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Liquid metal processing - potential for the '90s.

Liquid metal processing is a major example of how the U.S. foundry industry could develop its full technological potential in order to compete and survive in the 1990s.

Delivering this year's Charles Edgar Hoyt Memorial Lecture on April 23, Seymour(Sy) Katz, principal research scientist, General Motors Research Laboratories, Warren, MI, Presented the above view and other problems facing American metalcasters this decade. He called for industry cooperation, funding and research in order to "catch up" and meet the "pressures of the 90s."

"It is clear that the tactics that helped us survive the' 80s will not be of much use," he said. "It is unlikely that the dollar will be devaluated an further, there is little fat left to trim from current foundry operations, and the quality and cost benefits obtained from statistical process control have mostly been taken.

I suggest that the competition is about to shift to the arena of technology because technology has the power to alter the balance in each of the existing areas of competition."

Technology can alter the balance, Katz said, because it has the power to:

* overcome shrinking markets by creating new and higher value-added products;

* overcome the advantages of competing materials and processes with new and improved cast materials and casting processes;

* ward off foreign competition by offering superior products and minimizing costs;

* provide the means for solving environmental and tramp element problems that threaten the manufacture of castings.

"It is clear to me that the kind of technology that is developed, and the efficiency with which it is applied, will determine who will besitting here 10 years from now, being congratulated for having survived the 90s," Katz said.

The U.S. foundry industry, though, has been undergoing more legislative changes, rather than technical changes for improving castings and processes, he said. Liquid metal processing, in particular, has been suffering from a lack of progress, according to Katz.

"However, this lack of technical progress is a general problem," he said. "As evidence, let me remind you of the motto, Let's return to the basics,' that has dominated our industry's efforts for the past decade. The statement clearly indicates the emphasis has been on repairing previous neglect of well-established principles, not the application of new technology."

He outlined five areas where technological change and development can have the greatest impacton liquid metal

processing in the 1990s:

* taking advantage of opportunities to make dramatic improvements in the productivity and the attendant cost of liquid metal processes;

* reducing the cost of consumable materials: metallic charge materials, alloys, inoculants, fuels and refractories that are required to produce castings;

* automation and computers;

* making U.S. foundries "more environmentally secure without jeopardizing our competitiveness;"

* addressing current and future tramp element problems that threaten the supply of raw materials.

" It should be clear that the areas of need and potential are so broad that no foundry, no matter how large, has the ability or facility to address even a fraction of these issues," Katz said.

How can metalcasters improve their processes, reduce raw material costs, develop automation, solve environmental issues and prevent harm from tramp elements--and move fast enough to have a competitive impact?

Katz said instead of competing with each other, metalcasters should pool their resources "to generate new technology and then compete in putting the technology to use."

"The idea is simple, it makes sense, but judging from our industry's minimal expenditures for cooperative research and development over the years, " he said, "that is not how we have been doing business. As a result, we are in an industry with serious catching up to do."

He suggested several programs--all concerning liquid metal processing--that foundries could fund collectively and compete on individually. For instance, the industry has been slow in adopting several new and innovative melting units that ca improve productivity and lower costs, Katz said. Such units include the medium frequency induction furnace, cokeless cupola, plasma cupola and jet melter.

Another example, he said, is the lack of current research and understanding of gas defects. "Despite the amount of information published about gas defects," Katz said, "it's plain to see that the subject is still not well enough understood to consistently solve the foundryman's problems. Today, gas defects often present only cosmetic problems. With thinner wall castings and higher strength alloys on their way, the problems will not be cosmetic.

"Do we wait, as usual, until the situation becomes de ate? Or, can we trust that there is a need to establish programs in this area right now?"

Despite the industry's present state, Katz is optimistic about its capability for technological progress.

"It seems to me that the U.S. foundry industry is potentially well positioned to take on the challenges of the' 90s," he said. "Whether we succeed depends on whether we take up the mantle of technological leadership."
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Publication:Modern Casting
Date:Jun 1, 1990
Previous Article:94th AFS Casting Congress in review.
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