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Foundry Leadership Conference Insights

Doug Kurkul

Metalcasters around the world face many of the same challenges. That point, which has been expressed before in Modern Casting, was articulated again by speakers at the recent Foundry Leadership Conference, presented by the American Foundry Society, in Amelia Island, Florida. Moderated by AFS Vice President Peter Reich, of LaempeReich, a panel on the Condition of the Global Foundry Industry also included Brad Muller of Charlotte Pipe and Foundry; Atsushi Nagai of SintoKogio; Carsten Kuhlgatz of HA International; and Denny Dotson, representing the World Foundry Organization.

In Japan, foundry output reached its peak in 2008, and today is at 80% of that peak level. The number of foundries has consolidated from 4,200 in 1990 to about 1,800 today. Japan’s foundries face skilled worker shortages, aggravated by slow population growth. Profit margins are at 2% or less. Other challenges include rising costs of materials and electricity, plus environmental issues. Foundries there are countering these trends through product differentiation, defect reduction and IOT systems.

In Germany, the main challenges are rising energy and material costs, government over-regulation, challenges in recruiting young talent, and effects of trade tariffs. The move to replace diesel vehicle engines with electric-only vehicles also poses implications for castings. German foundries are countering these trends through programs to interest high school students in foundry careers, as well the adoption of Industry 4.0 and additive manufacturing initiatives.

China, the world’s largest producer of castings, is adopting a government policy aimed at reducing the number of foundries from 20,000 to 10,000. India is benefitting from a major commitment to training foundry workers, coupled with a decline in oppressive interest rates. That country’s casting exports are shipped heavily to U.S. markets. Thailand is considered Asia’s version of Detroit and produces and consumes large quantities of auto-related castings.

In North America, casting sales are on the rise thanks to a strong economy since the 2016 election. For the first time since 2006 during the Bush administration, U.S. GDP is higher than the unemployment rate. Shortages of reliable labor is one of the foremost challenges for U.S. foundries, coupled with overly broad regulations, particularly at OSHA.

As Dotson noted, knowledge in the metalcasting industry knows no national boundaries. Great ideas introduced in one country are quickly replicated elsewhere. Many suppliers already operate on an international basis. Dotson encourages all North American foundries to be aware of international trends and technical breakthroughs, as well as to engage in global metalcasting organizations where appropriate.

Registration at the Foundry Leadership Conference has risen three consecutive years, with attendees from seven countries in 2018. Speaker Gus Faucher, PNC senior economist, projected that economic growth will continue well into 2019 in the United States and many other regions. He sees no recession on the near-term horizon for the U.S., but noted Great Britain is at risk as the Brexit withdrawal deadline approaches. Speaker Byron York, of the Washington Examiner and Fox News, advised metalcasters on political trends, including the possibility of Democrats reclaiming power on Capitol Hill and what that would mean for President Trump’s policy agenda.

The 2019 Foundry Leadership Conference, chaired by Mike Lenahan, will be held at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Traverse City, Michigan, on Sept. 22-24, 2019. We encourage every metalcasting company to be represented. Registration will open in early 2019.

Click here to see this story as it appears in the October issue of Modern Casting.