Metal Casting Technologies : MCT-3RDQRT-2017
14 www.metals.rala.com.au METAL Casting Technologies 3rd Quarter 2017 15 ASIA PACIFIC FOUNDRY OVERVIEW ASIA PACIFIC FOUNDRY OVERVIEW 2017/18 to produce such products in various countries. In addition, technology has been passed down and product quality has been improved by “visualisation” of casting technology by CAE.” Japan’s metal casting industry has been subject to wholesale change since the 1990s. Since then, the physical number of foundries has essentially halved, bringing a big reduction in employment, while increasing costs have been compounded by natural disasters including the Fukushima earthquake. What has driven Japan’s latest burst in growth is a strict casting philosophy predicated on efficiency and automation. Mitsuo-san cites Industry 4.0 as the next big disruptive phase in the Japanese casting industry, and the broader industry in general. This phenomenon refers to the increasing input of computers and automation whereby robotics are connected remotely to computer systems equipped with machine-learning algorithms. The end result is less input from human operators. “At the moment there is a big wave that is also increasing in the manufacturing industry. It is Industry 4.0 and IoT, and the phenomenal development of IT, AI (Artificial Intelligence) which enables them further,” Mitsuo-san said. “In addition, various factors such as the shrinking of the domestic market that entered the society with a population decline and the expansion into overseas markets may bring about the change that had never existed in the foundry industry.” The Japan Casting Association has been an integral part of the domestic industry’s growth, forging new relationships and following bourgeoning manufacturing techniques from the likes of the United State, Germany and China. Japanese stakeholders plan to continue fostering relations with like-minded nations, which will likely become central to the domestic industry’s continued success. “We need to create a new casting industry vision as guidelines for the casting industry that can respond to these changes and formulate an action plan to realise it,” Mitsuo-san said. “In addition, through the action plan, I think that the Japan Casting Association has to play a role in helping member companies. It is also necessary to enrich the foundry college (from beginner to advance) with the cooperation of the Nippon Casting Engineering Association, a public benefit corporation as an educational program for human resources building that can withstand the change. “Although we are fine, we are committed to working diligently with officers and secretariat. We ask for the support and encouragement of related government agencies, related organisations and members as well as the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.” In pure number terms, Japan’s global casting output remained steady in 2017, the country positioned fifth in the global hierarchy. THAILAND Thailand continues to enjoy moderate growth in output terms, while slowly bringing itself up to speed with more developed manufacturing industry techniques. Automotive and electronic industry castings helped to anchor production capacity in the past 12 months. However, 2017 introduced plenty of challenges to the Thai foundry industry, namely in the form of renewed challenges from China and Vietnam for low-cost budget castings. Looking ahead, a major hurdle in Thailand’s progress as a foundry nation remains quality control and a better trained workforce, says metal casting analyst Dr John Pearce. “The foundries in Thailand can be thought of as two distinct types: the large joint ventures associated with the Japanese that supply parts to the automotive and electrical/ electronic industries, and the Thai-owned SME (small to medium enterprise) foundries that include jobbing and tier two suppliers to auto and a wide variety of other industries,” Pearce explained. “The Japanese venture producers (most produce automotive iron castings and/or HPDC Al castings) are world class and employ latest technology and production methods. Their environmental performance is good and with modern clean working conditions generally have no difficulty in attracting and keeping graduates. “By contrast, the SME sector foundries vary widely in their technical capability, equipment, efficiency and environmental performance.” While Japanese venture foundries in Thailand remain world class, the Thai-run factories provide a more accurate yardstick for how the nation’s foundry industry is travelling. Hamstrung by limited investment, outdated equipment and a resulting higher electricity usage, the Thai SME foundries suffer high defect levels and see-sawing productivity. Dr Pearce also noted a disparaging educational gap in Thai foundries between “management and the shop floor”, citing the need for more training courses in metal casting. This comes in the face of record low unemployment levels in Thailand. “There’s a shortage in properly-trained craftsmen and technicians – there’s well-trained graduates and intellectuals at the top and then there’s the shop floor,” he said. “This can lead to insufficient maintenance of equipment and disconnect between top and bottom.” Dr Pearce’s sentiments are echoed by Paritud Bhandhubanyong, a fellow Thai metal casting stakeholder. Dr Bhandhubanyong called for more “clean, cool and calm” casting environments that embraced the latest technology as a means of attracting younger generations. “The future needs for the Thai metal casting industry would be how to apply the breakthrough technology like Big Data Analysis, IoT, and AI to transform the order processing and the production processes from, say, industry 2.0-2.5 to industry 4.0 in a shortest time and lowest investment possible,” he said. With Thai labour rates considered higher in price than that of China and India, and with less scale of production, Dr Bhandhubanyong said the Thai industry needed to specialise in new areas. “The Thai foundries have to look for new markets and new areas of casting application (e.g.) electric vehicle, aerospace industry, high speed train,” he said. “These are just a few examples of the target industries of the Thai governments. After they find the new markets, they must improve their processes by applying up-to-date technology available.” Central to Thailand’s metal casting prosperity will be the input of major stakeholders including the Thai Foundry Industry Association and the Foundry Group in the Federation of Thai Industry. The two outlets recently joined forces in drawing up a roadmap for the industry, according to Dr Bhandhubanyong. “One of the key factors to be developed in the roadmap is technological improvement,” he said. “This included mold making, melting, finishing practices. The major obstacle would be high cost of investment for technology from overseas. “The IoT would have a strong impact on the metal casting industry, especially on the order processing and the production processes. Those who could utilise the capability of IoT could capture more orders and could be more flexible with their processes that, in turn, could satisfy customers more than their competitors.” Where to next? The casting industry is a complex beast. Self-preservation is just as inherent in survival as transformation. Businesses must evolve and sustain cost efficiencies at the same time. But, in the face of new challenges, foundries are delving into emerging techniques and the resulting castings are becoming increasingly competitive with the rest of the world, both in terms of cost and quality. In many cases, Asia Pacific leads the global metal casting hierarchy. So while it’s true to say the metal casting industry has witnessed its share of change, technology now promises to revolutionise foundries as we know them. n Metals sought comment from Malaysian, South Korean and Pakistani foundry bodies during research for this feature. Unfortunately we were unable to get their response. Traditional manufacturing sectors such as car making will soon cease to exist in Australia. However, the metal casting industry is rallying the changes with new innovations. Virtual reality is slowly effecting change in the metal casting industry, though stakeholders believe the biggest technological transformations are in the years to come. Traditional manual labour jobs are being superseded by robots, as pictured in this automatic casting production line.
MCT DEC 2017 (4TH QRT)