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Francis & Nygren: continuing a tradition of foundry 'firsts'.

Technological pioneering isn't for everyone. But throughout its 93-year history, exploring new metalcasting technologies and making them work has been the hallmark of Chicago-based Francis & Nygren Foundry Co.

In the March 1970 issue of modern casting, now-retired F&N President Robert D. Phelps, Jr. described the foundry's guiding philosophy simply as: "What will it do? Not what will it cost!"

Now, under the guidance of the fourth generation of the Phelps family, this longterm commitment to technological innovation remains intact and as strong as ever. Brothers Bill and Pete Phelps recently underscored the F&N commitment to progress by installing a completely computerized green sand molding line and sand preparation system.

Both are innovative systems, believed to be the first of their kind anywhere. They feature on-line touchscreens that provide continuous monitoring of sand preparation and molding operations from moisture content and bond additions to mold hardness and maintenance.

Perhaps the biggest benefit is that these new advanced systems do not require the skills of highly trained technicians schooled in the technology of computers, but are run by the same mold line and sand system operators who handled the earlier sand and molding equipment.

What may seem puzzling at first is why a 40-person, gray and ductile iron foundry specializing in prototype and development work needs a 180-mold-per-hour, highly automated production system. "Control and flexibility," said Peter Phelps, F&N vice president.

Specifically, F&N is capitalizing on and enhancing its long-held marketing strategy of concentrating on low-volume, prototype first-run castings in alIcyed gray and ductile iron, with a consistent delivery of prototype parts within 1 0 working days from receipt of pattern. While the foundry produces parts for a variety of industries (ranging from agricultural and printing to the baking and specialty pumps industries that weigh from 1-4000 lb), its emphasis is on 1-55 lb castings. And flexibility is understandably critical to F&N's operation because the foundry specializes in prototype and preproduction work that could range from one to 5000 pieces and require as many as 20 pattern changes daily.

Molding flexibility has been achieved by incorporating various processes, including an older generation automatic, horizontally parted green sand match-plate system and a tight-flask cope and drag molding operation. Nobake molding is used on jobs requiring the process's unique capabilities.

Beyond the flexibility already afforded F&N with its variety of molding capabilities, the foundry's new molding system and fresh approach to sand preparation offer a level of control not previously available. Today's accent on quality also calls for product consistency.

"The concept of net shape isn't a new one," Phelps said, "but today our customers are looking for more consistent quality, not only in dimensional tolerances but in part-to-part weight variation."

What the Phelps were finding was that for the levels of quality and consistency that customers were demanding, F&N was increasingly competing with the shell process. Both Bill and Pete agreed that the economies offered by green sand and tight controls would keep them competitive. So, with an eye toward the future and the longstanding F&N philosophy ("What will it do? Not what will it cost!) to guide them, the brothers began to examine the newest concepts in sand preparation and green sand molding.

Along with their stated goals of flexibility and control, the Phelps also set foundry expansion as the third major aim of their modernization project. Th need to increase overall capacity t coincide with growing customer demands had served as the main impetus to explore new foundry systems.

Their investigation led them to old friends with whom they had worked previously: States Engineering of Fort Wayne, Indiana, for the sand preparation equipment, Schaumburg, Illinois based Hunter Automated Machinery Co. for the molding line and General Kinematics of Barrington, Illinois,for the mold conveyor and shakeout equipment. These companies along with a few other suppliers contributed to a $1.4 million proposal that the Phelps believed would put them in the position to meet current and future customer needs.

Both systems were developed based on proven sand and molding practices. Major elements of the sand preparation include a bond feeder that allows for the purchase of bentonite in bulk quantities, reducing costs and labor. A new-generation muller increased prepared sand volumes and added the necessary controls for more consistent sand moisture and bond additions. A new dust collection system was also installed to improve the working environment and allow for recycling. The new green sand molding system includes a horizontally parted flaskless molding machine capable of producing up to 180 molds per hour, a 50% improvement over F&N's previous capability. It also features a turntable mold storage system, new mold line conveyor and shakeout.

The new molding system also offered several enhancements that added to the control and flexibility that the Phelps were seeking. Among these was the capability of consistently producing a 92 mold hardness, thus improving dimensional tolerance control. A quick pattern change design allows for a 30second tooling exchange and pattern temperature is computer controlled. A new pouring cup configuration has been incorporated into the new equipment, coupled with an air-operated pouring cup system that helps eliminate loose sand and other debris from entering the mold cavity. A new platen swivel design also helps prevent mold shift.

The Phelps were confident that the new sand and molding systems would give them the control and flexibility they needed. But during the planning phase of the project they were introduced to a new idea that convinced them that the new systems were the ones that would take them well into the 21 st century and, as Pete Phelps says, keep us two steps ahead of the competition." Computer Controlled

The idea proposed was a completely computer-controlled molding system that could be operated by F&N's experienced moldmaker. A full-color VGA touch screen monitor on the molding line would control the entire process from squeeze pressure to diagnostic maintenance. Unfortunately, at that time the system was still under development.

Nonetheless, the concept so intrigued the Phelps that they volunteered their foundry to be the test facility for refining the program. They then contacted the sand system manufacturer to determine if they could develop a similar computerized system that could be integrated with the mold line. All were in agreement and development began.

"We wanted to be the first," Bill Phelps said. "We didn't feel the technology was that farfetched and viewed it more as a major refinement to a proven technology rather than a blue sky concept.

"It made a lot of sense to us. Our goal was to make better, more precise molds consistently. With the type of work we do we might run a job, put the pattern away and not run it for another six months. This meant that we would have to adjust the machine and sand system for a job. But because we promise fast turnaround times, we often had to compromise on the adjustments and get by as best we could. With this system, we could load a part number into a menu, either by a bar code or on the touch screen, and recreate all the same functions for each job. The computer makes the adjustments."

Moreover, their longstanding relationship with the equipment manufacturers made the Phelps confident that they could make the entire system work.

"We went into the program on a partnership basis with them," Pete Phelps added."it is really ajoint-venture. They could develop and refine the software in an actual production setting and we would receive the benefits of the most advanced molding and sand preparation technology available anywhere."

In the case of the molding line, an IBM-compatible computer equipped with a high-speed programmable controller is the heart of the system. A touch-sensitive 13-in. industrial VGA monitor located on a swivel pendant just above the molding line is in easy reach of the operator and eliminates nearly all of the switches and buttons required by conventional molding systems. More than 200 informational screens are instantly available tor control and monitoring purposes of all mold line functions.

Functions displayed include all pump operations and squeeze pressures. Maintenance procedures, self diagnostics and periodic maintenance schedules are displayed along with replacement parts lists and manufacturers' part numbers. The system also provides for continuous monitoring, recording and readouts of sand compactibility.

In addition, F&N had embarked on a statistical process control program nearly three years earlier and requested that SPC charting capabilities be designed into the system. They were added, enabling the operator to have continuous statistical data by means of X-bar and R-charts to further enhance mold control.

Similarly, the sand system was also equipped with an IBM-compatible computer. It too uses a touch screen VGA CRT as its graphic interface. Available screens map out the entire sand system, display the status of each component as well as the sand itself, including moisture content.

"By placing all of the decision-making tools in front of the operator, he can make immediate, intelligent decisions on what actions are best for each particular condition, "Bill Phelps said. "He can monitor the status of the sand-holding bins, track moisture levels in the muller and determine what piece of equipment failed in a shutdown situation almost instantaneously."

And like its mold line counterpart, the software also has the capability to chart and print X-bar and R charts to provide a history of sand quality with each order.

What the Phelps find amazing about their new system is how quickly their operators learned how to run the equipment and their enthusiasm for it.

"It took probably less than two weeks of training in the foundry for them to have the system really clicking "Pete said."It has become a real source of pride for them to be able to operate this high-tech' machinery."

In conjunction with the plant improvements, it became apparent that a review of the 15-year-old MIS system was in order. A new computer network has been installed that will focus on shop floor data collection, using the terminals located on the new equipment as input devices. The Future

With their new molding and sand systems up and running for several months now, the Phelps have already taken steps to modernize and improve other areas of the foundry. The recent purchase of a building abutting their plant will add 13,000 sq ft to the existing 56,000 sq ft of manufacturing and 12,000 sq ft of off ice and warehouse space.

The new building will house an expanded and modernized cleaning room in which the Phelps hope to use robots for improving operations. The current cleaning and finishing area will provide the room needed to expand their current nobake molding operation. Other items on F&N's planning agenda include automatic iron pouring and improving the material flow throughout the foundry.

It is safe to say that the Phelps are bullish on the future. They may be a small foundry, but they make no small plans. As they have shown in the past and continue to demonstrate today, you don't have to be big to be a leader. F&N's leadership in technical innovation is a result of its vision and "Me First" tradition-a tradition that has kept them in the foundry business for more than 90 years and assures future success.
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:Francis and Nygren Foundry
Author:Thomas, Susan P.
Publication:Modern Casting
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Words:1886
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