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What's Old Is New Again

Alfred Spada

In this issue of Modern Casting, the focus is on plant engineering—ways to upgrade, remodel, expand and advance your metalcasting facility.  Through four features, this issue examines a new steel casting facility in Omaha, rejuvenated facility Brillion Iron Works, trends in facility upgrades and a redefinition of investment priorities for metalcasters. As always, the goal is to provide you some food for thought as you evaluate your facility for ways to push forward.

My food for thought for this issue came when Senior Editor Shannon Wetzel and I visited Brillion Iron Works a few months ago for the story, “Brillion Iron Works Rejuvenation,” on p. 26. My first visit to Brillion more than 10 years ago occurred on a bitterly cold winter morning for which Northern Wisconsin is famous. While the facility was large with vast capabilities, it appeared as if its best times were a thing of the past.

“Brillion had tired equipment, an ineffective layout and a challenged operation,” Rick Dauch, president and CEO of Brillion’s parent Accuride, said this year.

When the industry was whispering that Brillion was coming alive again, I will admit we were skeptical. The key was to visit the facility firsthand to judge with our own eyes.  And with our first steps into the remodeled entrance and office buildings, the cold winter I experienced before seemed to fade away, replaced by the warmth and excitement of new beginnings.

“The last two to three years, we have been working to diligently fix the business.  And the culture of the management team has been to invest to make sure the technology is right,” said Brillion President Dave Adams.

The turnaround strategy has included applying lean manufacturing principles that improve financial performance, replacing tired equipment, enhancing communication with the workforce, and reevaluating the cost and pricing structure. Sounds like a straight-forward plan, but then consider the new management team at Brillion is trying to enact these changes at an 80-year-old facility that also happens to be one of the largest single-plant casting operations in the U.S.

The results show the new Brillion management team is on to something. The improvements at the facility have reduced the plant’s breakeven point in sales by 30%, a monumental achievement for a 140,000-ton-capacity metalcaster. Lead times also have been improved by more than 30%.

 “Managing for maturity … means moving beyond investing in equipment for capacity and growth. Instead, we need to focus on investing to shrink cost structures and boost competitiveness via improved quality and short lead times,” writes TDC Consulting’s Dan Marcus, an expert on turnarounds in metalcasting, in the feature, “ROI for the 21st Century,” on p. 34.

For Brillion, the focus is on costs, quality, lead times and profitability—with dramatic improvements in the first three, resulting in growth of the fourth. For this metalcaster, the turnaround does appear to be “transformational.”