Fall River Foundry Packs One-Two Punch
The brass caster wanted to add a second automated pouring line but first needed to improve its sand system. Now, after a two-year, $4-million investment, the facility has revamped its sand and molding operations.
Nicholas Leider, Associate Editor
(Click here to see the story as it appears in the October issue of Modern Casting.)
There’s a time and place for on-the-fly decisions, and “going with your gut” can make for a great success story when everything works out perfectly. But when it comes to business, and the prospect of a seven-figure investment, calculated and well-researched may be the approach more likely to pay off.
Fall River Foundry, a green sand copper-base job shop in Fall River, Wis., had long considered a potential addition to its molding capabilities. The metalcasting operation ran an automated molding line that could fill large volume orders for castings anywhere from 2 to 50 lbs. The facility also had a squeeze molding line to handle small volume orders in a variety of sizes. But while interfacing with customers over the years, company executives noticed they were unable to serve a specific area of the market.
Brennen Weigel, Fall River’s president and CEO, had spent years planning an expansion to its automatic molding capabilities to handle high volume orders for so-called “trinket-sized castings,” meaning castings between 0.25-2 lbs. Fall River Foundry—the group also includes diecasting and machining operations—could run small orders on the manual molding line or larger orders on the automatic line, but a void existed between the two.
“Being a job shop, flexibility is obviously something we prioritize,” Weigel said. “We wanted to broaden our capabilities, so we could meet more of our customers’ demands. We saw a real need for this new automatic molding line.”
By 2013, 14 years after the installation of its first automatic molding, Fall River was ready to actively pursue a secondary automatic molding line after a steady period of growing sales. Fall River largely services the water meter and plumbing industries, which remained relatively stable while the housing market fluctuated in the wake of the recent global recession. Many of Fall River’s customers were seeing increasing demand because of municipalities looking to generate revenue through the use of water meters, which feature large cast brass housings.
“If a town puts in a new road, it’s not going to see any financial benefit from that,” Weigel said. “But if you expand water metering in your infrastructure, you will capture more revenue. Many of our castings are heading to these types of applications, which allowed us to have some record months when other foundries were struggling to keep the lights on.”
With interest rates relatively low, Fall River approached potential upgrades on strong financial footing, but an internal obstacle in the casting facility had to be dealt with first. The plant had roughly 80 tons of sand storage to handle both automatic and manual lines. Adding a second automatic molding operation would overly tax the sand delivery system, to the point it would need to be revamped and expanded.
“We’re a job shop so, much of the time, we don’t have the luxury of running ahead,” said John Vick, executive vice president. “We have to meet our customers’ requirements for on-time delivery. We couldn’t shut down for an extended period of time to install a completely new sand system, which made things a little trickier.”
Fall River’s maintenance superintendent Dale Schultz, though, brainstormed a way to avoid an extended shutdown that would cause significant problems in the supply chain. He realized the casting facility could continue to run near its current production level while preparing for the eventual switch to the new system.
Plans called for keeping the existing muller, screening and handling system, while upgrading the conveyor belt, two elevators, shakers and additional storage.
“We removed one squeezer to accommodate the improvements,” Vick said. “The added capacity allowed us to handle the additional demands on sand prepping and cooling. All the while, we could prepare for a faster conversion to the new system so our operations could continue virtually as-is.”
That switch to the new sand system was planned to occur over the Christmas shutdown in 2013. By doubling storage space for as much as 160 tons, Fall River was able to handle the increased capacity associated with the automatic molding line.
“When we made the switch, it was remarkably smooth,” Weigel said. “We had to fine-tune its operation and how we worked with it, but the improvement to our molding line was almost immediate.”
After the sand system was up and running, Fall River began pursuing the new automatic molding and handling equipment. In February 2014, the order was placed for a 14 x 19-in. flaskless molding machine from Equipment Merchants International (EMI), a Cleveland-based foundry equipment supplier.
The final approved layout of the automatic molding machine was a challenging endeavor, considering the constraints of the designated area available in the Fall River facility. The equipment needed to fit under the current sand belt conveyor and over an existing sand return pit, all while working into the flow of melt and casting extraction and sand return. The mold machine operators also needed access to the molding machine on both sides for core setting.
“The molding line was located in a tight footprint, which required no external units, such as pusher cylinders protruding out of the envelope,” said Jerry Senk, president, EMI. “This required some innovative solutions. The power unit was removed from the molding machine and combined into a single unit with the external mold line. The mold line itself needed streamlining, which included under the pallet car mold line index and brake units, as well as the end transfer units that featured rotary actuators. The melt traffic aisle way on the end of the mold line was most critical to Fall River’s plant flow.”
The total project time, including design, build and installation, was initially scheduled to meet Fall River’s requirements. Equipment supply is typically in the range of 30-32 weeks with a confirmed design, yet this project needed a custom mold handling solution, which would normally extend this timeline. The project was sped up by closely coordinated engineering efforts from Fall River and EMI. Installation time was reduced by planning all the machine’s hydraulic and pneumatic manifold locations with pre-piped locations, implementing pre-wired Harding connectors for all electrical connections, and confirming all foundation pads locations with embedded plates to eliminate the need for grouting. These efforts resulted in a quick installation and start up in less than a month after shipping.
“It was as close as you could come to plug-and-play,” Weigel said. “We’ve got a great industrial engineer that worked with EMI. We had the computer-generated drawings so we could overlay all the footprints. It was surprisingly seamless.”
Fall River’s primary operator was trained to use the new equipment alongside the provider’s technician. The expected bugs with starting up such a significant operation were worked out while the casting facility improved production speed on the new line.
Only a few existing jobs were retooled for the new line, with Fall River preferring to pursue orders from both new and existing customers. The installation of the new automatic molding line has boosted total production at Fall River’s facility by 12.5% with additional capacity available to produce more.
“We’ve seen orders from both new and existing customers,” said Scott Sitkin, sales manager. “We have a lot of existing customers who are realizing we can fill specific orders. We’re also seeing new customers approach us to quote projects we previously wouldn’t have been able to handle.”