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Creativity and flexibility

In recent years the International Foundry Conference Portoroz has grown into a popular event in the cast metals calendar, attracting an increasing number of participants. This year 260 people took part from 15 countries to listen to world-class presentations on predictions for how the industry and the global economy must adapt to meet the increasingly radical and rapid changes in our lives that lie ahead.

One of the keynote lecturers, Christian Heiselbetz, R&D director global of Nemak Europe GmbH, spoke about how casting technology could provide solutions for the challenges of e-drive components. He said the large number of new components needed following the current development of electrical powertrain units for passenger cars lend themselves to being designed as cast parts due to their complexity. In terms of housings for electric engines, batteries and control units, he said “a huge leap of development is perceptible.” He told delegates: “Due to the high power density and the increasing functional integration, often provided with complex inner cooling configurations, these components are made in a demanding production process. The complexity of these kind of components come closer to a combustion engine than to a conventional e-drive, thus different casting processes can be selected in the future for these components.”

He enthused that alternative casting processes were an option for serial production such as low pressure diecasting (LPDC) or the core package sand core casting CPSâ.

He also said that battery housings were components that lend themselves to the diecasting process because of their usual flat and broad extents and where complex cooling channels are required LPDC enables multiple risers for accurate cavity filling.

Nemak also has several 3D printers at plants around the world, some operating on a 24/7 basis, which produce sand cores for prototypes and small series production.

Concluding, he championed that although there would be a change in production requirements there were still opportunities for aluminium castings in powertrain development. “There is a very exciting future for aluminium cast parts,” he assured delegates.

DrIng Erwin Flender of the BDG (German foundry institute) highlighted the current success stories in European foundries. “The foundry industry has existed for many years on low profitability. Foundries often resort to what they consider the ‘bread and butter’ business but this is only truly successful in the short-term,” he said. He spoke of how the most successful companies engage with their employees and involve them in the decision-making process, integrating at all levels. “Accurate cost calculation is essential,” he said. “The foundry needs to know how it makes money and how much is made on each order.”


Specialisation can be dangerous

He said it was not necessarily a good idea to produce too wide a size range of castings as this would prove cost intensive and that the correct degree of utilisation of equipment is relevant. “Specialisation can be dangerous as it is reliant on a customer’s success, as is the decision to just produce one component.” However, he also warned that relying on too narrow a range was also risky. He explained that even when a foundry is efficient it had to also have the ability to communicate to existing and potential customers and “make its potential visible.” He advised delegates: “You need to show diversification and flexibility to market needs.”

Tackling the subject of how foundries often grow organically, he said that a foundry should question everything – “don’t do things on principle. More ideas come from the shopfloor than from highly paid consultants so it is necessary to establish a culture of continuous improvement.”

Whilst research and development are important (in Germany he said around 27 per cent of turnover is invested in R&D), Flender warned that reports and results must be understood. “We have to implement new knowledge faster, better and with more competence,” he said. “New knowledge gives us substantial potential for innovation. Knowledge is the first pre-condition for added value but knowledge must be linked with intelligent economics and entrepreneurship.”

Speaking about the casting process he said that the industry: “must accept that cast parts are not always considered best – the designer is closer to the machiner than the caster. Consider capacities and continue the prime goal of reducing weight and look at composite castings and hybrid parts. We must offer better solutions in castings.”

In conclusion, he offered the following advice:

  • Pay attention to profit margins.
  • Adopt a continuous investment policy – you can’t be competitive without investment, often investment in cost reduction is better than investment in increasing turnover.
  • Never change a running system – always run a changing system!

Speaking on behalf of the University Duisburg-Essen, Institut of Metal Engineering, R Deike, considered the importance of the foundry industry in a circular economy. As we all know foundries have been recycling for the whole of their existence. He said that whilst it was difficult to achieve a 100 per cent circular economy, a high percentage of life recycling is possible.

“The production of iron, steel and non-ferrous metals and castings is characterised by a high portion of recycled content,” he said.

“To understand 100 per cent recycling we need to know where metal goes. Metals effectively go everywhere not just in the end product, for example filter dust. However, process and production return is possible – waste products that we produce can be, and are, used in other industries such as slag in construction.

“In the foundry industry, it is possible to produce new products with better qualities by recycling the scrap after the end of life of the product. This is made possible because new materials with better properties have been developed in material research laboratories in industry and universities during the lifetime of a product.

“The foundry industry is one of the most resource-efficient industries, if not THE most resource-efficient industry.”

The above is just a taster of the type of information presented at the 57th International Foundry Conference Portoroz 2017. The event is organised by the Slovenian Foundrymen Society in conjunction with the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Engineering, University of Ljubljana and the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, University of Maribor. In total 32 papers were presented, along with ten plenary sessions and nine poster sessions. There was also a significant table-top exhibition of 28 companies and a full social and networking programme for all participants. During the event Prof Reinhard Dopp of TU Clausthal, Institute of Metallurgy in Germany was appointed an Honorary Member of the Slovenian Foundrymen Society. Prof Dopp has been attending the conference since 1983 and said he had made “many professional and personal connections” in that time. “Meeting new and existing friends and colleagues in Portoroz each year is very important. This is a great honour and joy for me,” he enthused.

The 58th International Foundry Conference Portoroz will be held in Portoroz, Slovenia on 12-14th September 2018. Contact: Slovenian Foundrymen Society, Tel: +386 1 252 2488, email: [email protected] web: