Joyworks Happy to Add Customer Support

Heat-treater Applied Process expanded its educational metalcasting studio to reduce conversion and prototyping times for metalcasters and OEMs.

Nicholas Leider, Associate Editor

(Click here to see the story as it appears in May's Modern Casting.)

Applied Process Inc., Livonia, Mich., specializes in austempering heat treatment for ferrous metal, with a particular focus on ductile iron. A majority of its business is castings converted from weldments, forgings and fabrications, and it has both metalcaster and OEM customers. The company has long provided design support, but its capabilities were expanded with a recent investment in Joyworks, a small R&D facility that began as an educational foundry for college students and industry personnel.

In 2005, John “Chip” Keough, the owner and operator of Applied Process, moved to Ann Arbor, where the Univ. of Michigan graduate reconnected with the school by serving on the alumni advisory committee for the materials science and engineering (MSE) department. Because the university did not have casting capabilities on campus, Keough organized field trips that took students to facilities where they could see metal casting production.

The tours led Keough to the idea of building such a place himself, which ended in the construction of Joyworks, a 1,000-sq.-ft. metalcasting facility that was built right in Keough’s backyard. The primary purpose was to host educational and mentoring programs. But that wasn’t its only purpose.

“It started as my way of giving back,” said Keough. “If I can share my passion for metalcasting, then I think I would be accomplishing something good. But it’s not all altruism. I like making stuff and fiddling around, so it began as something of a hobby too.”

The studio—dubbed “Joyworks” because it sits on Joy Road—features two self-contained induction tipping furnaces capable of 200-lb. ferrous heats and 70-lb. heats of aluminum. Castings from 1 to 150 lbs. can be produced using nobake sand and lost foam processes.

In the past nine years, Joyworks has developed into a valuable resource for the Univ. of Michigan’s MSE department. Keough, who is the school’s FEF Key Professor, hosts an annual metalcasting module associated with a junior-level processes course. The studio hosted 75 students in the course’s latest iteration in 2013. Each left with an aluminum lost foam casting.

“We’re doing our little bit here to positively affect as many kids as we can,” Keough said. “All the students that come through MSE at the University of Michigan have to come by me now, and they have to make a casting. That may not sound like much, but it’s a huge development. For decades, they weren’t directly exposed to metal castings.”

Specialized Customer Support

In May 2012, Applied Process held a customer advisory board, where it invited representatives from 10 companies to offer feedback, critiques and suggestions for how the company could better meet its customers’ needs. A number of attendees, including those from larger firms with extensive engineering departments, voiced a need for assistance in identifying potential candidates for cast austempered ductile iron.

“They would tell us they just don’t have the engineering abilities to do these things,” Keough said. “And after hearing that, it was kind of a natural leap to this next step.”

That step was expanding Joyworks into a fully operational metalcasting facility focused on R&D and prototyping operations. With these increased capabilities, the studio can provide prototypes of possible casting conversions to Applied Process’s OEM and metalcaster customers, who may not be capable of producing them in a timely and/or economical manner. The castings produced by Joyworks are solely for educational or prototyping purposes; nothing is sold.

“We did not build this operation to compete with metalcasters,” Keough said. “We built it to focus on conversion opportunities and to provide end-users with sample parts quickly. What we know is the technology of conversion and this is what we bring to the table for metalcaster and OEM customers.”

Keough approached Justin Lefevre, a former Joyworks intern who had joined Applied Process in technical sales. With a background in design and material selection, Lefevre jumped at the opportunity to spearhead the project.

At the start of 2013, Lefevre began working on a business plan for the expansion, which included a list of required capital investments. The facility was expanded by 800 sq. ft., primarily adding office and storage space. Joyworks also acquired a 3-D printer, wood lathe and simulation software to help in design, patternmaking and verification.

Completed in April 2013, the $150,000 project allows Joyworks to offer R&D support to Applied Process, with specific efforts aimed at completing casting conversions and prototypes more quickly.

 “[Applied Process] wanted to continue to work on conversions, and now we have Joyworks as a tool to help provide prototypes for potential conversions,” Lefevre said. “We’re working to reduce the time frame while still improving our processes.”

Previously, for many conversions, Applied Process took a year and a half to two years to go from initial concept to a final, fully validated component. Joyworks aims to cut that gestation period to a year or nine months.

“That represents real benefits for our customers,” Lefevre said. “That’s what we are attempting to do—constantly reduce the time from concept to casting.”

Joyworks has been a fully-fledged R&D studio for little more than a year, and Lefevre is still working on streamlining the prototyping processes. He remains focused on removing bottlenecks and choke points in producing testable castings.

“I am attempting to run this facility so that we can provide relatively low cost prototypes,” Lefevre said. “In order to do that, I have to get things right the first time. My gating has to be good, my risering has to be correct, and the iron I’m pouring needs to be correct the first time. If I’m spending a lot of time fine-tuning, we aren’t benefitting our customers.”

While working in close cooperation with Applied Process, Joyworks is treated as a separate commercial entity, one Keough hopes will be self-sustaining in the near future.

“For the sake of making [Joyworks] $1 positive, we are addressing it as a separate profit center,” Keough said. “It’s a separate, stand-alone profit center. We want it to pay for itself yet still accomplish those other things we want to get done.”

Marrying Two Purposes

While Joyworks works to prove itself a viable commercial entity, the studio has not abandoned its role as a venue for mentoring and education. An ongoing internship program with the Univ. of Michigan has one or two students working onsite throughout the year, where they handle responsibilities in a variety of casting-related departments.

“The interns will be running the melts, monitoring melt quality, making molds and patterns, and designing gating and risering,” Lefevre said. “They’re doing everything in the foundry.”

Additionally, Applied Process recently introduced “AP University,” a three-day, non-commercial training program for design engineers, purchasing agents and technical personnel hosted partly at Joyworks.

Considering its dual roles as part classroom and part R&D facility, Joyworks sits in a unique position within the metalcasting industry. It will continue to offer educational support to students and industry personnel, but the transition to a prototyping studio has the potential to make it an entirely self-sustaining operation.

“I was spending a lot of money on my hobby, but it just seemed to fit,” Keough said. “The timing was right. It helps our customers to do conversions, so it grows our business. Not only are we growing the pie for castings, it gives us a chance to be mentors.”