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Shrirang Kulkarni: Bringing research to the plate for the foundry industry. (Industry Faces).

Everyone in the foundry industry agrees that research is necessary and beneficial to develop new production methods and improve industry capabilities. It is supported, nurtured and celebrated for its success. After the celebration dies down, however, how much of that research actually makes it into a foundry to affect day-to-day operations?

Not applying research is like not touching home plate after hitting a home run--the hard part is already done, but the benefits aren't reaped. Find a foundryman who can take research findings and make them practical, and you've found yourself a Mark McGwire.

One such Mark McGwire in the foundry industry is Shrirang Kulkarni, vice president and general manager of Richmond Foundry Co., Richmond, Texas, a division of Matrix Metals, LLC, Co.

Kulkarni has embraced research and used it to better process techniques within the foundry through work on several key projects focusing on clean steel, dimensional process capability and yield improvement. He has served in a strategy development and planning role for this research and overseen projects while working with the Steel Founders' Society of America (SFSA) Carbon and Low Alloy Research committee.

"Research is necessary to break through to the next level," said Kulkarni. "The day-to-day work in a foundry leaves little time for such experimentation. Taking new knowledge and applying it is a way to get out of the paradigm, to improve processes beyond what is already known and accepted," he said.

Kulkarni began his career as a process engineer and metallurgist at the Kast Metals Corp. plant in Shreveport, Louisiana. Spending the first years of his career working on gating and risering design, melt control and heat treatment, he learned what kind of improvements were needed in these areas.

Kulkarni moved up, becoming the technical manager first at Kast Metals Corp., then at its Keokuk Steel Castings, Inc. plant in Keokuk, Iowa, and finally at Sawbrook Steel, Cincinnati. Responsible for the technical department, he could see the overall picture of foundry process controls, particularly in terms of quality control, and recognized improvement possibilities.

In 1988, now the technical director back at Keokuk (which had just been purchased by ABC-Naco Corp., Lombard, Illinois.), Kulkarni joined the SFSA committee. His experience in improving process controls and casting quality at several steel foundries propelled him to oversee research projects through collaboration with several universities.

"Keokuk became the site for a lot of SFSA research, which was funded partly by the Dept. of Energy," Kulkarni said.

The Clean Steel Project

Starting in 1992, one of the projects Kulkarni worked with at Keokuk was clean steel. The study concluded that oxide inclusions are a major casting defect most commonly caused by reoxidation.

A breakthrough at the time, this finding motivated Keokuk employees into a different mode of thinking--directed toward reducing reoxidation. The foundry examined melt practice and pouring techniques by focusing on reducing the oxygen levels in the molten metal and the reaction with oxygen as metal is poured.

From there, the foundry performed multi-van analysis to study heat-to-heat radiation and collected data on inclusion counts. Using design of experiment (DOE) techniques, the foundry found that adding aluminum in the furnace as a block and controlling the carbon boil were the crucial variables--improving the inclusion count by as much as 60%.

Beyond its findings, the clean steel project was important for several reasons, Kulkarni said. It showed that foundries have trouble simply identifying the root cause of a problem. "Finding better ways to pour clean steel was important to steel foundries because they compete with other industries that don't have oxide inclusion problems," Kulkarni explained. "It also allowed us to improve customer perceptions and satisfaction through high quality castings, and, of course, gave us an opportunity to lower costs through less scrap and fewer repairs."

Growing Research Opportunities

The success with this research project led to others at Keokuk for Kulkarni. Keokuk was one of several foundries that participated in a dimensional capabilities study in which tolerance measurements were recorded and compared. These measurements culminated in the creation of a formal table that detailed the capabilities of steel foundries. No one had good data on dimensional capabilities before, and foundries learned they could use the table to show customers what was feasible. Keokuk used this information to guide customers toward logical tolerances and build up the foundry's business.

"The customers believed that dimensional control was bad and that the castings had no consistency for machining. Developing dimensional process capabilities helped primarily with customer understanding," said Kulkarni.

In another project at Keokuk, research was used to develop new feeding distance rules. In an effort to improve yield, risers and test plates were examined in detail. The foundry cast different sized plates and X-rayed them to view shrinkage levels. The Univ. of Iowa took the data and used solidification software to justify the results. After correlating the test plates with simulated results, the researchers were able to develop new feeding distance rules that allowed foundries to design fewer risers, which improved yield. Keokuk now uses these improved feeding distance rules, which have increased yield and decreased costs for itself and its customers.

Economics played a large role in yield improvement studies, Kulkarni explained. The U.S. faces global competition and needs better yields to compete. In addition, improved yield means less molten metal, which means less energy used. "Yield improvement equals cost improvement, which means more competitive pricing," Kulkarni said.

Kulkarni implemented these successful research programs into Keokuk's normal procedures. "What made these learnings easy to implement was that they didn't involve buying expensive new equipment--they only involved process changes, just changes in technique," Kulkarni said.

Hitting the Home Run

"The key is to take the lead from research and theories," said Kulkarni. "Choose a spot to focus on--choose key variables and their proper levels. Use a DOE for verification. It is possible to measure the success of a change through cost savings, and if the cost savings are significant enough to justify implementing the change, then do so."

Kulkarni's research and process-focused background led him from his job at Keokuk to the position of director of process technology for the ABC-Naco Group. Here, he continued to experiment and worked with research professors through SFSA to improve processes. He became the vice president of technology for the flow, locomotive and specialty products group of ABC-Naco, and then entered his current job, vice president and general manager of Richmond Foundry Co. (a division of Matrix Metals, LLC) in May 2001.

In each of these positions, Kulkarni has found a way to work in the knowledge he gained from research to improve foundry processes. While his responsibilities have expanded beyond research and process engineering to include attention to management details, profit and loss statements and sales, Kulkami's background still contributes to his daily work.

He discusses the research with customers. By explaining clean steel research results or showing the them table of feasible tolerances, Kulkarni can help attract customers. Emphasizing how the foundry has improved processes and quality through its commitment to research sets it apart from the competition.

The best approach to applying research is participation, Kulkarni said. Universities want partners in research--partners with resources.

In addition to direct participation, Kulkarni urged foundries to keep up-to-date on research from reports and papers. Often this information can be adjusted easily for another foundry, which eliminates much of the work and experimentation.

The key is to "let the castings do the talking," Kulkarni concluded. "They will tell you what is good and what is bad. What that means is, let the data tell you what would make the casting better."

RELATED ARTICLE: Shrirang Kulkarni

Vice President and General Manager

Richmond Foundry Co. Div.

(Matrix Metals, LLC Co.)

Age: 46

Immediate Family: Wife-Sadhana; Daughter-Anupama; Son-Anand

Education: Univ. of Poona (India)-B.S. in Metallurgical Engineering; Univ. of Missouri-Roll-M.S. in Metallurgical Engineering.

Professional Organizations: Chairman of SESA Carbon and Low Alloy Steel Research Committee.

Company Information

(Matrix Metals, LLC Co.)

Founded: 2001

Metals Cast: Carbon, low-alloy, manganese, stainless and nickel-based steel alloys.

Mold Processes: Nobake, shell and graphite permanent molding.

Core Processes: Nobake and shell.

Melt Processes: Electric arc and induction.

Key Markets: Flow products, locomotive, transit, rail, military, construction and mining.

Casting Production Capacity: 1700 tons/month ($80 million./yr).

Employees: 450.
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Comment:Shrirang Kulkarni: Bringing research to the plate for the foundry industry. (Industry Faces).
Author:Swenson, Lisa
Publication:Modern Casting
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2002
Words:1377
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