Equipment investment cuts cycle times and improves quality.
The increasing need to improve the quality standards for castings are not likely to be met by existing systems that are as old as the foundry in many cases. Increasing output also requires the foundry to consider process stability and repeatability. At the same time, production costs need to be contained in any change to equipment processes.
Based on its own process R&D, Active Foundry embarked on a modernisation project with the phased introduction of new equipment and systems to the foundry, just over three years ago. Prior to that the foundry had been working to a standard that it was comfortable with, by means of less reliable and more costly manual labour and aging equipment and mechanical systems. That is until the company began implementing and achieved the certification of ISO 9001:2015.
“We were in a comfort zone not realising what we could be achieving. When we tackled the difficult task of becoming an ISO 9001:2015 certified company, foremost in our plans was to implement a growth strategy through an increase in production volume and quality of product, while at the same time reducing costs. We already knew that the company’s equipment was dated and systems were being dictated to by this old equipment. But this was highlighted when independent outsiders hired to implement the ISO 9001 standards gave us impartial and objective feedback,” said Chris Viktor, Managing Director of Active Foundry.
In 2019 Lauds Projects And Procurement Pty Ltd were awarded a contract to supply a Lauds rollover draw machine and two Lauds continuous mixers, both fitted with state-of-the-art controls, auto blend and auto calibration systems
This system has enabled Active Foundry to run a manual loop line with a larger mixer that could fill the mould boxes in a greatly improved time. This has given the production line the ability to feed the Lauds rollover machine with increased volumes of moulds. The cycle time from the entry point of the rollover machine accepting the mould, rotating, stripping, ejection and returning pattern is 60 seconds. The production output on the current loop line is between 35 to 40 moulds an hour
“We immediately began developing and formatting a growth strategy. In applying the tools for growth strategy, it’s clear that significant work is required to develop a good growth strategy. However, once completed, strategy must be implemented and this may be the most difficult part of the journey.”
“Managing a foundry is a difficult task. Surviving, let alone achieving, long-term growth, is challenging. Especially given the challenging environment of a foundry, attention to strategy is a necessity, not a luxury. Fortunately, there are useful approaches for developing and implementing growth strategies, even for the foundry environment. The most successful growth companies are those that can transform strategy from a singular event, into an on-going process, overlapping, supplementing, and ultimately strengthening their normal quarterly and annual objectives-setting and financial processes. In essence the most successful companies become strategy-focused organisations,” explained Viktor.
“Active Foundry was purchased in 1991 from Murray and Roberts by the owners of Ainsworth Engineering who at the time was one of South Africa’s largest manufacturers of valves and produced. Initially the foundry concentrated on casting large valves for Ainsworth Engineering, at the time one of the largest valve manufacturers in South Africa.”
“My father Piet joined the business in 1993 and later became a business partner. He actively ran the business for many years before retiring three years ago in 2017 and handing over the reins to myself. When he joined Active Foundry he realised that the company was too focussed on one company and set about diversifying the client base and the range of products and components that the company was casting. Thank goodness he took that decision as there has been a massive decline in the demand for locally produced valve castings lately, well at least in our factory.”
Foundry Manager Fhatuwani Ramakokovhu and Managing Director Chris Viktor. In the background is the new overhead gantry system
The Lauds 12TPH pivotal continuous mixer is coupled with auto blending and auto calibration. This system is on the top of the technology list where it is ensured every drop of resin and binder is measured and maintained to ensure that there is over or under dosage, keeping all aspects of cost and quality control automatically monitored. The installation of the 12TPH mixer has given Active Foundry the ability to greatly increase the production rate with strict control over the consumables. The bonus of increased production during the planning stage led to the inevitable investment of the Lauds rollover draw machine
“I joined Active Foundry in 2007 as the Sales Manager and continued in that position up until 2017. I did not have the luxury of delegating various types of tasks to other people like managers in larger businesses and corporations do. Instead I did them myself and I made sure I learnt all the aspects of what makes a foundry run. A foundry is not an industry. A foundry is a place where castings are produced, or the place where the process that transforms molten metal into a cast metal part. The foundry process is unique and many instances it is unique to a particular foundry.”
“Active Foundry’s production includes castings used, or forms part of the manufacture of valve castings, ground engaging tools, coal crushing hammers, track pads for underground mining machines, rocker arms and various other ferrous products and components.”
“We have grown over the last 10 years to include castings manufactured in high chrome iron, various grades of high-strength low alloy steels, especially for the wear part industry, cast steels for the general engineering industry and various grades of grey and SG iron. Because of the volumes of steel we were making, we decided to design and build our own heat treatment plant which includes five furnaces and a quench bath utilised for normalising, annealing, quenching and tempering of steel.
“Since inception we have been capable of producing finished weight castings up to 100 tons, monthly on a single shift basis, but with the installation of our new equipment our goal is to be able to produce up to 140 tons per month.”
“Our customers are in the water provision, power, agriculture, construction and mining sectors throughout South Africa and surrounding countries.”
Part of the investment was the installation of a Foseco flood coating station in the production line
The system for the coring station is equipped with a 6TPH furan mixer and runs on a loop line that was originally in place at Active Foundry. The new mixer has not only increased production, but the precision control of the pump sets makes the unit a highly efficient and cost-conscious machine. Material usage is optimised as control and accuracy of the dosing systems is about 99% and the first and last sand is usable making sure there is zero waste from the continuous mixer. The temperature sensitive auto blending system plays an integral part in ensuring that the curing and strip time is maintained to the optimum, even with fluctuating temperatures
“We use the no-bake resin system and currently only have one 2.2 ton induction furnace for our melting requirements. We have a fully equipped pattern shop, a comprehensive fettling bay and a core shop with core shooter to supply all our own cores.”
“We control our material quality in our fully equipped lab, which includes sand testing equipment and a Bruker Q4 spectrometer. We have two metallurgists working in this department to monitor and maintain our quality.”
Operating as a foundry for nearly 30 years Active Foundry credits its success to satisfying customer needs by managing and exceeding their expectations.
“The goal has always been to provide customers with quality products in a fast, flexible and cost-effective manner. And to keep up with that goal we realised that we had to make an investment in the foundry production side. One of the central decisions that we had to make before starting the project was to assess if we would just modernise some sections or do it properly in all areas. We decided on the latter but it had to be a phased approach.”
“Three years ago we invested in a sand reclamation plant that was installed by Lauds Projects And Procurement Pty Ltd. Due to the satisfactory performance of this plant, it was decided to develop in conjunction with Lauds, most of our other requirements.”
“With this new investment, paramount to our decision was to achieve increased production volumes, decreased costs, improved casting methods and enhanced quality using modern equipment and methods. The investment includes facility renovations, new machinery and equipment.”
Larger castings that have been manufactured at Active Foundry
The core business of Active Foundry centres around the manufacturing of abrasion/impact resistant wear parts and castings for the mining, construction, industrial and water provision industries
“Because we financed the project ourselves, we carried out studies to identify areas for potential savings before we committed to the project. Growth is normally the prime directive for manufacturers, but there are limiting factors as well. When Active Foundry was established it focussed on valve manufacture of larger valve castings. After I took over the foundry from my father in 2017 our single production casting weight changed immensely from large castings to higher volume smaller castings.”
“It was too expensive and also problematic, especially with regard to labour relations in South Africa, to replace all labour with machines. Besides, our employees are still our biggest asset and some of them have been with us for over 20 years. That experience cannot be replaced by a machine.”
Phased in plan
“The first phase of our plan was to replace our old core equipment. All our cores had to be produced in one area to achieve this. We equipped a new core shop with one core shooter and a 1-3 ton per hour continuous mixer with PC control supplied by Lauds.”
“The second phase of the plan was to consolidate our moulding operation into one moulding bay instead of the two that we had been operating. Included in the move we had to incorporate a new 6 to 12 ton continuous mixer. We had purchased a Lauds LT6/12 machine, which is PLC controlled. Previously we had to calibrate sand virtually daily but now with the self-calibration option included we only have to calibrate weekly. You can imagine the time we are saving now.”
“Additionally, the resin and catalyst volumes are controlled according to volume of the sand and that in itself controls quality and reduces moulding and down time.”
New rollover draw machine
“Another of the areas where we needed to make cost savings was on the overhead cranes in the factory. They are extremely expensive to operate and maintain. As our floor moulding was very dependent on these overhead cranes, handling was excessive, as was the time it took to strip moulds manually.”
“Taking these non-productive and costly operations into account, phase three saw us invest in a Lauds 3000 rollover draw machine, which handles copes and drags of 1 300mm by 1 100mm by 500mm.”
“At the same time we also installed a Foseco flood coating station in the production line.”
“Our moulding carousel can now process between 10 and 12 medium sized half moulds (1 000mm by 1 000mm by 250mm) at once. Each mould takes approximately 12 to 15 minutes to be set enough for stripping, depending on which type of binder is used. Stripping can be done within 30 seconds per half mould. So, I would say between our mixer and roll over we are able to produce at least 30 to 40 medium sized moulds every hour, which is a big improvement compared to our previous manual methods. To handle our moulds from the carousel we installed a manipulator.”
A large valve body casting
Active Foundry’s production includes castings used in the manufacture of valve castings, ground engaging tools, coal crushing hammers, mining tracks pads, rocker arms and various other ferrous products and components
“This new setup that includes the new mixer, the rollover machine and the flood coating station is now responsible for approximately 80% of our production requirements. The balance (larger moulds) still have to be made and stripped manually, but it’s very difficult to cater for everything in a foundry.”
“Another challenge we have had to overcome during this equipment investment and process upgrade was the transferring of moulds after the coating stage. The foundry floor is not all on one level and with the different heights and contours we had to design and build our own overhead gantry system that includes two 2 ton hoists combined with two manually operated manipulators. This system has replaced the large overhead cranes, which were previously used for transferring moulds for coring and casting. Again we are making sizeable cost and time savings.”
“Phase five was about designing and installing our own mould handling tracks that are divided into two casting lines, two cooling lines and one casting plate return line. We also designed and manufactured our own clamping and chain system to close the moulds. This has replaced the old floor moulding method of using massive weights that are put on top of the moulds. Again, substantial handling and consequential cost reductions were achieved.”
Phase six in concept
“Phase six of our investments and upgrades is still in the concept phase. It is our intention to transfer moulds from cooling line to shakeout and to do this we will have to install another overhead gantry system with smaller hoists to replace the current method of using the large overhead cranes.”
“Currently we are fine tuning all the equipment and systems that we have installed so as to ensure optimal savings and production. We have also implemented a track and trace system. We record all our melts and tracking is done via a dating system, which can trace most castings back to the day they were cast.”
Active Foundry designed and manufactured its own clamping and chain system to close the moulds
Active Foundry have a fully mechanised heat treatment plant that includes five electric furnaces utilised for normalising, quenching and tempering
“We should soon be able to assess what the cost savings we are achieving on a daily basis, although I can safely say we are already seeing some substantial improvements in various areas of the foundry including reduced stripping times, better quality moulds and cores, increased production capacity and less maintenance on older machinery and of course substantial savings on labour costs.”
“We are very excited to promote our new production capacity and decreased lead times, but like my father said to me earlier this year, you have built this monster now you have to feed it and this will be very challenging under the uncertain COVID-19 situation. But the fact of the matter is the business owners who can achieve the best balancing act between managing COVID-19 and their factories will reap the rewards at the end of the day.”
Currently Active Foundry employs 58 staff with 45 of those on the production floor. The company is also OHASA certified and complies with all Occupational Health and Safety Act regulations. The foundry operates on a no-bake resin system, offers patternmaking, shot blasting, heat treatment and cosmetic finishing services and has access to simulation and optimisation technology. Castings produced range between five kilograms and 1.5 tons.
Active Foundry has two metallurgists working in a fully equipped lab that includes sand testing equipment and a Bruker Q4 spectrometer
The foundry operates on a no-bake resin system, offers patternmaking, shot blasting, heat treatment and cosmetic finishing services and has access to simulation and optimisation technology
“As do other countries in the world, for a number of years South Africa has had competition from imports, especially those coming in from the East, notably China. We have no other option but to offer consistent quality castings as I think this is one area where these imports are still lacking. To compete with their pricing and to sustain quality, I believe every foundry in South Africa needs to cut costs where they can and improve quality. This can be done correctly by modernising and mechanising methods and equipment, which will reduce handling, increase production volume and ensure better control of labour. This is the only way to go as business owners have no real control over our other overheads like power.”
“It is recognised by us, that had it not been for the loyal support we enjoyed from most of our customers over the past 20 years, it would not have been possible for us to find ourselves in our current position. For this we sincerely appreciate and thank you for supporting us, both financially and technically over the period. Included in our customer base for example, original equipment manufacturers such as Komatsu, Hitachi and Cincinnati Mining Machinery have been very loyal supporters. For the support we enjoy from our countrywide distribution networks we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Thank you also for the loyal support from our end users.”
“The support we referred to has made it possible for us to finance and hold an inventory of more than R2.5 million. In most instances we are now able to supply your requirements from either stock or noticeably short delivery times.”
For further details contact Active Foundry on TEL: 011 828 9900 or visit www.activefoundry.co.za