Metal Casting Technologies : MCT-3RDQRT-2017
10 www.metals.rala.com.au METAL Casting Technologies 3rd Quarter 2017 11 China’s meteoric growth is perhaps best characterised by its involvement in the electric car market, thanks to development of wild new models including the Nio EP9 electric supercar (pictured). ASIA PACIFIC FOUNDRY OVERVIEW ASIA PACIFIC FOUNDRY OVERVIEW 2017/18 the jobbing foundries, are struggling a bit with the work. In those terms not much has changed,” Lovell said of the past 12 months. “Some companies have found good niche markets where they can compete, and I know one company that’s competing with overseas companies. Basically we can’t compete with high-volume, low-cost castings so you’ve got to find a niche in something that’s a little bit more specialised.” Lovell said much of the New Zealand industry had channelled its resources into exotic materials, creating a point of difference from surrounding markets. In this vein, New Zealand is beginning to spread its wings from a manufacturing prospective, finding new relevance in the global casting market. “There’s been some acid resistant materials and some of the attention to detail with the small runs, we can get quite accurate castings, which you can’t with higher volume. That tends to create the market that we’ve got to go for,” Lovell said. An ever-present issue converging on New Zealand foundries is a lack of skilled workers. With little to no interest in trained apprenticeships among school leavers, the problem is at a critical point. Lovell admits metal casting stakeholders need to shoulder some of the blame in this regard. “Basically, we do get a lot of immigrants enter the country, and that is where most of the foundry staff tend to come from. It is hard to attract employees straight out of school and the big institutes,” Lovell said. “A little bit of that is probably our own fault, we don’t really spend any time at the schools or try to encourage people into the industry. But when you listen to somebody that’s invested in the industry, you do find that there is a lot of metallurgy that is done from a desk using a computer, rather than the perception that it’s all dirty foundry work.” While larger markets, particularly Europe, are embracing the latest technology, New Zealand’s use of the Internet of Things and virtual reality from a production perspective is still in its infancy. Stakeholders point out minimal use of Augmented Reality (displaying virtual content overlaid on a smartphone or tablet camera feed) in the current marketplace, however the advent of Virtual Reality (usually an immersive goggle-like headset that completely covers the user’s field of view with virtual imagery) is some time off. “The biggest problem with many of the foundries is that they don’t have a lot of capital to invest in new technology,” Lovell said. “For example, we started to look at a large 3D mould printer in collaboration with the Callaghan Innovation, but basically the foundries have dropped out because they don’t have enough capital for it. “Callaghan Innovation are going ahead with a machine of their own, which some foundries will be able to use, but it’s really that lack of capital. There are several factories now using 3D printing of their own.” CHINA Chinese foundries, too, are being confronted by challenges, not the least of which is surging electricity prices. “The biggest problem in China is two things: first one is a lack of trained, skilled staff to handle complex parts. China is also facing energy threats,” warned Professor Yarlagadda. “In fact, the biggest factor affecting much of this industry is huge energy bills because of changing legislation, be it in Australia, China and India. Governments are more environmentally conscious and energy use in this sector is very high. It is badly impacting the metal casting industry.” However, the Chinese industry looks set to earn a reprieve in 2017 as reform of China’s electricity market gathers speed, bringing increased competition and lower overheads. The energy reforms have been accompanied by a red-hot domestic property market and renewed infrastructure spending. In addition, China’s automotive market has been sent into overdrive as the country’s middle class swells in size, luring many manufacturers including traditional European and US marques to establish localised manufacturing, and with it, localised metal casting offshoots or contractor operations. Of particular note in China’s automotive scene is the advent of the electric car, a market in which China is assuming a lead role globally. In May, for instance, Chinese electric car maker Nio seized headlines when its otherworldly EP9 electric supercar set a new lap record around Germany’s Nurburgring – a huge feat and perhaps a line in the sand for China’s bourgeoning electric car industry. Above all else, China’s inherent advantage is that its overheads pale against those of many developed countries in the Asia Pacific. Or for that matter, the world. Tellingly, on last count the Chinese contributed nearly 45 per cent of the globe’s casting production, compared with about 20 per cent for US and India combined. Right now, China’s meteoric economic rise has paralleled that of another emerging technology: Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). The market for VR technology could be a trillion-dollar industry by 2035, research from Citi predicted last year, and the foundry benefits are two-fold: firstly, VR technology will boost China’s appeal with overseas markets, and secondly, it could help to address a growing skilled worker shortage by tempting young graduates into an increasingly tech-savvy field. “VR/AR is now firmly on the radar as an investment theme and is expanding as an industry and we believe it will be used in a wide range of applications and in a number of different industries going forward,” Kathleen Boyle, managing editor of Citi GPS (Global Perspectives & Solutions) said in the Citi report. At a consumer level, VR is considered a boom industry among the Chinese, which suggests why Chinese internet giant Baidu plunged $27 million in funding for photo-realistic 3D hologram technology this year. It is clear such technology could eventually permeate aspects of the manufacturing chain as well, from foundries giving prospective clients a ‘walk-through’ of their products during the tendering process, to consumers taking a virtual tour of the end product in “room-scale” VR. The latter aspect allows users to move freely within a delineated real space as they explore the virtual environment. “Augmented reality and virtual reality will have their time,” forecasted metal engineer Professor Yarlagadda. “AR, for example, we already have in some of our systems. These systems will help us to design and develop complicating castings, and also they will help us in understanding what we can deliver, but also understand what customers expect tomorrow. “These technologies are good but you have to approach them carefully. And critically, you have to train people to use these systems.” Professor Yarlagadda is less auspicious about the influence of Virtual Reality (VR) in the casting space – for now. However, he said it was clear these emerging technologies represent the next step-change for foundries. One existing example of VR’s capability is the scope to establish the layout of future factories during collaborative sessions with multiple users. Guided tours of these foundries in the virtual space allows stakeholders to iron out logistical or process issues without costly modifications. While China’s stocks improve overall as a global metal casting nucleus, there are increasing cracks. “China still has the same problem that it always had: you order a pallet of castings and you have to throw a third of them away because they’re not up to standard,” one stakeholder told Metals. “Many clients see past the value equation now and instead insist on purchasing castings from their home market, which promises quicker turnaround times and better overall quality.” China’s challenge now is to address the issue and remove the stigma over quality. Only those foundries recognising their faults and fixing them will thrive in the market of tomorrow. In broader terms, Chinese stakeholders have previously told Metals that their biggest challenge is a philosophical one: undoing deep-rooted sentiment “that the foundry industry is hard, industrial work”. Undoing that perception will take time, and will be met with climbing labour wages in order to attract the right graduates, but for now, China has the right foundations in place for a thriving marketplace. INDIA India’s metal casting industry remains extremely well-placed in terms of future prosperity. Buoyed by the country’s strong economic growth and renewed government investment, foundries are enjoying year- on-year growth both in terms of outputs and incoming work. As technology evolves, metal casting stakeholders say the industry is crying out of more skilled workers. Here a worker uses real time monitoring to operate a heavy robotic arm.
MCT DEC 2017 (4TH QRT)