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See What You Can Do

Shannon Wetzel

One of my favorite issues of the year is always the Casting of the Year issue. For over 20 years now, AFS and its magazines have held its annual casting competition to celebrate the capabilities, opportunities, and advantages of the metalcasting process and North American foundries. It’s a delight to announce Waupaca Foundry’s Plants 4 and 5 have won this year’s Casting of the Year award for a backhoe bucket converted from a steel fabrication. The story is on page 20.

It’s not a requirement to be a casting conversion to win Casting of the Year, but they often do win. Judges score them highly because of the obvious benefits to the customer and expansion of the casting market. 

Waupaca discovered this opportunity in a walk-through of their customer’s facilities—where they examined all the components being assembled to identify any that might be a successful casting conversion. Kudos to Waupaca for taking the initiative to look for ways it can help its customer and increase its market; and kudos to customer Amerequip for recognizing that the efforts of redesigning the bucket would be worth it in the end.

Waupaca’s 12-in. backhoe bucket for a compact utility tractor is the first in the market to be cast, but Amerequip is already looking into converting other sizes to casting, as well.  The first casting conversion in an application often triggers the redesign of several similar style components in the equipment. This phenomenon is also reflected in our story of the redesign of an aircraft part on page 38. In that case study, additive manufacturing expert Thomas Mueller calculates the hypothetical cost savings when components of similar geometries throughout an aircraft are re-engineered to trim weight while meeting the same customer requirements.

The 2022 casting competition had several intriguing entries that I’m looking forward to sharing in more detail in the coming year. Over the years, it has been interesting to watch as the types of entries have reflected the innovations and trends of the industry. I remember when the use of 3D printed sand molds was a novel approach to prototyping. Now it’s common to have multiple entries using this technology. We’ve seen lightweighting through alloy changes, process changes, and engineering changes. And while OEMs will always look for cost savings, we’ve also seen customer needs evolve.

The last few years, casting submissions to the competition have reflected the trend of domestic manufacturers shoring up their supply chain to avoid disruptions and delays—which was the case for Waupaca’s winning entry this year.

All the winning entries will be on display at CastExpo in Columbus, Ohio, this month, along with the winners from 2020 and 2021 since the in-person Metalcasting Congresses for those years did not occur. If you are attending, set aside some time to walk through the exhibit to see how North American foundries are expanding the market for metalcasting by providing better solutions to their customers’ pain points. It cannot be overstated the amount of effort that goes into achieving those solutions. The cast result of a part consolidation can look so refined that it seems a natural, forthcoming design. But the engineers know that’s not the case! As Terry Schwalenberg at Amerequip pointed out regarding the backhoe bucket—they were on the phone every morning to discuss the design, and it ultimately took over 80 simulations to find the optimal solution. “We can’t thank the engineers at Waupaca enough for not giving up,” he said.