Around the world one dream unites foundry owners, regardless of their experience or specialty: greenfield capacity. Much can be accomplished with a clean slate. However in going this route, constraints such as cost, market opportunities, plant infrastructure, inaccessibility and local zoning rules are limiting factors to a foundry's growth opportunities.
But there comes a time when a foundry reaches a point of no return if it is serious about staying in business. The need to expand its “production base” and support its customers becomes too great and an alternative plan has to be implemented.
The solution is to add new melting or moulding machinery, update cleaning and finishing systems, revise your foundry or moulding process and look at improving the many other operations that are associated with a foundry. But there are also difficulties that come with expansion and modernisation, especially when you have carved out a reputation over the last 17 years as a niche foundry with an emphasis on service. The decisions that owners take to limit loss of production will shape the ‘new' operation for the future and offer insights to the choices that management has made.
G.E Patterns & Foundry's management took a major decision earlier this year to change its moulding process from CO2, the process that it had been using from inception, to the no bake process.
“The CO2 moulding process has many advantages over other forms of sand moulding. The more environmentally friendly, carbon dioxide (CO2) cured binder systems have been around for many years, but they have not gained much presence in the foundry market for good reason. The earlier versions offered a few significant benefits, but the trade-offs (such as poor work-ability and increased resin levels) out-weighed the benefits. The CO2 casting process is ideal where speed and flexibility is the prime requirement.” said owner and founder Garth Robins.
This included a 3 ton an hour reclamation system, a shakeout and dust collection unit.
“We had been urged to change for some time. When you and your employees have been used to one system it takes commitment, education and tenacity to make this decision.”
“Many positive influences and advantages of inorganic series core and mould production in foundry operations have already been mentioned. Others include odourless coremaking, odour-reduced casting, significantly less cleaning of machines and tools, and the resulting higher output quantity and production. All these advantages are in addition to the benefits to the casting process, such as faster solidification made possible by lowering of ingot mould temperatures.”
“Many PUNB (Phenolic urethane no bake) binders are available and produce good castings. How do you choose the most efficient? When considering a no-bake product, the overall cost should be a balance between material costs, performance, and emissions. The key to choosing the correct combination is to evaluate the total impact on your finished casting cost.”
G.E Patterns & Foundry can manufacture castings up to 750 kilograms, producing in the region of 20 tons of castings a month in SG, cast iron, plain carbon steel, high chrome manganese and a small amount of stainless steel and aluminium and has a capacity of between 40 and 50 tons per month
“Implementing the no bake process has also involved a sizeable investment in new equipment, but ultimately the payback in savings on less scrap and being able to reclaim our sand will prove that we have taken the correct decision.”
“We engaged RC Systems to supply us with a closed loop no bake sand mixing and reclamation plant. The equipment includes a 5 ton an hour continuous mixer, two 15 ton silos for new and reclaimed sand, a cooler-classifyier unit and a 3 ton an hour sand system to supply the mixer and includes a shakeout and dust collection unit.”
“Although we only implemented the new system and equipment just over two months ago we can already appreciate the cost savings and more importantly the improvement in the quality of castings that we are producing.”
“We had always planned to install the new equipment in July this year. At the time of planning we were not aware that there would be a month long strike in the metal industry and even less so in July.”
“Although we lost a significant amount of production due to the strike it, in a funny way, helped us to install the new equipment with a relatively low amount of disruption.”
Robins reaches a personal milestone this year at the tender age of 56. December marks 40 years in the foundry industry for Robins. “My interest in woodworking was a primary reason why I took up a career in patternmaking.”
“When I started my foundry career in 1974 I could not have imagined that our industry would change as much as it has in just 40 years. Adapting and growing in an ever changing environment has never been more important than in the recent history. I remember back in the 1980s there were probably over 800 foundries operating in South Africa at the time.”
The number of foundries dropped down to 400 in the nineties and has dropped by another 50 percent subsequently. Fortunately this number has stabilised since the turn of the century otherwise it would spell disaster for industry in general in South Africa, not just the foundry industry.”
“If you compare this to the US, we are not alone. In the 1980s there were approximately 6 200 metalcasting facilities in the US and today there are fewer than 2 000.”
The two 15 ton silos for the new and reclaimed sand system supplied by RC Systems
“My apprenticeship and experience as a patternmaker was gained at foundries that most of the youngsters of today do not even know existed. And there were some well known names as well.”
“There was such a need for patternmakers in the industry I could even further my studies and qualify as registered trainer, and also open up my own business relying solely on patternmaking requirements for the industry.”
“Although we still operate a patternmaking shop from our facility and I still own a separate patternmaking shop which I lease out, I hate to think of the drop in numbers of skilled patternmakers.”
G.E Patterns & Foundry's venture into actual casting began in 1997. Robins remembers how he could not acquire the service he needed for his clients from the foundries he was dealing with so the only solution was start his own foundry.
“We did not want to grow into a soulless foundry whereby clients became a number. Still today we are a relatively small foundry, producing in the region of 20 tons of castings a month in SG, cast iron, plain carbon steel, high chrome manganese and a small amount of stainless steel and aluminium, with a staff compliment of 20. Our capacity is between 40 and 50 tons per month.”
Robins' eyes light up when I brace this subject. You get the feeling that retirement plans are already in place although, as he says, he would not be able to breathe if he could not have the smell of a foundry wafting past his nostrils for too long.
Son Chris joined the company in 2003 and has been one of the driving forces behind the upgrade and changes at G.E Patterns & Foundry. “It is my future,” said Chris who has recently been made a director of the company.