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Direction for design: industry experts spout tips on how small metalcasting facilities can add casting design to their capabilities.

If you're comfortable in a future where your business competes solely on cost and feel confident that you can succeed on the lower profits associated with price competition, adding casting design to your services might not be up your alley. But with high global competition squeezing profits out of these one-dimensional jobs, you might be looking for ways to enter a more profitable sector of metalcasting.

When a metalcasting facility decides to enter the casting design world, it first must understand where it is and where it wants to go. Edward Vinarcik, product engineer for a Tier One automotive supplier, offered two business models to illustrate the positions a metalcasting facility may take in regard to engineering cast components. The first model is a true commodity in which the customer gives the supplier the print for a part or a system and the only thing the supplier can do is provide the price for that part or system.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the full-service supplier, which puts the manufacturing design control completely in the hands of the metalcasting facility. The metalcaster designs the cast part for optimal manufacturability while staving within the customers design requirements and meeting all the mechanical property needs. The full-service supplier is also responsible for any secondary operations and may need to perform or subcontract machining and sub-assembly.

"Castings go into a lot of things, but very few things are castings," Vinarcik said. "Castings aren't the finished product. When a company begins adding value through design and secondary operations, one can make more profit.

You are cutting yourself a bigger piece of a pie that is already there. Commodities can be bought anywhere, but if you design a niche product, a finished product, you have an advantage."

Staffing the Future

Once your metalcasting facility has determined the direction it wants to take, resources to meet that destination must be put into place. The most important factor in entering casting design is to have the engineering expertise.

Metalcasters can apply this expertise in two ways--hire an additional staff member with a background in design engineering or contract an engineering firm to work on a particular project.

Contracting an engineering firm may be more expensive on a part-by-part basis, but it can save money in the long run because there are no staff salaries to pay. This would be especially beneficial if the facility only anticipates being involved in the casting design of a select few components.

Hiring an engineer also is a plausible option. Smaller metalcasting facilities will need to hire someone with a broad range of knowledge to cover a lot of different aspects, including material parameters, manufacturing processes or metallurgy. Ideally, the facility would hire an engineer whose knowledge is not limited strictly to design but has experience in the casting process, as well. Otherwise, a metalcasting facility could end up with designs it can't make.

Another approach, however, would be to invest in the educational development of a new engineer. Mike Gwyn, director of metals technology at the Advanced Technological Institute, Charleston, S.C., suggests seeking recent graduates in engineering technology, preferably from a school that includes component design, materials and metalcasting in the curriculum. Schools of engineering technology have more "application-oriented" courses than traditional engineering schools. A recent grad might demand a lower starting salary than that of an experienced engineer, though the young engineer likely will take more time to grow into his or her role at the metalcasting facility.

This investment of time may well be worth it, however. Gwyn believes that once a recent engineering graduate with design interest sees the intrigue and capability of the metalcasting process, he or she will become hooked on metalcasting.

"It's been my experience that once someone who is interested in design engineering enters a metalcasting facility and sees how component geometry engages both the casting process and the part application, it becomes captivating," Gwyn said, "I would say there's above an 80% chance that a young engineering technology grad will quickly gravitate to metalcasting process engineering (molding process choice, tooling design, risering and gating) with a desire to gain that knowledge, as well. Chosen well. the young engineer will become an accepted part of the existing engineering, production and sales team,"

Diving In

Finding that first customer and first part to begin casting design can be difficult. Vinarcik offered two paths to develop new business through casting design. In one path, the metalcaster pulls work from the customer by asking to be included in the design of part. In the second path, the facility pushes work toward the customer by submitting proposals. Often, proposals are improvements on existing parts redesigned to take out cost, increase performance or improve quality.

"On first calls for a new account, before any activity has occurred, I'll bring into the conversation the ability to advise in the casting design," said Jim Pint, sales manager for Smith Foundry Co. Minneapolis. "We tell them that we like to get in on the ground floor, and more times than not, their engineers are looking for help on the casting design."

Initial sales meetings often might include the design engineer in order to show the potential customer how serious and capable a metalcasting facility is about casting design. Know what you can offer your customer and tell them how you would apply your expertise. This meeting also could be a good time to identify any other part that might be a future product.

Conversions to castings from weldments and fabrications are an optimal way to enter casting design. The first way to get a foothold into casting design would be to respond to a customer asking for a quote on conversions. Your metalcasting facility then should respond with a request to bring an engineer into the initial staff meeting.

If no one is asking for a quote, a visit with your current customer base also could yield results. "When the sales force is visiting a customer for another part, have them look for a good volume fabrication on the customer's floor." Gwyn said. "Then make a proposal to the customer on designing a casting conversion for that part,"

A proposal to change a part will be most successful if the change would greatly benefit the customer. A redesign would make the part more castable, but it also must save the customer production, handling, inventory, machining and/or assembly cost (a minimum of 20%). The volume of parts also must be large enough for the customer to bother with the changes.

Many companies have used a part in its current design for several years, and suggesting a change on that part could be tricky. For better bargaining ground, Vinarcik said metalcasting facilities need to find something that is causing its customers pain. Look for a part that is particularly troublesome. Maybe it's too expensive, or too heavy, or perhaps the manufacturing is too labor-intensive.

Then figure out what the solution is worth, determine if it is a high-volume product that will save enough money to make it worthwhile, and propose the changes to the customer. If your current customers don't have a project available, Gwyn suggests scoping out potential customers.

"Travel to the shop of a customer you would like to have. If they will give you a tour, look at the fabrications on the shop floor for good casting conversions," Gwyn said. "If they won't give a tour, look at the assemblies in their back lot, or go to the dealerships and look at their machines. Scope it out. What could be converted? Make a proposal to their purchasing guys that you can save them money."

What Next?

Once a metalcasting facility finds that first job in casting design, new opportunities for more experience will emerge. Creating a solid design relationship with your customer is a key component to your facility's casting design success. One of the first steps a facility takes in ensuring a successful design is asking the right questions. According to Ron Walling, technical advisor for Cummins Engineering, Columbus, Ind., these questions include:

* What elements of the customer-provided design are unclear?

* What is the application and what are the constraints to the design related to its application?

* What are the design options?

* What features are included in the design and which ones can be tweaked to be more castable?

Once these general questions are answered, the metalcasting facility's design engineer can tackle the technical aspects of fillets, radii, sharp corners and draft angles.

In return, alerting the customer about how the metalcasting process will affect the part is an important key to maintaining a good working relationship.

"How would you cast the part? Where would we see elements of the casting process, such as parting lines? What will be cored? Where would we see grind marks? How will the casting design impact our machining the part?" Walling said.

Establishing a good rapport with your customer's engineering department during that first part can pay dividends in the future.

"If you get good at this, you'll have a relationship with the engineering team at your customer that transcends the purchasing department," Gwyn said. "Down the road, one of the engineers might come across a new part he needs to design, and he decides to come back to you with some questions on the new part. You get in on the ground floor then and have a much greater chance of winning that part, as well."

The Payoff

For those facilities that finally decide to point their future in the direction of casting design, the payoff can be well worth it. Scrap rates are decreased, the customer is happier with the finished product, and the casting process runs more smoothly. In addition, adding design engineering to your capabilities will draw the more lucrative, complex components that will bring more dollars to your facility. And becoming more vertically integrated in the manufacturing process means taking home a larger piece of the profit.

"This is the payoff: stop competing on price with little or no margin with other foundries," Gwyn said. "Instead, start competing on engineering of component geometry in the casting process. Compete against other manufacturing processes rather than other metalcasters."

For More Information

"Don't Let Product Liability Stop You From Cashing in On Casting Design," D. Marcus, MODERN CASTING, June 2002, p. 43-45.

Add Design to your Repertoire

1 Hire an Engineer--Whether contracted or on staff, an engineer with knowledge about design is a necessity. He or she will have the background to consider elements like physical and chemical properties of a material, and how- the material will react to the casting process and its end-use during the design process.

2 Figure Out Your Capabilities--How involved in the design process do you want to be? Are you proposing to supply the machining shop with drawings or are you capable of designing t-or the complete manufacturing process?

3 Let the Customer Know--What's the best way to inform the customer about your design capabilities? Tell them! The first meeting with a customer should include a discussion about your desire and capability to be involved in the design process.

4 Discover a Part that Needs Redesigning--The easiest way to stake a foothold into design is redesigning an existing part. This could mean responding to a customer asking for a quote on conversions or researching a customer's product line to find possibilities for a conversion or redesign.

5 Determine the Actual Benefit to the Customer--What will a redesign save the customer in material cost, weight, machining or labor? Is it worth it to the customer to change? A key when you're first starting out is to find a troublesome part that is causing your customer pain.

6 Propose Design Changes to the Customer--Develop a good rapport and try to meet with your customer face to face. "Most people are pretty receptive to the changes being made," said Jim Pint, Smith Foundry Co. "A lot of our customers are repeat business and actually encourage their suppliers to become involved."

7 Expand to New Customers and New Parts--Successful designs will lead to more opportunities to use your casting design expertise.

8 Continue the Learning Process--Don't stop with casting geometry alone. Build your knowledge base with more design courses, varied design experiences, and eventually, additional design engineers.

Software Start-ups

A company will need the necessary software tools to successfully market its design capabilities, but choosing the wrong software can be an expensive mistake. Mike Gwyn, Advanced Technical Institute. suggests holding off on buying the expensive software until you find out what your customer uses. In the meantime, these two investments will take your metalcasting facility far without a large financial commitment.

1. Solid-model viewing software. Relatively inexpensive. this software will allow you to take your customer's solid model and study it for redesign in your process. Solid-model viewers enable you to measure dimensions, calculate volume and mass, measure thicknesses and create cross sections to view the inside of the part.

2. A casting process simulation package that runs on a PC. After a solid-model viewer, a PC-compatible solidification simulation software package would be the next step. Some of these include mold-filling simulation. Be careful of what you choose. Make sure that you will really use it. and make sure you can play "what-if" with realistic, timely results.

Shannon Kruse, Assistant Editor
COPYRIGHT 2005 American Foundry Society, Inc.
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Author:Kruse, Shannon
Publication:Modern Casting
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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