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An Exciting Era for Metalcasting

Shannon Wetzel

Walking the CastExpo show floor in April, I was energized by the equipment on display, the conversations going on in the booths, and the reports of investment commitments. Metalcasters came ready to find ways to improve their operations; cumulatively, these upgrades will elevate the industry.
Following CastExpo, I visited Kimura Foundry America (KFA) in Shelbyville, Indiana, and worked on finishing up this June issue of Modern Casting and our supplement, “The State of the Art Foundry.”

These last few weeks have driven home the era of advancement the industry is in right now.
Ten years ago, sand additive manufacturing—or 3D sand printing—was seen as an emerging technology, utilized by a few early adopters but still viewed as a novelty by others. Today, it fills a real niche. This is illustrated in the business profile of KFA on page 18. During my conversation with the company’s president, Dr. Yoya Fukuda, he talked about his realization that fundamentally, the metalcasting process is centered around molding. Molding was the key to achieving geometries, directional solidification, and aesthetics. He viewed 3D sand printing as just another way to make the mold, just as lost foam, investment, permanent mold, and sand casting methods are. And at KFA, 3D printing is the only way they are making molds.

Now the industry is at an interesting juncture, where studies are underway to standardize the expected results of 3D sand printed molds. See our article on this topic on page 30. Standardization could lead to smarter designs with better yields, thinner yet stronger walls, and lower costs.

But 3D printing is far from the only exciting thing going on in the industry. At CastExpo, it was clear that foundries were looking for more ways to automate and become more efficient. This will reduce the number of hard-to-fill, difficult jobs like grinding and ultimately help a company become more productive with fewer people. In a May/June 2022 article in Casting Source magazine, Alex Lawton, Lawton Standard Co., talked about why this is important—particularly at a time when demand is outpacing supply.

“I think we all have a business obligation to try and become more productive,” he said. “If everybody in and outside of the foundry were to attack productivity in a mindful way, we would generate labor capacity back into the system.”

The megacasting cells Volvo recently purchased (see the story on page 10) is an extreme example—replacing 70-100 parts with a single huge diecasting.

Improving productivity by innovating out the less attractive jobs hopefully will leave mostly engaging work left and reduce labor constraints. Engaged employees make real changes to the business. It’s exciting to imagine where that may lead the industry over the next decade.