The U.S. Portrait By the Numbers

Modern Casting breaks down the U.S. metalcasting industry by material, process, coremaking and value-added capabilities.

A Modern Casting Staff Report

(Click here to see the story as it appears in the January issue of Modern Casting.)

Using data gathered from a nationwide survey of American metalcasters, Modern Casting can paint a picture of the U.S. industry in 2015. The data was compiled from a survey of 1,688 domestic metalcasting facilities, 85% of the country’s estimated total 1,965 plants in 2015. (For clarification, the industry forecast, pg. 30, uses a toal of 1,961 facilites, the estimate for 2016.)

Following is a breakdown of the survey results. The percent of responses reflects the number of surveyed facilities that responded to each question.


Leader: Aluminum
Last Place: Titanium

Aluminum remains the dominant material, with 814 facilities (48.2% of respondents) pouring some type of the alloy. The percentage of aluminum casting facilities is a slight increase from last year’s 47.4% (800 of 1,688 respondents). While most facilities report pouring more than one material, no other metal comes close to aluminum’s share. However, when it comes to volume, aluminum comes in third after ductile and gray iron.

Iron is the second most used material, with 29.4% of metalcasting facilities pouring the metal, a decrease of just 0.2% in the last year. Seventy-seven facilities (4.6%) reported pouring aluminum, iron and steel, and 213 facilities (12.6%) pour both aluminum and iron. Titanium remains the least commonly cast alloy, with only 21 facilities pouring it.


Leader: Green Sand/Horizontally Parted
Last Place: V-Process

Horizontally parted green sand molding is the perennial favorite process, with 637 of the 1,688 facilities (or 37.7%) using it, a slight decrease in facilities and percentage compared to 2012. Its vertically parted counterpart, which often is used for higher volumes, is found in only 12.3% of facilities. The nobake process comes in at a close second with 595 facilities, or 35.3%.

Many facilities report using multiple processes. 124 facilities use both the green sand and permanent mold processes (7.3%), and 417 facilities use the green sand and nobake processes (24.7%). Seven facilities reported using the V-process, a casting method with a vacuum holding unbonded sand in a mold during pouring.

Plants Per State

Leader: Ohio
Last Place: Hawaii and North Dakota (Note: some states have no participating facilities.)

Ohio leads the industry in number of metalcasting facilities reported, with 160 (or 9.5% of the total responses from facilities). Pennsylvania upped its total by two to 136, enough to land the Keystone State as the nation’s no. 2 in total facilities. California lost three of its total, dropping to 130 for 2014. Wisconsin ranked fourth with 124 facilities, while Michigan and Illinois rounded out the states reporting more than 100 facilities, each with 115.

Two states—Hawaii and North Dakota—each have one metalcaster participating in our research, as does the District of Columbia.

The other states with fewer than 10 facilities reported are Louisiana, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming. Alaska and Delaware did not have any participating metalcasting facilities.

Value-Added Services

Leader: Finish Machining
Last Place: Coating

Of the 1,688 facilities that participated in the U.S. census, 1,186 (70.3%) reported offering at least one value-added service. Machining was the most popular service, with 893 facilities (52.9% of all responses; 75.3% of facilities with value-added operations) offering finish machining capabilities and 883 offering rough machining (52.3%; 74.4%). Heat treatment, patternmaking and engineering and design all totaled more than 700 responses.

The vast majority of facilities offering value-added services reported multiple methods, with 1,144 of 1,688 (67.8%) offering at least two. Sixty metalcasters reported offering all 10 of the survey’s value-added services. Prototyping (314) and coating (246) were the least popular services, though both increased in availability by more than 10% compared to 2013.

Coremaking Methods

Leader: Shell
Last Place: Cast-in Inserts

A little more than half of the participating facilities (889) reported using some method of coremaking. Shell and air-set/nobake coremaking were the top two responses, with 601 and 565 facilities reportedly using the methods, respectively. The least popular methods were hotbox/warmbox (99 facilities) and cast-in inserts (28).

Nearly 73% of responding facilities use more than one method for coremaking, with 241 locations using just a single method. The combination of shell and air-set/nobake was the most common tandem, with 426 facilities reportedly using both methods, while 316 responses included both shell and green sand methods. 

ncountering a scenario in which you are forced to suddenly and immediately suspend melting operations for an extended period can be a death sentence for many metalcasting facilities. Small to mid-size businesses are the backbone of the industry, but many do not survive when forced into extended downtime. One disaster-stricken metalcaster, however, found resilience through its own perseverance and a circle of support from peers, friends, suppliers, teams from installation and repair providers, an original equipment manufacturer and even competitors.
Tonkawa Foundry, a third-generation, family-owned operation in Tonkawa, Okla., was entering its 65th year of operation this year when a significant technical failure ravaged the power supply and melting furnaces on January 17. Thanks to the textbook evacuation directed by Operations Manager Carrie Haley, no one was physically harmed during the incident, but the extent of emotional and financial damage, and just how long the event would take Tonkawa offline, was unclear.
Tonkawa’s power supply and two steel-shell furnaces would have to be rebuilt. No part of the reconstruction process could begin until the insurance company approved removal of the equipment from the site. The potential loss of Tonkawa’s employees and customers to competing metalcasters seemed inevitable.
Within two days of the incident, repair, installation and equipment representatives were on site at Tonkawa to survey the damage. Once the insurance company issued approval to begin work, the installation team mobilized within 24 hours to remove the equipment and disassemble the melt deck.
Since the damaged equipment was installed in the 1980s and 1990s, Tonkawa and an equipment services and repair company quickly strategized a plan and identified ways to enhance the safety, efficiency and overall productivity of Tonkawa’s melt deck.
“The most critical issue was for our team to organize a response plan,” said Steve Otto, executive vice president for EMSCO’s New Jersey Installation Division. “We needed to arrive at Tonkawa ready to work as soon as possible and deliver quickly and thoroughly so they could get back to the business of melting and producing castings, and minimize their risk of closing.”
Several years after Tonkawa’s melt deck was originally installed, an elevation change was required to accommodate the use of a larger capacity ladle under the spout of the furnaces. Rather than raising the entire melt deck, only the area supporting the furnaces was elevated. As a result, the power supply and workstation were two steps down from the furnaces, creating a number of inconveniences and challenges that impacted overall work flow in the melt area. Additionally, the proximity of the power supply to the furnaces not only contributed to the limited workspace, but also increased the odds of the power supply facing damage.
The damage to the melt deck required it to be reconstructed. It was determined to be the ideal opportunity to raise the entire deck to the same elevation and arrange the power supply, workstation and furnaces onto one level. The furnace installation company provided the layout concepts, and with the aid of Rajesh Krishnamurthy, applications engineer, Oklahoma State Univ., Tonkawa used the concepts to generate blueprints for the new deck construction. The results yielded a modernized melt system with an even elevation, strategically placed power supply, enhanced worker safety and increased operator productivity.
“Eliminating the steps and relocating the power supply farther from the furnaces was a significant improvement to our melt deck,” Tonkawa Co-Owner Jim Salisbury said.
Within four days of insurance company approval, all damaged equipment had been removed and shipped for repair.
The insurance company required an autopsy on the damaged furnace before any repair work could begin. The forensic analysis was hosted by EMSCO in Anniston, Ala., in the presence of insurance company personnel, as well as an assembly of industry representatives from the companies who had received notices of potential subrogation from the insurance company.
Tonkawa’s furnace was completely disassembled while the insurance company’s forensic inspector directed, photographed, cataloged and analyzed every turn of every bolt on the furnace over a nine-hour workday. The coil was dissected, and lining samples were retained for future reference.
While the furnace sustained extensive damage, it did not have to be replaced entirely.
Structural reconstruction was performed to address run-out damage in the bottom of the furnace, a new coil was fabricated and the hydraulic cylinders were repacked and resealed. Fortunately, the major components were salvageable, and ultimately, the furnace was rebuilt for half the cost of a new furnace.
“The furnace experienced a significant technical failure,” said Jimmy Horton, vice president and general manager of southern operations, EMSCO. “However, not only was the unit rebuilt, it was rebuilt using minimal replacement parts.”
Though work was underway on the furnaces, Tonkawa was challenged with a projected lead time of 14 weeks on the power supply.
When accounting for the three weeks lost to insurance company holds and the time required for installation, Tonkawa was looking at a total production loss of 18-20 weeks. From the perspective of sibling co-owners Sandy Salisbury Linton and Jim Salisbury, Tonkawa could not survive such a long period of lost productivity. After putting their heads together with their furnace supplier, it was determined the reason for the long turnaround on the power supply could be traced to the manufacturer of the steel cabinet that housed the power supply.
The solution? The existing cabinet would be completely refurbished and Tonkawa would do the work rather than the initial manufacturer. This reduced the 14-week lead time to just five weeks.
Tonkawa is the single source for a number of its customers. Although lead-time had been significantly reduced, the Tonkawa team still needed a strategy to keep the single source customers in business as well as a plan to retain their larger customers.
Tonkawa pours many wear-resistant, high-chrome alloys for the agriculture and shot blast industries. Kansas Castings, Belle Plaine, Kan., which is a friendly competitor, is located 50 miles north of Tonkawa. Kansas Castings offered Tonkawa two to three heats every Friday for as long as it needed.
“We made molds, put them on a flatbed trailer, prayed it wasn’t going to rain in Oklahoma, and drove the molds to Kansas Castings. We were molding, shot blasting, cleaning, grinding and shipping every Friday,” Salisbury Linton said.
Others joined the circle of support that was quickly surrounding the Tonkawa Foundry family.
Modern Investment Casting Corporation (MICC) is located 12 miles east of Tonkawa in Ponca City, Okla. Though MICC is an investment shop and Tonkawa is a sand casting facility, MICC’s relationship with Tonkawa dates back years to when Sandy and Jim’s father, Gene Salisbury, was at the helm.
“Gene was always willing to help you out,” said MICC owner, Dave Cashon. “His advice was invaluable for us over the years, so when the opportunity arose to support Sandy and Jim, we volunteered our help.”
 MICC offered to pour anything Tonkawa needed every Friday in its furnace. Tonkawa brought its alloy, furnace hand and molds, while MICC provided its furnace and a furnace hand for three heats. Many of the specialty parts Tonkawa produces were completed with MICC’s support.
When Salisbury Linton approached Cashon and asked him to issue her an invoice to cover the overhead Tonkawa was consuming, Cashon told her if she brought in six-dozen donuts every Friday morning they’d call it even.
“We’re all kind of like family,” Cashon said. “We’re all part of the same industry and though we may be friendly competitors at times, you don’t want to see anybody go through what they’ve gone through and it could have just as easily been our furnace that failed. While we all take the appropriate measures and perform maintenance to prevent these scenarios from occurring, they unfortunately still occur from time to time in our industry.”
Tonkawa had recently added steel work to its menu of services and Central Machine & Tool, Enid, Okla., was able to take Tonkawa’s patterns and fulfill its steel orders so it would not fall behind with those customers, while CFM Corporation, Blackwell, Okla., took three of Tonkawa’s employees on a temporary basis and kept them working during the downtime. Additionally, a couple of Tonkawa’s major suppliers extended their payables terms.
Thanks to Tonkawa’s suppliers, friends and its personnel’s own passion, persistence and dedication, the business is up, running and recovering—placing it among the few shops of its size to overcome the odds and remain in business after facing calamity.
 Nearly eight months after that devastating Saturday evening in January, Salisbury Linton reflected on the people and events that helped Tonkawa rise from the ashes. “We certainly would not have the opportunity to see what the future holds for Tonkawa if it weren’t for all the kind-hearted people who cared about what happened to us. Everyone still checks in on us.”