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Metal Casting Technologies : September 2010
36 www.metals.rala.com.au NEW ZEALAND By Bill Lovell Advanced technology & skilled staff key to foundry sustainability Despite the best efforts of the recession and successive government's lack of encouragement for the manufacturing industry in New Zealand the foundry industry is surviving. There have of course been a few casualties but mostly small companies, which have been bought out, or their work taken over by slightly larger foundries. The encouraging news as we ended 2009 was that most companies had forward orders, had resumed normal hours and re employed staff. There was a suspicion that this rise was not sustainable and apart from a dip earlier in the first quarter of 2010 this has been proved wrong. Most of our members are producing similar tonnages as normal but with difficulty in obtaining the desired margins. The fact that the days of full order books for six months ahead or even longer are probably gone forever has become acceptable. The need to become more technologically advanced in this industry is the key to sustainability. Many of our members are now embracing this and using advanced software for both foundry practice and business organization. Innovation in products is necessary in a country so remote geographically from its markets and the use of our University facilities to research ideas is important to the development of products that can be competitive in the global market. Our businesses need to look hard at adding value to the product and becoming price makers rather than price takers. Our export market has continued to be challenging due to the high exchange rate of the New Zealand dollar. In the short term this rate does not have any indications of changing and those trading in markets affected have accepted the challenge. Increased numbers at our 2010 National conference held recently at Wairakei demonstrated the high interest shown in the presentations of products and process research. Many of these were from suppliers or are currently being researched by our Universities. A number of members have stated that the shortage of skilled staff is an impediment to increasing production as the market frees itself from recession. This skill shortage is due to the tight labour market and a serious lack of formal foundry training in New Zealand for the last 10 to 15 years. To address this issue we have to follow two paths. The first is short term through importing skilled staff the second is long term to encourage more training within our domestic industry. There is a need to create a more credible training establishment in New Zealand where the shortage of skilled staff is still evident and will be highlighted again as industry regains normality. Although the metal casting qualification has now been revised and adjusted to suit the requirements of the modern foundry, registering of new trainees is still slow. Currently there are 11 apprentices with formal training agreements in the Metal Casting domain. Generic content delivered through the open polytechnic is available but foundry technical training is still reliant on the employer to provide on the job. Until a highly structured and simply delivered cost effect training system is available formal training in Foundry technology in New Zealand will suffer. While working on this issue with Competenz a number of options have presented themselves and hopefully a solution will evolve. Encouraging people into the industry by offering an enjoyable and achievable training system is a goal that CTNZ is currently pursuing with education providers. During the first half of 2010, Dr Kyle Metzloff (University of Platteville, Wisconsin) and his understudy Brendan Adams worked with secondary schools to promote the industry resulting in a small casting session with three schools at one of our member's premises. CTNZ will continue to encourage this initiative. Brian Lane, who is 'Competenz' National Secondary Schools Moderator in Engineering, is keen to further the use of furnaces and forges currently in schools and we have agreed to assist him by writing resource material to introduce Unit Standard 2373 into schools. Many of our foundries are 'Small to Medium Enterprise's (SME)'and are often owner operated with less than 10 staff. Succession planning is becoming an urgent necessity and encouraging younger people into the industry is necessary to maintain these businesses. This is yet another reason to have a credible educational system in place. ENCOURAGING PEOPLE INTO THE INDUSTRY BY OFFERING AN ENJOYABLE AND ACHIEVABLE TRAINING SYSTEM IS A GOAL THAT CTNZ IS CURRENTLY PURSUING WITH EDUCATION PROVIDERS