such as austempered ductile iron.

From 1862 to Today

While Benton Foundry didn't officially come into existence until 1958, a foundry has been on its property since the 19th century. Harrington Foundry was founded in 1862 by a descendent of England's Queen Elizabeth. In 1958, the firm was acquired by Hallstead Foundry and officially renamed Benton Foundry.

A.J. Hall, Fritz's lather, came over from Hallstead to run the new foundry. "Between my own family and the Harrington's who owned the original foundry, you could say that Benton has been run by two families for more than 140 years," Hall said.

When Fritz Hall took over in 1975 following his father's death, the firm decided to take a new approach. Today, the firm looks for complex casting orders that are intricate and require more machining. "We want the guy who is ordering a highly engineered casting; a customer who wants a $50 casting and is putting another $250 of machining into it" said Tim Brown, vice president of Benton Foundry. "This way the casting will get there on-time and be an asset to the end-user."

In the 1970s the firm made cores that were relatively simple and easy to make. Today, they deal with 3-4 cores per casting that require significant as sembly. "We often pick tip jobs that may be l pushing the envelope of what we are able to do," said Hall.

This strategy has aided Benton with the recent influx of overseas competition. While Benton Foundry has lost seine business to overseas foundries, Hall says that a majority" of it has started to come back due to quality and lead time issues.

"We recently got a part back from a customer that is an oil reservoir for a boat transmission," said Hall. "They were coming from China and the oil was just seeping through the casting and getting into the bilge of the boat. Consequently, the bilge pump would pump the oil overboard."

"It's infuriating that foundries overseas are not held to the same standards as foundries in the U.S.," agrees Brown. "We have to be able to trace our components all the way through production while foreign foundries do not. We also have to complete certifications so that castings meet tensile and mechanical requirements and chemical ranges."

Hall also has a distaste for U.S. foundries that have begun to import castings themselves and resell them here. "Any foundry importing castings faces a lot of liability issues," said Hall. "If you have a product recall because of something dangerous that you weren't aware of, that's your responsibility."

Setting Themselves Apart

In order to achieve 2-3 week lead times. Benton has continued to implement new technological advancements for more than a decade. Currently 95% of all molds are made on automatic molding machines and scrap rates have been lowered to a 4% internal and less than 1% external rate.

Following is an overview of how Benton has managed to revamp its operations.

Molding--Twenty years.

According to Hall, that's the length of time that his equipment is good for. After that, it's obsolete and time to retool. "I don't believe in going back and trying to revamp something old," Hall said. "If you're going to spend the money, start with a clean slate and do it right."

Last year. the firm replaced a 21-year-old 14 x 19 in. matchplate molder and replaced it with a new model of the same size. "The technology on the new machine, including mold pressure. squeeze pressure and blow mold hardness is much better than the older machine was capable of," Hall said. "It's still the same size and it runs the same speed, but the quality of mold coming off of it is a lot better than the 20-year-old machine." Today, molding operations include 14 x 19-in. and 20 x 24-in. automatic molding machines. The foundry also manually molds small and specialty runs.

Benton also worked with DISA Industries, Inc., Oswego, Illinois, to develop a new green sand match-plate molding machine that would cater specifically to the jobbing market. The firm was involved immediately from the design stage, offering their opinion on nearly every aspect of the machine. "We had everything here that they were looking for," said Hall, who in exchange for assisting the supplier, was given the first prototype machine. The high-speed, horizontally parted 20 x 24-in. match-plate molding machine can produce more than 160 molds per hour.

Melting--In the late 1980s, Benton saw a need to diversify from being a strict producer of gray iron. Seeing a growing ductile iron market on the horizon. the firm purchased two 4 ton electric induction furnaces. In addition, with new environmental standards on the horizons, the firm removed its remaining cupola in 1996 and added two 10-ton electric furnaces.

However, the two new furnaces were not simple to install. Benton had to construct a $7 million, 20,000-sq-ft addition to the plant. The area would become the new meltshop, and the expansion would allow Benton the opportunity to streamline its material handling operations and put in additional automatic molding lines for its iron casting operations.

The induction meltshop was finished in 1997. All four furnaces share one melt deck and sit in a row in the meltshop. For refractory relines, each has lining pushout capabilities, and they share a 3-ton overhead monorail crane for setting forms and starter blocks. Chemistries, temperatures and weight are displayed above each furnace while the iron is tapped into 5000-1b ladies.

The addition of the induction furnaces has helped Benton reduce its labor and maintenance costs, as they only require four workers for operation. Also, since all the furnaces have closed-loop cooling systems, there is no discharge water, and the close-capture dust collectors have significantly reduced air emissions.

Coremaking--The workflow through Benton's 50,000-sq-ft coremaking area (including storage, laboratory space and assembly) is linear and automated in an effort to minimize handling. A bucket elevator receives new sand from an 80-ton sand silo and transfers it to a heater/ cooler. From there, the sand is fed automatically to a mixer.

The foundry has seven coldbox machines to run different jobs, depending on their cycle time and complexity. The cycle time for a coldbox core varies from 8-30 sec. After the cores are blown, an operator sets a hardened core on a belt where it is cleaned. The cores then move to assembly or storage.

For every production run, everything from the pattern to the cores are tracked by a computer system ensuring that the castings are produced on time. "On an average week we'll run 200-300 jobs," said Hall. "We're running through a lot of purchase orders, and so we need to keep track of every one. Our whole system is geared around the parts."

"You've got 250 customer windows that you have to slide the production through," said Brown. "The computer program evaluates our production department, and if we don't get an A-, we have a problem."

Austempered Ductile Iron--In an attempt to further diversify its product offerings, Benton has recently begun casting austempered ductile iron. While it only currently amounts to 5-10% of its total production, Hall believes that will grow over time. "It's difficult to get new people to use the process because they are not aware of it," said Hall. "We look at it as another tool in our toolbox."

While attempting to put the word out on the material, Benton has been careful about who to offer it too. "We're trying to get to the people already using ADI," said Hall. "We try and stay away from making recommendations on what metals our customers should choose. They understand the end use and pressures a component could be under better then we do. We make suggestions to simplify cores, eliminate problems and increase castability, but when recommending material you can take on a certain level of liability."

The Turning Tide

As the economy is get ting stronger, Benton Foundry plans to continue upgrading its production methods. "Right now we're looking at putting in new core machines," said Brown. "New core machines would require less core finishing and grinding, allowing us to lower the finishing room costs and increase mold efficiency."

The firm also has begun to see a turnaround in the casting marketplace over recent months. "We've found that customers are getting very concerned about their casting sources," said Hall, who cited foundry closings as a major reason for this. "There has been a big turnaround with people out shopping to see what the market is like. They're really questioning who they're doing business with and why."

Benton Foundry, Inc. Benton, Pennsylvania

Year Founded: 1958

Metals Cast: Gray (class 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 tensile and chilled iron), ductile (grades 64-45-12, 60-40-18, 80-55-06 and 100-70-03) and austempered ductile iron (grades 125-80-10 150-100-07, 175-125-04 and 200-155-01).

Mold Capabilities: Green sand.

Melt Capabilities: Electric furnaces.

Coremaking: Coldbox and shell.

Size: 225,000 sq ft.

Key Markets: Pumps and valves, compressors, motors and drives, marine, agriculture, mining, railroad.

Employees: 200

Corporate Officials: Fritz Hall, president; Jeff Hall, vice-president; Tim Brown, vice-president.

For More Information

"America's Best Induction Meltshops," M.L. Philbin, MODERN CASTING, July 1997, p. 29-33.
COPYRIGHT 2003 American Foundry Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Maffia, Joseph
Publication:Modern Casting
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2003
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