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How Your Foundry Can Change Perceptions

Rich Jefferson

In the first part of this column published in June, we reviewed two critical communications ideas for metalcasters, brand and reputation. Brand is how you want to image your company to customers. You control what you tell your customers. Brand is how you compete. But you don’t control how the message is received. How your customers receive your messages and how you’re perceived—that’s your reputation.

The industry does a fair job of proactively managing its brand. However, there seems to be a consensus the industry’s reputation could at least use some machining and polishing. We all know of instances in which news reports covered foundries that paid millions in OSHA fines for serious environmental violations and safety lapses that have led to injuries and deaths at the plant.   

That kind of news can be difficult for the industry to prevail against. If the industry doesn’t aggressively manage its reputation, who will? The industry has ways it can its value to a wide audience: Scientifically sound research, case studies, and community outreach, like Manufacturing Day events (more on that later).

Dan Oman illustrated using scientific research and case studies for reputation management in the 2018 Hoyt Memorial Lecture, Changing Perceptions: The Need for an “Unbalanced Force.”

Using science, research, and the attendant case studies can take years to accomplish, but they are absolutely necessary. Oman explained how the right communications is an “unbalanced force” that changes perceptions and improves a reputation. Public relations borrows from science with Oman’s take on Newton’s First Law of Motion: An object (reputation) at rest stays at rest, an object (reputation) in motion continues on its trajectory. In today’s patois, an unbalanced force is usually called a disruption.

Gray Iron Foundry Sludge as a Listed Hazardous Waste
Back in 1980, the industry needed to disrupt an object (regulation) in motion when the EPA decided to list gray iron foundry sludge as a Hazardous Waste. This would have put casting production costs through the roof. AFS persuaded EPA to join in testing sludge samples for cadmium, chromium, and lead. As a result of this AFS research, EPA’s perception was disrupted and neither dust or sludge from gray iron foundries was regulated as a hazardous waste.

By Oman’s calculations, the results of this AFS research with EPA resulted in cost savings to the industry of $30 million per year, or roughly $1 billion since 1980. Many in the industry are unaware of this great regulatory victory, Oman said.

Unbalanced Force 1, Bad Results 0

Foundry Sand Shakeout
In 1994, EPA had a regulatory trajectory to evaluate foundry sand at shakeout as a hazardous waste. This was a watershed. It was the first time the agency “gave any indication that it might have the ability to regulate the foundry production process, meaning the sand system,” Oman said. Where’s that unbalanced force when you need it?

AFS struck up a conversation in early 1995 with EPA. The agency stuck to its position that “foundry sand is a waste at point where mold is broken and separated from casting at the shakeout table.” In 1999, AFS invited EPA staff that had never been in a foundry to tour three plants in Pennsylvania. They drove together and got to know each other.

They got to see first hand the unintended consequences of the (agency’s) decision. We were at a small foundry in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We walked down the aisle, and on one side we have a hand molding operation, with some strike off sand. And 15 feet over here they were shaking out castings on the floor, and there was a pile of shakeout sand on the floor. I said ‘do you realize if I collect a sample of the sand from these two adjacent spots, they’re going to have the exact same characteristics? One is a hazardous waste, and the other isn’t even considered a solid waste. This is madness.’ Fortunately, they agreed.”

The EPA got that one right, and sent a letter thanking metalcasters for the tours.

Unbalanced Force 2, Bad Results 0

Beneficial Use of Foundry Sand
The case of beneficial use of foundry sand arose in the mid-1980s. Foundry sand was about to be regulated in a way that dramatically increased disposal costs. AFS research in 1989 led to joint research between the Wisconsin Departments of Transportation and Natural Resources. Two “piles of highway construction materials” were tested to determine the quality of the leachate below both piles, one of foundry sand and one of, well, dirt.

The leachate quality was similar, and the foundry sand allowed less leachate than the dirt. As the Wisconsin Cast Metals Association asserted at the time, foundry sand was “cleaner than dirt.”  

USDA got in on the research, and after several years, EPA and USDA sent AFS a message:

“Based on the conclusions of the risk assessment conducted for specific Spent Foundry Sand applications as stated above, and the available environmental and economic benefits, the EPA and USDA support the beneficial use of silica-based Spent Foundry Sand specifically from iron, steel and aluminum foundry operations when used in manufactured soils and soil-less potting media and roadway construction as subbase.”

“I never get tired of reading that quote,” Oman said.

Unbalanced Force 3, Bad Results 0

We can’t always win the regulatory debate, as we know from silica. But we can conclude AFS research is a potent unbalanced force advocating for the industry.

Good research takes special training and skill, and it takes time. However, everyone at every foundry can take decisive action right now on behalf of the industry, and that brings us to Manufacturing Day.

Engage Future Metalcasters With Manufacturing Day
Manufacturing Day, Friday, October 5, is a national engagement event.

Why is it absolutely imperative that metalcasters participate in Manufacturing Day? It’s good for your image in your community and can be effective for making possible future employees aware of their career options in metalcasting.

Before we list specific benefits of participating in Manufacturing Day, please consider the words of Kathy Hayrynen, AFS Technical Council Chair, Vice President of Research & Development at Applied Process, Inc. (Livonia, Michigan):

“Students are our future. If we don’t work with the students and engage them and grow that and foster that passion for our industry, we don’t have a future, so it’s important for us to bring the students into the fold as soon as possible. And let’s face it: one of the advantages that we have is metalcasting is really cool. When you see molten metal for the first time, you’re hooked for life.”

A plant tour for students at any education level, conducted with all the required safety features, can be the gateway for future plant employees.

However, you don’t have to pour metal at your facility for large castings to demonstrate foundry processes. There is Foundry-in-a-Box, which provides a tactile, memorable experience, whether the demonstration is held as part of a foundry tour or as a demo at a supplier facility or for a casting buyer.

AFS uses Foundry-in-a-Box when it hosts students visiting Schaumburg headquarters.  

Foundry-in-a-Box shows scrap melting, mold making, pouring a casting, and shakeout. With an employee explaining basic foundry processes to the students, Foundry-in-a-Box is a superb recruiting tool. The demonstrations can be supplemented with speakers who cover career choices in metalcasting and videos. For a field trip, it’s a winner.  

If you’re interested, AFS would like to help you plan your Manufacturing Day event. There is much more information at www.afsinc.org and www.mfgday.com. But if you’d like to speak to a person, please contact Joe Costin at JCostin@afsinc.org or 847-824-0181.  

Click here to see this story as it appears in the July 2018 issue of Modern Casting