The US metal casting industry is one of the largest recyclers of metals and alloys globally, responsible for recycling tens of millions of tons of iron and steel alone annually. Along with all the other recyclable metals and alloys that can be recycled, US foundries have become an integral part of the recycling industry. Much of this waste would otherwise be considered scrap that would end up in junkyards and landfills. Yet the metal casting industry’s green credentials aren’t going to create cost savings for metal casting companies. The industry’s primary goal is to process and make parts from metals and alloys as efficiently as possible.
Introducing cost savings to the metal casting sector means making their processes more efficient by looking at the equipment design, optimizing operations, and adjusting systems to increase throughput. Improving processes will, in turn, lower a foundry’s carbon profile, controlling waste that can eat into profits. By managing this waste, metal casting companies can improve profit margins. Understanding how to improve operational efficiency in manufacturing and recycling processes in manufacturing metal components thus makes sense for foundries from an economic and environmental perspective.
How to Improve Operational Efficiency in Manufacturing & Recycling Metals
We must look to where processes can be refined to help understand where the industry can improve its operational efficiency. Many actions that affect process efficiency require only a limited investment by a foundry, while some cost nothing at all, but regardless of the cost, there must be a strategy.
To start, it’s a good idea to look at the phases of the casting process:
- Eliminating overflows and runners
- Surface treatments
- Packing and shipping
Above all, it takes a workforce with the desire and sufficient know-how to improve operational efficiency. Training workers on effectively lower processing costs is essential in manufacturing and recycling activities for the sector.
Best Practices for Improving Cost Savings
While purchasing and installing efficient equipment is a good start, it should only be a part of a foundry’s cost management strategy. To successfully introduce a comprehensive plan for managing operational efficiency, metal casting businesses must assess how to track and control the efficiency with which they make parts. Only by assessing how efficient the processes in a foundry can a metal casting company properly manage them.
Manufacturers should first consider how to direct the metal casting process to ensure compliance. This includes either tracking parameters and dealing with them during the die-casting process or sorting out those components that don’t fall within these parameters once fabrication is complete. Assessing the amount of energy used in the process should play into this, which involves carefully assessing all the systems and processes involved. These analyses can be done internally or via a third party like a utility, government representative, or hired provider.
Reducing costs should start when the molds are first designed for the metal parts. Mold designers must focus on various aspects, including aesthetics, functionality, and operational issues, such as ensuring quick production cycles and decreasing waste due to defects or manufacturing errors. Conditions before or after casting should also be thought through so that the right amount of material is available to make the mold correctly. If estimates are off, this will result in the need to produce a new mold, which adds to costs and risks producing a higher scrap rate.
Eliminating Overflows & Runners
During this second phase, cooling occurs, eliminating sprues and positioning components for easy handling. This cooling stage should take less time than molding, with the fluid’s status as either static or dynamic, while the fluid temperature will differ depending on the type used for quenching. Components cool more slowly with static fluids, whereas dynamic fluids speed this process with a quicker heat transfer, making it more efficient. Automatic quenching processes should be designed to avoid the need for secondary finishing and deburring that eliminates overflows and runners. However, it should allow for the possible need for secondary treatments. Automated systems that position components help reduce how long it takes to fabricate parts, thus reducing costs.
Mold designers generally don’t consider handling, though it can be an issue early in larger production runs. To ensure efficiency, systems should look at issues like the dimensions of containers, along with handling and positioning the components within them. With just-in-time manufacturing processes, keeping only enough material in stock to reduce operational costs resulting from longer lead times and wasted space is possible.
In this stage, part lines and other marks are eliminated from parts through polishing or other surface treatments designed to optimize the end product. The type of surface treatment used for molded components may involve processes like degassing, deburring, and sandblasting, which can be optimized according to which offers the greatest efficiency.
Packing and Shipping
When packing and shipping finished components, their characteristics must be carefully considered. Though the packaging of components is, in part, aesthetic, how this process is done can and should be optimized to protect the parts without slowing the fabrication processes in which they’ll be used. The cost of packaging parts should be weighed against the need to protect the product, while components also shouldn’t be so securely packed that they increase the time it takes to remove them from the packaging and install parts in the finished product.
Assessing & Process Efficiency
Assessments should include employees with differing specialties and various experience ranges and know-how. However, these teams must understand how to conduct an assessment to improve operational efficiency in manufacturing properly. Sometimes, local utilities will work with companies designing industrial facilities, as some will have programs for improving systems that include lighting or motors. The Department of Energy (DOE) supports a range of federal programs in the US, such as the Industrial Assessment Center (IAC) program for smaller and medium-sized businesses, where qualified university students help provide free assessments.
Other means by which to lower costs of metal casting include:
- Environmental strategies: Coordinating and implementing an environmental management program (EMP) should be considered holistically. Though some companies may view EMP requirements as lowering operational efficiency and draining resources, improving compliance, employee health, and quality management is necessary while increasing efficiency, reducing liability, and saving on costs. It’s important, however, that an EMP doesn’t compromise a metal caster’s overall production strategy.
- Equipment: In any manufacturing, having the most effective equipment is essential, and it’s no different in the metal casting industry. Well-designed equipment requires less maintenance, which reduces downtime. This saves manufacturers time and money, though high-quality machinery may have higher initial investment costs. Yet, such equipment will last longer, providing more significant financial benefits.
- Increased operating hours: Though often associated with lower performance and generally higher costs in other industrial sectors, foundries are more cost-effectively run when operations take place 24/7. Modern metal casting machinery is capable of nonstop operation and is made to run continuously. By increasing uptime, metal casting companies will lower costs.
- Negotiating energy costs: Deregulated energy markets can result in uneven operational costs, especially during high energy demand. Foundries in such markets should shop for a utility provider that can help lower energy costs by negotiating buybacks, bulk energy supplies, and other cost-cutting solutions.
Part of a foundry’s energy strategy should involve looking at energy use over the past year and comparing it to production. In doing so, advanced software tools can assist with this analysis, helping to identify trends, though this can instead be done manually. It’s important to consider electricity and fuel used separately to ascertain where the most energy is being used. Looking at such data will provide teams tasked with reducing costs to identify any problems more easily.
Improving Foundry Process Efficiency
No matter the foundry’s size, processes promoting cost savings are key factors in profitability. Knowing how to improve operational efficiency in manufacturing or recycling metals takes upper management’s dedication to ensure it’s seen as a central business goal. This sometimes requires difficult decision-making and an obligation to which employees at every level of the company will need to adhere.
Carrier Vibrating Equipment Inc. makes industrial vibratory feeders used to convey bulk materials like recycled metals or alloys and raw ores at a reasonable cost for our customers. With robust designs that are highly customizable, we can design and build feeder equipment to fit your specific needs. With an array of equipment for handling bulk materials, let us show you how to improve operational efficiency in manufacturing by contacting our team today.