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Metal Casting Technologies : September 2008
Foundry 2008 ASIAN are generally machined out of cast metal shapes by pouring liquid metal (alloy) into specially designed moulds with or without cores and sold for a price that depends on various factors such as cost, quality, performance, reputation / reliability, location (market place such as domestic or overseas or internal company transfer), duties and tariffs. Interestingly this castings business is one of the oldest branches of arts & science. Globally, today, nearly 85 million tonnes of castings are being produced and consumed, this is expected to reach 120 million tones within next ten years of period wherein the major increase in the consumption is contributed by internal consumption drive offered by the Chinese economy. Add to this the immense potential increase in castings migration from the American, European countries to China for enhanced partnerships in manufacturing and fabrication of not only raw and machined components but also for the final utility/ machine for use in both local and overseas markets. The recent emergence of the China as the global powerhouse for manufacturing industry is case in point. The 21st century China foundry industry The foundry industry in China is very large, estimated to produce about 28 million tonnes of castings, the largest in the world in volume terms but significantly lower in value terms as compared to 14 million tonnes American and 5-6 million tonnes German foundry industry. China exports about 10 per cent of its output in the form of rough and machined castings. Currently there are more than twenty thousand foundry plants spread across the State owned captive units, county owned castings enterprises and the foreign owned and Sino-foreign JV enterprises. The captive foundries are those located 34 www.metals.rala.com.au within the sites of large enterprises for instance producing machine tool, railway, turbine, truck, cars, pumps, engines and pipes etc. Therefore by virtue of these business relationships between the foundry shop and the parent group a captive foundry tends to depend on the fate of its parent company for business direction, capital investments/divestments, and human skill development objectives. However, as the market economy attained enhanced acceptance during the past two decades one may witness the increasing trend in the transformation of foundry enterprises as independent profit or business units. Mergers and consolidation are also very common in both the SOE and the locally owned private enterprises. The foundry industry also has seen the growing competition from the overseas business enterprises having set up wholly owned or joint ventures to exclusively manufacture castings –rough and machined to supply to both local and overseas markets. The current challenges in the Chinese foundry industry The capacity, like in almost all sectors of the local economy, the foundry industry is no different. It is muddled with excess installed production kits, is fragmented and often subject to inefficient and careless duplication of resources that lead to unexploited opportunities there. There is a vital need for quality and management upgrades in the overall industry even though there is a significant improvement in a few sectors-automotive car, machine tools, dies, die cast, pipes, pumps and precision engineering foundries on account of both domestic and overseas enterprise thrust for new technologies, newer processes, shop floor management etc. Technological and management challenges Over the past two decades or so nearly nine hundred million American dollars have been invested a fixed assets in various foundry equipment and machinery such a s: large scale importation of overseas no bake sand process mixers, reclamation units, high impact molding machines, state of the art core making machines and foundry melting & auxiliary equipment. But in reality a significant improvement is yet to take place in the form of foundry business management skills in terms of integrating the available resources and the customer demand for a given market, culture and communication framework. ? Shortages of water and basic industrial commodities such as oil, carbon, mined refractories, mined metallic /extractive ores for iron, alumium, copper, chromium, titanium and nickel and therefore the continued shavings of the margins for the castings producers. ? The foundry sand quality and consistency should be prioritized to work for a simple range of machines and processing inputs. The current scenario has to change the machines and process inputs so as to accommodate even poor or unacceptable sand quality! ? The techniques for process control at all levels –metal scrap selection, melting units size and robustness for speed and power consumption efficiencies, patterns quality & design for sound moulds and cores, molten metal transferring and refining/ cleaning stations quality and technical capabilities, simulation tools and kits for castings soundness prediction, defect simulation and prevention and a system to track and document for preempting and postmortem operations need immediate upgrade in various sectors small, medium and large enterprises.