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In the air tonight

A progressive diecasting facility is set to save £50,000 on energy bills after investing in the latest air conditioning technology.

Having spent several years committed to the installation of high-tech equipment to increase production and constantly improve efficiency, CastAlum Ltd has now undergone a complete air management review which highlighted the need to update its air conditioning system. In response the installation of a reactive system has both improved working conditions on the shopfloor and will save pounds on the company’s annual electricity bills.

Based in Welshpool in a picturesque setting in mid Wales, the world-class automotive diecasting facility has never been shy of updating equipment. With a mindset that embraces ongoing development in its people and its processes, CastAlum has a reputation for driving innovation but this latest investment is part of a progressive change, says chairman Peter Radcliffe.

The company was a greenfield development in 2001 and the danger could be the temptation to consider the 16-year-old company as up to date, after all it is just a teenager! However, the team at CastAlum has continued to upgrade the facility to ensure it remains at the forefront of technology. “We can’t be complacent,” Radcliffe, who is part of the team that completed an MBO in 2009, told Foundry Trade Journal. “We purchased this business eight years ago when no financial organisations wanted to support automotive. We have significantly expanded our turnover and the facility and built a team that finds and manages solutions.”

Operating a six-day x 24 hr week, the company was first alerted to the need to focus attention on its clean air system when its one day a week closedown resulted in increased difficulty in maintaining the then existing installation of fans. The, now favoured, process manner of bringing air in low and expelling at height led the company to investigate the available options to see if this would make any significant difference. The former system consisted of three large input fans and three large extractor fans per bay, mounted high on each end of the factory. They were turned on and off manually and were using around 800kwh per annum. In addition, at approx. £20,000 a year maintenance cost they were expensive to service. Further, as the system was a bespoke facility it was unlikely that they could be replaced in the case of a terminal breakdown.

Following an in-depth air management review over several weeks whereby the accuracy of projections was checked using a low level air input system, the need to change was widely accepted. Twelve weeks of installation time and one month of setting up later and the difference was, quite literally, clear to see. The new system now comprises five air handling units mounted low down, four hurricane roof vents, eight louvered roof vents and six end wall vents. Air input can be cold or heated and activates automatically between 10°C and lower (heats) and 20°C (cools). The system automatically opens and closes depending on wind, rain and temperature. Met data from RAF Shrewsbury was used to determine annual conditions and the likely energy spend.

“Apart from the obvious cost savings, employees are delighted at the increase in light, temperature and the noticeable improvement in the environment in which they are working,” Radcliffe said. “Although currently the new system is only installed in the one side of the shopfloor, our intention is to also upgrade the other side now we have seen the difference it makes.”

The cost of the installation was £176,000 and supported by a Carbon Trust loan. The prediction is for around a three-year payback period – and that’s a conservative estimation. Overall the savings from the new system assist in mitigating the, ongoing, annual statutory levies that are a significant cost of every incoming electricity bill.

The installation has also been recognised by the TS standard auditor who has commented on the “big difference” the investment has made. Indeed the shafts of light beaming through the large vents are akin to the famous Getty Image of Grand Central Station in New York and give the feel of divine inspiration. Such is the company’s confidence in the new system that Radcliffe says they are even thinking of repainting the ceilings because they are so sure they will now stay clean.

Investment programme

The company has continued to lead the way and was recognised for its investment in people, plant, long-term planning and innovation with the prestigious Company Achievement Award at the 2016 Industry Awards, organised by the Cast Metals Federation. Other recent investments also include a 2300t Buhler high pressure diecasting machine which monitors and controls water, lube and temperatures throughout the die, plus all the usual parameters on a fully automated diecasting cell, that has increased capacity uptime; six more CNCs, housed in former very wide corridors now developed into temperature controlled rooms; a new machine shop; and a complete intranet system to maintain a large range of working statistics and to keep employees informed.

The newer element of the machine shop has been developed in the past eighteen months to add available machining capacity. Sixteen 4-axis horizontal machining centres enable the company to machine 50 per cent of the parts it produces. It is also an area of the plant, like so many others, where operator skills are a driving force acting as technicians and, as on the diecasting machines, forming an integral part of the ongoing development of the company.

Training is also an area where CastAlum invests heavily, including what Radcliffe refers to as a “healthy” apprenticeship scheme. “Essentially we are in a rural area,” he says. “So we’ve always invested in skills and training people. New apprenticeship candidates undergo an extensive interview which encompasses spending time on the shopfloor with a mentor similar to themselves so they get a full understanding of the working environment. There is also always a job for apprentices once they have completed their training. “We believe in giving everyone an opportunity to be better,” Radcliffe says proudly. “If you work at CastAlum you can see that there is progression.” The analogy is not lost on visitors that actually you can “see” a lot more at this company than in many – indeed, you can both see and breathe in light and airy conditions all thanks to a culture that promotes ongoing development and the latest air conditioning technology some 40 foot in the air.

Contact: Peter Radcliffe, CastAlum Ltd, Buttington Cross Enterprise Park, Welshpool, Powys SY21 8SL, Tel: +44 (0) 1938 557557, email: [email protected] web: