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A balanced and growing output for investment casters

It is two years since Dr Carlos Olabe became EICF executive director so Foundry Trade Journal caught up with him to find out how the EICF is developing and how the federation’s future objectives are shaping up.

“The transfer from management was based on very solid grounds, just after the successful international conference at Lugano, with a consolidated path of services offered to members, a legal scheme for the federation, an active board pushing forward and a solid finance status,” Olabe remembers. “It was clear that the first objective for me was to safeguard the above. The position of the EICF in 2014 was the result of the magnificent job done by David Ford, after the 2002 conference in Berlin. Having been chairman of the EICF for four years I was very close to David and we worked together to provide the value that members are expecting, at the same time I could understand perfectly the sort of task needed to change and improve the federation, so I insist that safeguarding all that has been achieved under David Ford’s management must be our number one objective.

“Following that it is clear that as an association our objectives must be addressed at providing value to our members and the European investment casting industry. In this sense technical conferences and networking is a must, however there are additional ideas and objectives in line with other associations that we should be pursuing in the coming years”

Olabe says many companies are still feeling the effects of the 2008 economic crisis in terms of mergers, acquisitions and closures, which has an impact on membership based organisations.

Despite this there are still around 100 members in the EICF, composed of foundries, suppliers and research and technology organisations, along with affiliate members based outside Europe.

“Sometimes a change of ownership in a company brings new members or sometimes the contrary,” he said. “We understand that as an association we need to provide value to our members as this is the key factor to attract and retain members.

“Technical conferences always provide an opportunity to enhance our visibility to companies that are not members and as a consequence enable us to increase membership.”

Sector Strengths

Looking at the current strengths of the investment casting sector Olabe said: “Investment casting is about technology development and it has been like that since its application to jet engine turbine parts manufacturing just at the end of the Second World War. Clearly today the enhancements to the industry are related to a number of things. Firstly, the advance in the properties of melted alloys and the knowledge of their behaviour during the manufacturing process satisfying increased duty applications. Secondly, the materials used in the process such as wax and shell material are much more adapted to the process with higher stability and a more predictable behaviour within the manufacturing process. We also benefit from the presence of computer aided solutions within the different processes in a foundry, examples can be found that affect process modelling, tooling manufacturing, rapid prototyping, process control, additive manufacturing, etc.”

Learning to Cope

Despite a difficult period in recent years, Olabe says the sector is continuing to develop.

“Although the last eight years or so have been years of uncertainty with some market sectors picking up and others decreasing, overall the industry has been continuing the path of growing and providing effective solutions for the markets served. During this period some unknown elements, such as competition from the Far East, have also been clarified and western companies are back on track to invest in Europe, which is good news for the remainder of the technological knowledge core within Europe whilst ‘smart’ solutions will have to be pursued to stay ahead of the competition.

“Each sector has its own status, however market diversification within foundries has enabled them to overcome the evolution of different sectors and provide a balanced and growing output.

“In addition those technologies thought to threaten the investment casting sector have in many cases been adopted by the foundries themselves to protect that part of the market within their business.”

With the UK voting to exit the EU, Olabe was asked if he had any particular concerns of how this would affect the industry in the coming months. “My initial thought regarding this question is that there was a time when the status in Europe was different to the one right now and companies were able to do business and cope with customs and currency issues,” he told Foundry Trade Journal. “In this sense I do believe a new settlement will come and I am sure preferential agreements shall be established between the UK and the EU to facilitate common economic growth. As a European association, in existence for over 60 years, the EICF will try to preserve the unique sense of unity that has been taking us forward while respecting the political scenario in Europe.”

Speaking of the past two years, Olabe said the World Conference in Investment Casting held in Paris in April this year had been his “standout” moment. It was the largest conference ever held by the investment casting industry in terms of numbers of delegates and exhibitors (close to 500 attendees) and its financial contribution. Assessing the comments from delegates and exhibitors, he said the general response was “very positive with a lot of personal and dedicated statements of appreciation”. The conference consisted of two plenary sessions with one keynote paper, a global market review with four papers, a discussion panel session, along with two technical sessions with more than 38 presentations, 49 exhibitors, two industry visits and a dedicated seminar for the turbocharger industry including ten presentations. Olabe is particularly proud that the ‘paperless conference’ was the first of its kind for the federation. “We supported the environment in a similar manner that our industry is committed to in its daily practice,” he enthused.

A European Lifetime Achievement Award was also presented at the event to Mr Bernasconi (PRECICAST SA) for his pursuit of excellence in the investment casting industry.

“All in all, there was a lot of work executed by the EICF personnel, in co-operation with the American Association (ICI) and the Japan Foundry Society driven with high stimulus by the EICF board aiming to satisfy the global investment casting community,” he said. “It will take another twelve years before the WCIC comes back to Europe again.”