Industry Roadmap Gives Direction
Shannon Wetzel, Managing Editor
Click here to see this article as it appears in Modern Casting
For two years, metalcasting industry leaders, engineers, business professionals and researchers have been collaborating on a roadmapping project to develop and document the industry’s capability gaps, solutions and recommendations for areas of investment. The final Metalcasting Industry Roadmap, developed by the American Metalcasting Consortium, was released in June and outlines areas the industry should focus on in the next one to 10 years.
“If we don’t have a roadmap, we don’t know where to go,” said John Danko, president, Danko-Arlington Inc., Baltimore. “It’s a collection of tribal knowledge where the industry came together to see how we can preserve the industry and move forward with what we’ve accomplished.”
This document is a critical tool in helping research institutions, suppliers, and metalcasters direct their future investments in R&D and is necessary for acquiring funding.
“The roadmap identifies gaps so it helps support requests for funding,” said Ray Donahue, who was one of the team members who worked on the project. Donahue is a Fellow at Mercury Marine, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. “You can bring it to funding agencies and show this is a need and we have a program to solve that.”
For metalcasting businesses, the roadmap will help guide future investments, training, and strategy.
“Metalcasters have to use this as a springboard to keeping their company competitive,” Danko said. “Now it is up to each foundry to develop their own roadmap and create their own strategic plan.”
The roadmap is divided into four main categories: process, materials, design and workforce, with several goals included in each topic.
The roadmapping team worked to identify areas of opportunity to more efficiently manufacture metal castings, including rapid tooling, research, technology development, and advancements and integration of digital data threads. The team also looked at transformative and potentially disruptive approaches to how cast metal components are produced. Eight categories for new technologies and processes needed for metalcasting were outlined:
Additive manufacturing and rapid subtractive manufacturing.
Smart machines and manufacturing.
Digital thread integration and implementation.
Automation, robotics, ergonomics, and sustainability.
Advanced metalcasting technology.
Within each category, areas for improvement were identified with projected timelines of how long it should take to achieve target outcomes (see charts on pages 27-29). Advancements in process will deliver on the whole shorter lead times, more efficient designs, better performance, and improved profitability.
Material research and development can improve quality, performance and cost-effectiveness and reduce weight and lead times, according to the roadmap. The three major materials categories of focus for the metalcasting industry in the next 10 years are:
Cast materials, including the optimization of properties, enhanced alloys, sustainable substitutes and hybrids (see chart on page 30).
Mold, die and tooling materials, covering expendable cores, coatings and lubricants, binders, reclamation, alternative wax materials, and additive manufacturing materials properties.
Increasing the tools for design is a critical element in moving the industry forward, as a perceived lack of knowledge of metalcasting can make designing for castings difficult.
“So many young people don’t know about castings and don’t know about draft or parting lines,” Danko said.
Digital tools for manufacturing, casting and additive manufacturing that unlock the optimal ways to design and produce a cast part will lead to a more responsive supply chain, more affordable designs, and better lead times (see chart on page 30). Software will be critical in advancing metalcasting design. By making it easier to design, the industry will make metalcasting more accessible to the next generation of metalcasters with less experience, Danko said.
“To me, this is the most exciting thing, because we are facing an awareness problem,” Danko said. “If there is a way to build a web-based tool to illustrate the process and help solve the casting design, I think that would be a huge success.”
Short-term, the roadmap envisions development in customized casting design software, web-based educational tools, solidification modification included in CAD modules, and design-for-performance guidelines. Long-term, the roadmap calls for automated drawings that apply casting design principles, CAD modules that determine thermophysical properties, and web-based tools that give examples of ideal casting processes per design.
The team of industry representatives also identified the workforce as a critical part of the industry’s future and should be part of industry and individual business planning. Areas of opportunity in addressing workforce needs include outreach, attraction, training, and retention.
“The inclusion of workforce has not been in any other industry roadmap, and I think its goodA that it is included here,” Donahue said. “When I received the final copy, I showed it to my boss, because workforce is one of the industry’s biggest problems.”
It’s no secret that a significant portion of the metalcasting industry workforce is approaching retirement age. New workers will be needed to fill that impending gap and that transition period requires planning and investment. Concerns regarding the availability of capable, knowledgeable, and willing employees made this a major category in the roadmap.
A coordinated industry effort to increase the awareness of the industry to middle school and high school students is part of the roadmap’s outreach guidelines. The ultimate goal is to increase the number of young workers actively seeking employment in the metalcasting industry as a career path.
Those who developed the roadmap identified technical-level jobs as the most difficult to fill. These include welders, patternmakers, machinists and others that require technical level training or certifications. Metalcasters will need to identify their critical technical level jobs and identify the training and certification programs that develop these workers and try to attract workers from this pool of job candidates.
The full Metalcasting Industry Roadmap document is available at www.moderncasting.com. While it does not give turn by turn directions for the industry’s next ten years, but it does identify the gaps in capabilities that need to be filled if the industry will thrive. Exciting opportunities over the next few years can steer metalcasters to new heights of profit, productivity and quality.
“We have to set goals,” Danko said. “At our company, we are setting goals for higher quality, lower scrap and better workforce training. We are working with the community and trying to improve our facilities to make them more attractive. If we want to stay in business, we have to do all these things. If we aren’t challenged, it will be more of the same and nothing further.”