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A Molten Mission Impossible

A leading UK foundry has improved casting capability by over 30 per cent by significantly upgrading its melting facility without any loss of production. Such was the complexity of the project that it was initially described by those involved as ‘mission impossible’. However, precise planning and absolute collaboration between foundry and supplier saw the project completed on time and to the satisfaction of all involved.

Imagine the call from Thomas Dudley’s foundry division director Mick Cramphorn to Inductotherm Europe Ltd – “your mission should you choose to accept it is to install and commission new melting capabilities in just one week.”

Cramphorn takes up the story: “It’s been a six-year journey to transform Thomas Dudley’s foundry division into a world-class manufacturing facility. Since 2009, we have proactively doubled our turnover with 60 per cent of the people, generating profit to support further investment. Despite this phenomenal turnaround, the two major constraints going forward were that we did not have enough molten metal capacity or talent in depth. The project has confirmed that we now have enough metal and a team capable of delivering on many fronts.”

A known commodity
With existing Inductotherm equipment on the site – which has served the foundry for 28 years – Cramphorn and his team looked to the leading induction melting supplier to take the foundry into the next phase of its development and ensure future demand could be met. “The three existing furnaces from Inductotherm were very reliable and there was nothing wrong with them. They had been well maintained and serviced but they were only giving us 4t/hr and our plan was to expand to 6t/hr. The problem was that we are growing at such a rate that we just could not afford to lose any planned production days so whatever we did had to take place during our autumn shutdown period.”

Working with their tried and tested supplier, Thomas Dudley opted to increase the existing 2,500kw Power-Trak® single output to a 3.5MW Dual-Trak® and integrate the system with the existing 4t furnaces. The installation would also include a new transformer, cooling, hydraulic and control systems.

The whole project included moving existing equipment to act as a backup and excavating the metal melting area as an additional ten to twelve feet of space was needed to accommodate the larger equipment. The control room is underground so much of the work was undertaken by several contractors in a confined space.

The timescale quoted - six weeks, the timescale demanded – eight days! “Quite frankly on paper it seemed impossible – Mick even called it mission impossible,” Craig Holdback, area sales manager at Inductotherm Europe, said. “But the thing is once we were on site and everyone was working together I never once doubted that we could do it. We all worked around the clock and the Thomas Dudley employees were amazing – it couldn’t have happened if they hadn’t have integrated well with Inductotherm and Emsco engineers who worked a 24hr shift pattern. The team at Thomas Dudley were some of the best we have worked with. They had a passion not to let their customers down and it is a credit to all involved that the team truly respects its values of safety first, customer focus and continuous improvement.”

Phased intervention
The only realistic way to achieve the timescale of installation and commissioning during the one-week autumn shutdown was to pull four to five weeks out of the project in advance. Thomas Dudley had to undertake a huge civil engineering project earlier in the year whilst the foundry was still in full production by expanding into the existing scrap bay to acquire the extra space needed, they built new oak-lined scrap bays, replaced flooring to accommodate charging cars, installed water cooling and pipework. 

Inductotherm worked with Thomas Dudley to ensure all was in place for the October shutdown deadline. “We undertook the project in phases,” says Craig Holdback. “On 16th June the radiator was delivered and we had to crane that in over the roof of the foundry. In July the rectifier/invertor panels of Dual-Trak were delivered with pump set hydraulics etc. to enable much of the piping and wiring to be done. In September we installed the transformer so more wiring could be carried out. Then came the October shutdown week which we had all been working towards.

“The foundry closed on Thursday night and we had to wait several hours for the furnaces to cool down before we started work at 6am on the Friday morning. The existing holding VIP was removed and the existing 2500kw VIP was repositioned and installed to run one 4t furnace. Then the new 3500kw Dual Trak was installed and commissioned. The metal was being poured a week later on 2nd November. It really was a testament to teamwork and dedication from all concerned.”

The result is a project that everyone involved with can be proud of and a melting capacity lifeline for a traditional foundry, which has expanded to satisfy growing demand. “There’s no other way of putting it but this was a massive exercise and we didn’t lose any production time or hurt anyone,” said Cramphorn. “Inductotherm, Emsco and the Thomas Dudley team were great. It is a testament to great planning and great people.”

Cramphorn says he was confident from day one. “We were given the commitment to the project from right at the very top of the Inductotherm Europe organisation and I have to say the superb project management and the skill level of all parties to accomplish this in a one-week shutdown is tremendous. Everyone just knew what they were doing and what was expected.”

A powerful position
The two constraining factors for the foundry’s future melting ambitions were that the existing melting bay wasn't large enough and the power on site wasn’t sufficient. A higher than expected quotation from the existing electricity supplier to install more power on site has meant the foundry revised original plans but Inductotherm has designed a scalable system to allow Thomas Dudley to continue to expand. “If we buy the power in the future we can install another Dual-Trak,” Cramphorn said. “You have to remember that 20 per cent of our downtime was caused by waiting for metal – this is virtually eradicated now. We are now getting around 5.6 to 5.8t/hr out of the new plant and are working an extended day shift. Metal is still our biggest issue but now we are equipped to pursue the market opportunities as we continue to expand.”

Cramphorn and his team also have confidence in the latest generation of Inductotherm equipment – a company that has provided the foundry’s molten metal for three decades. What was that word again? Impossible, clearly not as far as the induction melting specialists in Droitwich are concerned. 

Contact: Mick Cramphorn, Thomas Dudley Ltd, Tel: +44 (0) 121 530 7024, email: mcramphorn@thomasdudley.co.uk web: www.thomasdudley.co.uk
Craig Holdback, Inductotherm Europe Ltd, Tel: +44 (0) 1905 795100, email: choldback@inductotherm.co.uk web: www.inductotherm.co.uk