Reshoring and Metalcasting: Why It Matters

by Leslie Davis

A Modern Casting Staff Report
This story appears in the July 2017 issue of Modern Casting

The year 2016 was another good one for reshoring.

According to data on the website of The Reshoring Initiative (, trends in U.S. reshoring and foreign direct investment (FDI) continued to increase. In 2016, a combination of reshoring and FDI brought 77,000 jobs to the U.S. economy. There was also a positive adjustment of 13,000 for 2010-2015.

“Reshoring and FDI together were up over 10% in 2016, with much of the increase coming in November and December, presumably due to anticipation of greater U.S. competitiveness following the election,” says the Reshoring Initiative 2016 data report.

“Similar to the last few years, FDI continued to exceed reshoring in terms of total jobs added, but reshoring increased at a higher rate than FDI from 2015 to 2016. Preliminary data from 2017 indicates similar trajectories, with an all-time high of reported jobs per month reported in January 2017.”

The report also has reasons for why reshoring and FDI is continuing to grow. One of them is skilled workforce, which “was reported as a reason at a much higher rate than in previous years.”

“The high ratings for skilled workforce are probably partly due to management wanting to recognize their team. It is also possible the rating is in comparison to developing country alternatives,” the report said. “Skilled workforce is receiving much needed attention and some improvements, but it is clear that our workforce recruiting and training are still not as effective as those in Germany, the source of much of the FDI.”

In general, the report said reshoring “is still in the early stages of a decades long trend” and that what happens in 2017 depends on federal policy changes.

“The recent upswing in activity is in response to anticipation of such changes, which are expected to positively impact U.S. competitiveness,” the report said. “If and when the policy changes occur, reshoring and FDI will accelerate.”

The Reshoring Initiative forecasts that in 2017, reshoring and FDI will be “flat to slightly up vs. 2016’s record level.”

“Other factors that will continue to influence jobs and the trade deficit include the strength of the U.S. dollar, relative to competitor countries. The strong USD and low oil prices hurt both trends, but probably hurt reshoring more than FDI as foreign companies act to increase their position in the strong U.S. market,” the report said. “In contrast, U.S. companies are still largely making sourcing decisions on an ex-works price basis. There is probably a 12-month lag time between these economic changes and a significant response in the trends.

“Balancing those headwinds, reshoring and FDI continue to gain credibility. Companies are becoming more aware of TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), and skilled workforce recruitment and training are improving. In conclusion, we have moderate confidence that policy changes and increased use of TCO will balance low oil prices and high USD.”

To get more information on reshoring and how it can be useful to metalcasters, Modern Casting spoke with Harry Moser, the founder of the Reshoring Initiative.

Click here to read the rest of this story as it appears in the July 2017 issue of Modern Casting

Process Energy Benchmarking for the Metalcasting Industry

by Leslie Davis

Click here to see this story as it appears in the June 2017 issue of Modern Casting

In every energy program, we talk about benchmarking. To know how much we could save by optimizing our process, we need to compare our current performance to benchmarks. The problem is how to determine those benchmarks. The prior column discussed difficulties in benchmarking a plant; this column will discuss benchmarking a particular process.

As an example of the importance of benchmarking, I worked with a company that bought a new set of heat treat furnaces. After several years in operation, they had yet to benchmark their energy performance. The assumption was a new furnace meant great energy performance. It turned out measured energy performance was extremely poor on these new furnaces. Problems with both scheduling and furnace settings had cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars over those years.

When benchmarking a process, you need to be sure you are comparing the same things.

•    Some reported numbers might be based on energy used during a single cycle such as melting a batch. Other numbers are based over time such as over a month. Personally, I like energy numbers over a month since it includes inefficiencies like maintenance, scheduling problems, weekend shutdown-startup activities, and the variation in shift performance. This extra energy is your actual cost in running the furnace. Batch numbers gives you performance of your equipment while month data gives you a measure of your process.

•    Watch that the benchmark is from the same technology. The benchmark for a cold air furnace and a hot air furnace (like a regenerative or recuperative) , are vastly different. Electric and natural gas furnaces have very different numbers.

•    Melting furnaces tend to use Energy Intensity numbers such as Btu/lb. or kWh/t or mJ/t. Heat treat furnaces tend to use Energy Efficiency calculations based on the final temperature. This method is needed since the amount of energy to bring metal to 200F or 1,000F is quite different, even though both may be called “Heat Treat.”

•    Watch the denominator. We say Btu per lb. [or kWh/tonne or MJ/tonne]. This may be the pounds initially loaded into the furnace (charge weight), the pounds out of the furnace (pour weight), or it may be the “good pounds out” of the process after scrap and recovery losses (cast weight). My preference is charge weight. This tells you the energy performance of the furnace based on heat required to process this total metal. “Good pounds out” includes the influence of recovery within the process.

Benchmarking can be internal (using internal performance) or external (using data from furnaces outside your company).

External is better, but sometimes you just can’t find those numbers or your particular process is unique. To use internal numbers:

•    Collect energy intensity data from all similar furnaces at a plant and/or within the company and go back in history as far as you can . . . the more data the better. Use whatever time period works for the company. For instance, monthly data can be compared.

•    Find the first quartile of the data. In most popular spreadsheets, this function is simply “=quartile(range,1)”. Twenty-five percent of the data is less than the 1st Quartile value. This is a better number than the average. Using this value as a benchmark means your new goal  is a stretch but it can be achieved. Since you are already achieving this goal or better 25% of the time, naysayers can be challenged.

•    As improvements are made over time, recalculate the 1st Quartile. Ideally the numbers should improve so your benchmark will move.
External benchmark numbers from an outside authority are best. The problem is finding these numbers. Some options:

•    Manufacturers/Vendors—Talk to the vendors from both the equipment you own and competitors. The numbers from vendors tend to put their products in the best light and are often single cycle data versus monthly data, but discuss this point.

•    Technical Papers—Read industry technical papers to obtain numbers from different studies. Some numbers are averages while others are state-of-the-art. Some are based on pounds in (charge weight) and others are based on pounds out (cast weight). Read carefully.

Based on your operations, you may not be able to reach state-of-the-art benchmarks immediately, but gathering this data and comparing to your actual operation allows you to see the possibilities and have a goal for improvements.


Helping Customers Switch to Casting

by Leslie Davis

By Shannon Wetzel, Managing Editor
This story appears in the June 2017 issue of Modern Casting

When a part is designed  to be put to market quickly, often the quickest or most familiar manufacturing method is chosen, like fabrication. But eventually, time and volumes might highlight deficiencies in the original manufacturing method of choice. This is a great opportunity for metalcasters, as companies start considering moving to a better optimized manufacturing process.

The casting process has many advantages, but it might require more tooling and engineering time up front than a weldment or machined component. Making those investments in tooling and engineering can pay dividends not just in reduced cost, but also improved performance, reduced weight, and even shorter lead-times.

One of the biggest hurdles for some designers is the unfamiliarity with metalcasting. As a metalcaster looking to convince a prospect to swtich to casting, where do you start?

Be a resource. Metalcasting facilities are well-versed in redesigning parts for casting. Share your examples, highlight the cost savings and other advantages and give them simple tips, like the ones in this article, to help pinpoint which parts in their inventory would be good candidates for casting conversion.

Signs a part needs a new method:

1. Insufficient dimensional stability
A casting’s dimensional tolerances are generally superior to welded and fabricated assemblies. A rotational and lift control post weldment for the oil market was experiencing distortion and stresses during fabrication that led to problems in assembly and in service. The cast version produced by Midwest Metal Products (Winona, Minnesota) eliminated the distortion and stress problems while also reducing cost by 38%. In cycle testing, the cast part demonstrated more than five times a longer life than the welded part.

2. Costly to manufacture and keep track of inventory
Pier Foundry (St. Paul, Minnesota), uses onsite visits to help customers identify candidates for castings. In one instance, the metalcaster and customer pinpointed a six-piece universal disc leveler pivot arm as a promising candidate. Using finite element analysis and casting process modeling, the engineers revised the part’s design to be optimized for casting. Converting the weldment to a casting freed up 71 minutes per unit of shop capacity and allowed the customer to focus its efforts on other products in their lineup. It greatly reduced the need for surge capacity in the spring. The part also saw a cost reduction of 60%.

3. Production volumes have grown, or a family of parts has grown so the number of parts and subcomponents has become unwieldy
Monarch Industries (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) worked with a customer to redesign the mounting structure for tillage equipment. Each weldment contained an average of eight pieces of square and round tubing and plasma/laser cut plates. As the customer designed new pieces or new sizes and variations, the family of weldments grew to 17 different part numbers with a total of about 136 subcomponents. Each part number had to be kept in inventory for production and service requirements.  Monarch worked with its customer to reduce the number of parts, optimize part strength and lower tooling and part costs. In the end, the customer converted its family of weldments into three castings used across equipment such as field cultivators, solid finishers, chisel plows and disc chisels. This provided an average reduction to cost of 30%, greater dimensional stability, improved aesthetics, and more plant capacity in the customer’s welding and fabrication departments.

4. Requires an excess of machining
Machining time is not inexpensive or particularly quick. Creating a design that reduces or eliminates the need for CNC machining frees up the equipment for other parts. In the case of an originally machined-from-billet steel part used in a piece of machinery, producing it in the investment casting process freed up valuable machine capacity for other critical applications. The conversion resulted in a 22% cost reduction. It also meant as-cast internal heat transfer capabilities could be added which were not possible when machining from solid. The casting supplier, Signicast Investment Castings (Hartford, Wisconsin) was able to incorporate a cooling internal passage with a turbine style directional cooling flow feature and rib features that enabled the part to be cast in steel rather than copper, which would have cost more with lower wear resistance.

5. The assembly is labor-intensive
A planter row unit for farm machinery was originally made as a 30-piece weldment that utilized fine thread nylock nuts for attachment. This made assembly time consuming and problematic. In addition, the stamped steel components had to be moved and stored multiple times throughout the production process. Dotson Iron Castings (Mankato, Minnesota) worked with its customer to redesign the row unit as a seven-casting assembly. This redesign included reducing 17 stamped steel parts of the main shank to three castings. The savings in assembly takt time ended up between 5 and 10%. Other benefits included improved seed placement accuracy and a more robust part.

6. Too much variation occurring from assembly to assembly
“In many cases there are quality issues with assembled parts by the time it is all welded together,” said Mark Hildebrand, director of sales, Monarch Industries. “The heat makes the metal warped and twisted. With casting, the holes and features will always line up.”

7. The market is ready for an improvement.
A dental furniture manufacturer identified a need for a high-end arm for reclining dental chairs and conducted surveys to find out what its customers wanted. The primary desires included an attractive part that was lightweight yet strong, ergonomic and cost effective, could hide tubes and wires, and provide a wide range of motion. To achieve these goals, the company departed from the typical bent tube/weldment combo and worked with L A Aluminum (Hayden, Idaho) on a cast aluminum version. The redesigned articulating arm assembly of aluminum castings has a hollow body for electrical wires and pivot points at each end to adjust the height.

Click here to read the rest of this story as it appears in the June 2017 issue of Modern Casting.