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You Can Lead a Horse to Water[ldots].

My delayed return flight from the AFS Casting Congress provided me some time to reflect upon the 4-plus days I spent running around Pittsburgh covering technical sessions, talking to exhibitors and discussing the state of the industry. As with past Congresses, I was returning to Chicago drained of energy but excited about the technology I saw and technical insights I heard. Unlike past Congresses, however, I also was overcome by a sense of relief--relief that foundrymen have access to the knowledge they need to improve their operations and meet the demands of customers and regulators.

Trade publications and industry associations exist to provide their customers with information to improve their operation's quality, production and cost-effectiveness, identify marketplace trends and improve management. You see, over the last few months, I had questioned whether foundrymen were getting the facts and big picture their trade magazines and associations Were communicating. My questioning was related to two recent discussions I had while in the Northwest U.S.

During a visit to Boeing's commercial aircraft division (for an Engineered Casting Solutions article), I struck up a conversation with two design engineers about Boeing's use (or lack thereof) of castings. To make a long conversation short, their final message was that castings are almost never the first manufacturing option for metal component design at Boeing. Their reasons included: long lead times; little understanding by design engineers of casting design; and problems related to the casting factor (material padding required in design by aircraft manufacturers due to casting's "poor" material property consistency in the past). Although each of these reasons is deserving of its own commentary, the strength of their ultimate message is the one I am concerned with, and, even more importantly, the engineers' statements that some foundries were unresponsive to their needs and producing castings of sub-par quality when compared to other manufacturing methods. A sentiment that I have found isn't isolated to th e aircraft industry.

The second conversation was with a few foundrymen at the AFS Northwest Regional in Tacoma, Washington. It focused on pending government regulations, specifically the ergonomics rule and the reduction of the permissible exposure limit for silica, which will likely take effect over the next couple of years. Although the foundrymen knew the potential effect these regulations could have on their plants, they were taking the "wait-and-see" approach. They weren't actively working toward better, smarter regulations (besides complaining about OSHA and how they don't "understand" foundries), and they weren't working toward compliance. More or less, it appeared that their foundries were content to let OSHA set the rules they play by and then avoid the problem until they no longer can. Their theory was that this method had worked in the past, so why not now.

Both of these conversations had left me a bit disturbed. Had the proper knowledge been supplied to these foundries and foundrymen to allow them to understand and overcome the obstacles presented by their customers and OSHA?

While at Casting Congress, I received the answer to this question. It was yes. As the following saying goes: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." The goal for any trade association or magazine is to provide the knowledge to support its industry, and offer guidance when requested. It isn't possible to force an industry to read or listen to it. If the knowledge is developed and presented properly, the industry should be engaged and understand the need to alter itself.

How did I come across this "epiphany?" I sat in on many of the technical sessions held at Casting Congress and other metalcasting-related conferences the last year, and I reviewed the last couple of years of articles printed in our industry's trade publications. In light of the problems with the Boeing engineers, there have been sessions held and articles written in the past year alone on rapid prototyping and computer modeling to speed up and improve the production process. In regard to the environmental problems facing the industry, there have been numerous technical sessions, workshops and articles with practical ways to "fight" pending regulations and prepare your plant for what is possibly on the way. And these are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of available knowledge.

My message in this column is not that any association or trade magazine has all the answers to your metalcasting problems. In reality, most of the practical information comes from an exchange of knowledge with your peers. My message is that there are invaluable resources (whether they are AFS-related or not) available to you at little or no monetary cost (especially when you factor in reduced costs due to improved casting production and quality). If you can't find time to tap these resources for fear of lost production man-hours, then you may want to consider closing your doors now. If OSHA doesn't shut you down in the next 10 years, then your lack of customers will.

The question you must ask is: Does my plant take full advantage of the resources available to make it a better service provider to its customers? If the recent Casting Congress in Pittsburgh is any indication--with an attendance of 1557 metalcasters (which is on par with the last ten years of non-CastExpo shows) from an industry that employs more than 200,000--most answers will be no. What answer would your customers like to hear?.

Charles Darwin coined the phrase "survival of the fittest" when talking about how nature cleanses itself by allowing only those that adapt and overcome their obstacles to survive. In our industry, this cleansing has begun. Surviving foundries that have learned to adapt to their environment (good and bad), leverage the available resources and take advantage of the changing landscape have begun to thrive. Those that refuse to adapt, or are unable to, are slowly becoming extinct.

Alfred T. Spada

Managing Editor
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Publication:Modern Casting
Date:May 1, 2000
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