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Willman: Making Big Green Sand Castings for a Lower Overall Cost.

Reinvestment is all-important to furthering this jobbing iron foundry's niche business, and a new green sand expansion has added cost-saving opportunities to the mix.

In trying economic times, it's easy to lose focus on long-term goals in favor of playing it safe for the short-term. Many foundries opt to "put off" expansion plans when the future is a bit hazy. They rationalize that it doesn't make sense to spend money now on business that may not materialize down the road.

Willman Industries, Inc., a Cedar Grove, Wisconsin-based iron job shop that casts thin-walled exhaust manifolds, heavy-section hydraulic pumps, valves, housings and power generating equipment (among many other products), hasn't let uncertainty over a softening market cloud its expansion plans. In fact, the need to further define its niche has sharpened its long-term vision, and reinvestment in equipment is seen as necessary.

The jobbing facility has 230 customers with 4000 active patterns, but the bulk of its business rests in 16 customers (including icons such as Caterpillar, Inc., and Case New Holland), which comprise 55% of its sales. Like every jobbing foundry, when larger customers tighten their belts, Willman feels the pinch. To strengthen its market position, the foundry has followed a philosophy of planned capital investment, and its latest green sand expansion allows it to offer pricing that is more competitive than businesses that produce the same jobs in nobake molds. This article covers how Willman Industries' reinvestment strategy and extensive expansion plans have generated business and a more certain future.

A Singular Vision

In any foundry, planning is key to achieving profit projections and growing in leaner times. Willman Industries, which was acquired in 1987 by Clay Willman (who had operated the company since 1972 as a group president) has benefited from a consistent vision for almost 30 years.

Willman has been managed with a philosophy of growth through reinvestment in its already existing operation--not looking to fill niches through acquisitions, as many larger companies have done. As a smaller jobbing operation, the foundry simply doesn't have the resources of a large corporation and can't afford to spread itself too thin. "When you acquire other companies, you also acquire their debt," explained Jerry Hendrickson, vice president-sales. "You dilute your management resources."

"Buying other companies does not allow you to reinvest the proper resources in your own foundry, and that causes problems later on," said Willman President Chris Atkin. "It's hard to maintain a focus on a niche when you're acquiring foundries that don't completely suit your needs. By strengthening our existing foundry, we can offer customers what they want in one facility instead of with five."

The foundry, which sits on a 15-acre site in a sleepy eastern-Wisconsin town, has plenty of room to expand, and management has sought to focus Willman's existing strengths: engineering both nobake and green sand molds. As part of its 10-year capital business plan, the foundry has completed four of an anticipated nine projects totaling more than $12 million. Projects completed to date include a 30% increase in melting capacity (1997); a coreroom expansion that doubled the size of the operation and added the phenolic urethane process to the mix (1998); redesign of the foundry's cleaning room (1999) and the recent completion of a $4.78-million green sand molding line and 100 ton/hr sand system capable of making 120 large molds/shift (2001).

Eye on the Future

Management began planning Willman's expansion and modernization effort more than 10 years ago, at a time when the industry had suffered through the '80's and today's slowdown was not yet foreseen. "We began by asking customers, "What needs do you have?,' because if we were going to spend the money, it was important to fill a niche," said Hendrickson.

"The debate at the time was whether to expand the green sand or nobake operations," said Atkin, who stressed that the rationale behind the capital reinvestment plan was to continue to build the foundry's competitive advantage. Willman did not just want to offer more of the same. "Our decision was based on where we thought we had the greatest opportunities for increased business," he said. "If you look at nobake operations, everybody's costs are similar. Doing the same jobs in green sand would offer us cost advantages."

Now that domestic casting demand has slowed and contraction of the U.S. market is expected in the short-term, the need for the expansion effort is further justified in the minds of management--not only does the reinvestment further define Willman's niche with prospective customers, but it also reasserts what the foundry can offer its existing customers.

"We sold some of the capacity before we started the installation, but we wouldn't have considered the expansion if we didn't feel there was a marketplace for this type of green sand capacity," said Atkin. He acknowledged that off-shore competition is becoming more of an issue than it ever was for the foundry, and the expansion plan has opened the door to markets it couldn't compete in previously. As a result, while many foundries are experiencing a slowdown, Willman is continuing to generate business by attracting new customers.

Bigger Molds, Better Pricing

Wiliman's 100-employee foundry complex consists of two facilities: one for nobake castings from 500 lb-20 tons and the other for green sand castings up to 1500 lb. (Between both facilities, the average casting weight is 532 lb.) Currently, on its nobake floor molding line, Willman is producing varied runs from 1 piece to 750 annually.

The nobake facility, which has two bays for molding medium-sized, semi-production castings and one-on components up to 40,000 lb in flasks, flaskless or in pits, offered efficient production, but management saw a real opportunity with its green sand side.

Before the expansion, Willman was handling all larger castings in nobake molds. Willman's pre-existing green sand operation used cope and drag pin lift molding machines with flask sizes up to 38 x 60 in., an automatic in-line molding station and squeezer return pallet molding. While these lines were well-equipped to handle typical green sand jobs, the idea behind an expansion was to increase profit margins by offering something that was atypical.

Eyeing Economic Advantages

The distinct advantage of using green sand for larger casting production is economics--by making these larger jobs in green sand, the foundry is able to cut labor and material (primarily furan) costs and increase production speed. Production issues were secondary as Willman already knew it could achieve the same quality on both types of molding systems. The foundry wasn't taking on an unfamiliar medium--and the benefits more than outweigh the cost of lower yield (these castings require larger risers to feed the greater shrinkage potential of green sand molds). In addition, better molding quality actually reduces shrinkage issues, Atkin said.

Normally, Willman made 38 x 42 x 15 in./15 in. molds in green sand--many foundries cast components that require even this size flask in nobake molds. Generally, the compressive strength of conventional green sand molds can't handle the larger size castings that nobake excels in. To efficiently produce green sand molds of this caliber, the foundry needed specialized equipment that was adept at making deeper, harder molds--a potentially costly endeavor.

Once management decided that production issues could be reasonably addressed with the right equipment and the right design, the foundry proceeded by purchasing new and used equipment and engineered processes in-house in an effort to cut costs. Initial setup and equipment costs still were high--this is the main reason why other foundries have avoided this type of expansion--but this was expected, according to Willman Vice President-Finance Mark Lorge, who stressed that the expansion should still pay for itself within 5 years.

The Installation Takes Shape

In November 1998 construction on the new green sand line began, and production started in January 2000. The foundry expected some adjustment time to smooth out kinks, but flow-through has been smooth--the automatic equipment and its standard operating parameters ensure quality, said Atkin. The new 15,000-sq-ft addition features a long-stroke, jolt squeeze automatic molding machine that enables the foundry to produce green sand castings with weights up to 1500 lb in flask sizes of 42 x 42 x 20 in./20 in. and 42 x 60 x 20 in./20 in.--This is a feat it wouldn't attempt before.

Production begins with two 150-ton live bottom return sand silos, a 75-ton bond silo and a 100-ton new sand silo. The new sand and return sand are weighed into the 100-ton/hr muller. The bond is blown into the bottom of the muller for more efficient bond recovery, and water additions are controlled with an automatic compactability controller. The mulled sand is then carried by a 120-ft belt to a 5-ton surge tank installed over the molding machine. A conveyor shuttles the sand over the molding machine, distributing aerated sand uniformly into the flask.

Once the flask has been filled it is jolted. The molding machine head then swings over the mold, which is elevated and squeezed against the head. During this squeezing the mold is jolted so that a simultaneous jolt-squeeze action occurs. The unusual feature of this machine is that the jolt is a long-stroke action, which breaks the natural bridging that occurs in deep green sand molds, resulting in a harder mold in deep pockets.

The molding cycle starts with the cope. After the cope half is made it is stripped from the pattern and elevated. This cope half is pushed away onto a powered conveyor by the incoming drag flask. As this happens, the cope pattern and bolster are released from the molding table and pushed away by the incoming drag pattern and bolster, which are then clamped to the table. The molding cycle then is repeated.

Every cope and drag is rolled over for quality inspection. After coresetting, the cope is rotated and the mold closed. The molds then travel to a staging area, where they are picked up and set into their pouring positions on the floor.

With this equipment, Willman achieves a pattern change in 5-10 min, a 2-3-fold improvement over the normal arrangement, Atkin said. "The equipment can actually change a pattern without losing a mold cycle, but we aren't trying to make 200 molds a shift, so it's not necessary--yet."

This automatic line can produce 160 molds/shift, but the most Willman is doing now is 70. The line is manned with just two people, who are twice as productive as they were before the expansion, Atkin said. Even though the automatic molding set-up is capable of making a large green sand mold every 5 min, flasks can't be cycled that quickly. As business for the line builds, Willman also will add flasks.

Typical components made on the new equipment are gearboxes, transmission housings and planetary gear housings. While the foundry has converted nobake work and moved other green sand jobs to this new, efficient line, the majority of the work is new business. "We're seeing $3-S million in additional business that we wouldn't have seen otherwise," Atkin said.

One Step at a Time

The green sand expansion is Willman's latest accomplishment, but a number of planned modernization projects have led to this most recent success--and more are planned for the coming decade. Both melt and core capacity were needed to fuel the new green sand expansion, and a cleaning room redesign was integral to gaining better lead times.

Melting Capabilities--Before the upgrade, Willman had two 9-ton coreless induction furnaces powered by one 1600-KVA supply. The answer to increase melt rate was to add a single 2200-KVA power supply.

After the upgrade, the foundry increased its melt capacity from 120,000 lb/day to 180,000 lb/day. Willman melts on three shifts to meet its increased production load, curtailing its power usage during peak periods to lower costs. The foundry only runs both supplies to reach maximum capacity for both furnaces during low-demand hours, switching to just one power supply during peak hours.

Coreroom Expansion--Willman's coreroom was a bottleneck for the operation because 50% of cores were outsourced and the foundry couldn't meet its own just-in-time demands, Atkin said. Today's coreroom incorporates both an automatic core-blowing setup to high-speed, short-run loop-type coremaking. Processes run the gamut from shell to nobake to oil sand cores, and tooling can be matched to volume requirements using laminated object manufacturing prototyping, conventional production urethane/metal and wood patterns.

Today, less than 1% of cores are outsourced, and these cores are only for very specialized jobs. "We decide what we want and when we want it," Atkin said, stressing that this control was vital to eliminating downtime. As a result, in this shift to internal production, Willman's coreroom has grown from 6 employees to 14, but those employees can make up to 1000 cores/shift.

Cleaning Room--A goal of Willman's cleaning room redesign and reorganization was to improve flow, reduce lead time and cut labor costs. Maintaining environmental/safety controls also was important to management, who see environmental compliance as a selling point with customers.

Today, the area features two table blasts, a 9-cu-ft tumble blast, two swing cut-off stations, two swing grinders, a high-speed wheel grinder station, an air cannon and six bench grinding stations. Castings are brought in from a staging area after cooling, desprued, derisered and either tumble- or table-blasted. An air cannon is used to denser large castings, eliminating powder torch cutting and abrasive wheel cutting. "We added the air cannon for efficiency, but we're also reaping environmental benefits," Atkin said. After swing cutoff or grinding, castings move to bench grinding and then to final inspection, packing and shipping.

Manual handling of pieces was slashed with the redesign because pieces travel in a straight-line flow-through and due to the installation of overhead lift system (the foundry has seen a 10% labor improvement). In addition, management can see easily how jobs are flowing through the area. Pieces now are processed in 1 week, a 100% improvement over the previous method.

Greater Plans Ahead

As part of future expansion, Willman plans a new cleaning room (2002); a new charging bay (2003); a doubling of melting capacity (2004); incorporating 100 more feet of floor molding space (2005); and the replacement of pinlift operations with an in-line molding system (2007). While the foundry is committed to these further investments, it is wary of the economy--management acknowledges that the foundry doesn't exist in a vacuum and won't outpace its growth opportunities. "We think we're going to grow, come what may," Atkin said, making the case for continued reinvestment. "A booming economy would make things much easier, but if we hadn't put money into this expansion, we would have seen substantially less business than we have now."

Willman Industries., Inc.

Cedar Grove, Wisconsin

Year Founded: 1940 (as a jobbing foundry).

Metals Cast: Austempered ductile, ductile, high-silicon and gray iron.

Mold Capabilities: Nobake and green sand, up to 40,000 lb.

Core Capabilities: Shell, coldbox, oil sand and phenolic urethane and furan loop systems.

Melt Capabilities: Coreless induction with a capacity of 100 tons daily.

Size: 140,000 sq ft.

Key Markets: Agriculture, automotive and truck, construction, diesel, energy, machine tool, marine, mining, oil and gas, paper and printing, power transmission, and railroad.

2000 Shipments: 15 million lb.

Employees: 129.

Corporate Officials: Clay Willman, CEO; Chris Atkin, president; Jerry Hendrickson, vice president-sales; Mark Lorge, vice president-finance; Craig Paque, quality assurance manager.
COPYRIGHT 2001 American Foundry Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Willman Industries Inc.
Comment:Willman: Making Big Green Sand Castings for a Lower Overall Cost.(Willman Industries Inc.)
Author:Foti, Ross
Publication:Modern Casting
Article Type:Company Profile
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2001
Words:2566
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