Successful Castings Hinge on Careful Customer Contract Review

Kim Phelan

The ink was barely dry on Mike Porfilio’s diploma from metallurgy school when he took his first foundry job in quality assurance and contract review. Proficient in CAD drawing among other things, he was also tutoring people in AutoCAD, Maxi CAD and some other computer-aided drafting programs––which is why he didn’t see what was coming on Day 1 in his new position. 

Porfilio was responsible for taking and collecting notes and typing them into the routings to ensure they satisfied the customer’s specifications. First day on the job, he was called into a contract meeting with some grizzled engineers, and what happened next makes him laugh to this day.

“The engineering manager pulls out this lunch bag, and he starts scribbling on it, drawing pictures of stuff––‘take a hardness here,’ and he draws an arrow; ‘take a tensile out of the part over here, do this, do that,’” Porfilio said. “I found that so hilarious, until I started going through our computer system and I found on some drawings, where normally there would be a number and a revision, it just said ‘lunch bag.’ So I went back to the engineering file––and there was a lunch bag in the file folder that had some scribbling on it from the 1950s. I couldn’t believe it! Here I was tutoring drafting, and professional engineers are sketching on lunch bags.” 

He still has some of those lunch bags as a reminder of just how far the foundry industry has come. Today, Porfilio is director of Quality, Foundry Engineering at Stainless Foundry & Engineering Inc. in Milwaukee, as well as an NDE III, Nuclear QA systems auditor. Overseeing a team of contract review specialists from diverse professional backgrounds, he now knows that material specification drawings are just one of the many crucial pieces of the customer PO puzzle––pieces that foundries must fit together and thoroughly understand before the job takes one step toward production.

In other words, contract review itself is the first essential activity that needs to take place once a job’s been awarded to the foundry and that purchase order has arrived. 

Two absolutes at this juncture will lay the foundation for producing a successful part for the customer: (1) the PO must be forensically dissected to ensure it aligns with the foundry’s quote, and (2) this task requires nothing less than highly talented quality and technical specialists who can verify the minutia of this starting-line document––which includes process parameters, special needs, detailed specifications, drawings and testing. Missing even a single detail can be catastrophic, according to Porfilio; things such as: special heat treatment, a chemical range deviating from a standard specification, or a request for a special ferrite level or microstructure––all must be understood. 

Use ISO to Your Advantage

A source of unquantifiable value to the foundry, contract review is a hinge upon which every project’s success swings. It’s how you make certain you’re delivering verbatim on customers’ needs. And the key to achieving the review process consistently and efficiently lies within ISO 9001:2015, a well-known quality and business management standard containing good practices that, when followed, lead to high-quality parts. 

“The ISO standard fosters excellence,” said Porfilio. “Continuous improvement is a mantra we’ve had for a long time in the industry, and ISO 9001 is a means to an end ... that supports the production of castings and machining, as well as value-added things such as painting, plating, and other special processes.”

Basically, Porfilio said, the standard’s relevant elements revolve around: 

Revisions to your products (castings) and manufacturing techniques.

The ISO standard also creates a structure for the intensive, technical documentation required to ensure the foundry meets customer purchasing requirements. 

Needless to say, customer orders are the life blood of the foundry organization, so despite its miry particulars, contract review has to be somewhat expedited. The sooner the customer’s PO moves through the review and scheduling system, the quicker parts will be poured. And pouring parts sooner rather than later allows more time for post-casting processing and ultimately increases on-time delivery. In this time-sensitive environment, only an experienced contract reviewer can perform this complex job efficiently and correctly.

What all does that job entail? Porfilio said the key elements and attributes needed to conduct a contract review include:

The entire customer purchase order.
A current and properly formatted casting drawing.
All required specifications.
A properly developed manufacturing plan, also known as a routing.
A thorough understanding of metallurgical and testing concepts including test material.
Work instruction procedures needed for manufacturing.
Good communication with all relevant departments and outside providers.
Good relationships with your customers’ buyers and technical people.

Generally, contract review is performed in the following order: 
Purchase order.
Drawings or prints.

This sequence also drives decision-making if one piece element doesn’t agree with another. If something in the drawing conflicts with the specifications, follow the specifications; if the specification doesn’t line up with the PO, follow the PO; and likewise, the contract takes precedence over the PO. But the No. 1 thing to remember if you spot a conflict in requirements: call the customer. Once you have that conversation, the second directive is: Get any customer revisions or clarification documented in writing and archived with the job file. 

Specification Explanation

The number of possible casting specifications is nearly endless, but the most common that will show up on customer orders are ASTM, ASME, MIL and NAVSEA, ISO and EN, plus NACE, NORSOK and API. 

ASTM (American Society of Testing and Materials). ASTM comprises a series of specs for materials, nondestructive testing, testing practices and protocols, processing, welding and more. It sets out requirements for chemical ranges and gives limits for disposition of mechanical properties; provides both pressure and non-pressure specifications for cast materials; details mandatory tests, heat treatments, welding conditions and other processes; and includes some pass-downs to other governing specifications (A703, A781, etc.) that have overarching requirements.

For clarity in production, Porfilio recommends detailing your manufacturing routings with references to the customer’s material specification call-outs, such as “mechanical testing in accordance with ASTM E8,” or “welding to be performed in accordance with ASTM A488” or “heat treatment in accordance to ASTM A351, Table 1.” ASTM specs are very exacting and thereby remove any guesswork on the production floor.

ASME (The American Society of Mechanical Engineers). This is a pressure vessel series of code standards for both ferrous and non-ferrous alloys, many of which are similar if not identical to ASTM. A key distinguishing factor is that ASME is a safety standard––if something goes wrong, people may be injured. That’s why Porfilio advises certifying welders and qualifying nondestructive testing personnel to meet the requirements of ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code (B&PVC). For foundries, the many sections of B&PVC contain reference materials, construction, nondestructive testing, welding and code cases. 

ASME specs will also contain terminology for manufacturing of parts that retain pressures, which, again, comprise high safety requirements. Foundries must provide traceability and follow all requirements verbatim. Be mindful, Porfilio added, that while similarities are evident between ASTM and ASME specs (for example, ASTM A216 versus ASME SA216), the welding and other requirements such as chemical ranges demand higher criticality acceptance of tests. Just be aware of the subtle differences.

MIL and NAVSEA (Military and Naval Sea Systems Command). Every aspect of these specifications is designed to over-qualify materials so they meet the rigors of high-end use. Most specifications in these two standards cover the entire material expectation, whereas other standards tend to hone in on welding, general NDT or inspections of welds, for example. MIL and NAVSEA are always very detailed—in some cases over 10 times more detailed than ASTM—and always require proper procedures and personnel qualifications.

“It’s a good practice to have one or two people in your organization who understand and are well read on the specifications for MIL and NAVSEA orders,” said Porfilio. “These orders are intimidating and need to have highly skilled personnel to complete them, as well as verbatim compliant routing instructions.”  

ISO and EN (European Nation). “These types of standards take the level of difficulty to a new level,” said Porfilio. “You really have to have a talented process control and contract review person."

The PED (Pressure Equipment Directive), a European version of the ASME B&PVC series of documents, is a safety-based standard for handling castings and components with working pressures in excess of 0.5 Bar (7.25 PSI). The standard calls for only approved, very specific alloys and specifications. For example, steel impact properties must be 27J (20 ft.-lbs.) tested at the lowest designed operating temperature and 14% elongation. 

American grades can be produced as long as they’re “harmonized,” (on an approved list of materials), or if they’re placed on a properly formatted PMA (Particular Material Appraisal). The European state where the part will be used has final approval––the material has to meet the standards and the safety requirements of that European member state. 

NACE, NORSOK and API. (National Association of Corrosion Engineers/Norwegian shelf’s competitive position/American Petroleum Institute). Complicated in the extreme, these specifications deal with corrosion-intensive and/or petroleum-based materials and testing protocols. They set conditions for heat treatment, corrosion testing, material strength, and hardness as well as NDT, depending on the customer’s exact specification. Foundries may be tasked with heightened testing levels, and shop routing may be affected by different types of required test molds and sand binders that will yield more corrosion-resistant alloys, according to Porfilio. 

“These are very compliant specifications and codes with some of the highest-level processing requirements,” he said. “So once again, you have to have the very competent contract review person available. And you always want to review with a second set of eyes.”

No More Brown-Baggin’ It

Suffice it to say, Porfilio’s anecdote about drawing on brown paper lunch bags is (or better be) nothing more than a faded memory of bygone practices that have thankfully been replaced with solid models, CAD and solidification models. A contract review is not complete without a properly formatted drawing and solid model file with requirements and dimensions clearly delineated.

Somewhere in the order, your customer may specify visual inspection as well as other nondestructive testing (NDT). For visual inspection, a set of SCRATA plates is useful––these tactile plastic tiles show a variety of surface finishes, making it easy to see and feel if the final finish has hit the customer’s expectations. 

“Almost all castings are visually inspected in some way, so having a good ASNT-certified [American Society for Nondestructive Testing] inspector is important,” said Porfilio. “And having good notes in the manufacturing routing in the foundry helps the floor employees look at things properly; and inspectors know where to go to get the acceptance criteria.” 

Customers may call out some type of nondestructive testing to verify the integrity of a casting that could impact safety, financial loss or operational downtime. Beside visual testing, NDT includes radiographic testing, penetrant testing, mag particle testing and ultrasonic testing—for the latter, Porfilio likes personnel performing the tests to be ASNT-certified. And when it comes to nondestructive testing, don’t stray from the PO’s requirements. 

“Make sure that the test methods and acceptance criteria have been defined by your customers’ purchasing documents,” said Porfilio. “Never give a customer more than he asked for––you’re just asking for problems if you do. If somebody wants a Level 3 defect in a part, don’t go trying to make all Level 2 or Level 1 defects for them; give them a Level 3. That’s what they think they can accept, so that’s what you should be working on.”

Once your contract review’s complete, the next step is one that some might like to skip, but Porfilio wouldn’t recommend it. His advice: Don’t bypass the acknowledgement.   

“This is you telling the customer, ‘I’m going to heat treat the part like this, I’m going to follow this material spec, traceability will be enforced like this, I’m going to stamp heat numbers or ink mark them, and any other special processes required for the order,’” he said. “You do this whether or not a material spec requires a material certification or certificate of conformance that has to be sent back to the customer. You want to let the customer know, ‘Here’s what I’m going to do.’ And if you don’t hear back from them, you go into production and you build to that, because that’s how you interpret the purchase order.”

If there’s one point Porfilio doesn’t mind being redundant on it’s the imperative to put well-qualified personnel into contract review roles––the risks to the foundry are too great not to. 

Behind every specification and call-out lies an opportunity to make a mistake that could result in product error, customer dissatisfaction and even harm to foundry profitability, not to mention the company’s reputation in the marketplace. That’s why Porfilio believes contract review should be carefully governed by the risk abatement principles in ISO 31000:2018; but really it boils down to this:

“The main risk of the contract review is having underqualified personnel performing the contract review and not having infrastructure––the personnel to assist with the process and specification knowledge,” said Porfilio. “People are the key and the experiences that they have encountered in their careers. For foundry contract review, you must have understanding of how the foundry operates, as well as metallurgy and quality. One big mistake can cause a financial issue but also a loss of reputation.”    

Click here to view the article in the March 2021 digital edition.