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Metal Casting Technologies : September 2007
2007 OVERVIEW AsianFoundry www.metals.rala.com.au 44 AUSTRALIA By Darcy Hamill, President, Australian Foundry Institute The recent announcement of the proposed closure of the Ford engine plant in 2009 has brought into focus the great reliance that the industry has on mining in Australia. States like Western Australia are very busy churning out iron and steel castings for our iron ore and gold mines, while our non-ferrous foundries are busy supplying castings for the marine industry as well as the mines. Queensland is in a similar situation to W.A. with mining being a major consumer of castings from that state. The other states are reporting varied results, with some foundries busy and others starting to level off. The current high metal prices are contributing to the number of mines operating at the moment. With prices tipped to remain high for the next twenty years, we can only hope that this will be continued in the manufacturing sector. Our biggest challenges appear to be cheap imported castings, although if we continue to maintain and improve our quality, we should still be able to operate profitably in this competitive market. One of the constant themes I hear, in dealing with people in the mining industry, is that reliability is a major factor in their sourcing of products, as they have been burnt by cheaper imported castings too many times. One of the advantages we have, is our ability to be flexible in our delivery and to be able to solve problems as they arise, saving valuable down time for the customer. Another challenge affecting us all is a shortage of skilled and unskilled labour. While the mining industry is a driver of our industry it is also affecting the cost and availability of labour to a great degree. Training is one area that we must focus our efforts on, or we will continue to suffer these problems. In my time serving the AFI, by far the majority of time spent has been in discussing training. We have had closures of training facilities in most states, with WA set to close in the near future. Queensland is currently in the process of constructing a "world's best practice" training facility, which will benefit the industry, but that facility will only be successful if it is supported by sending students to attend, otherwise itwillgothewayoftherestofthem.Itisuptoall employers to ensure the future of their business by training their own employees and not relying on others to do it for you. AlUMINIUM TRIAL AUTONOMOUS METAL CARRIER The CSIRO in Australia, together with Rio Tinto is trialling a Smelter in Tasmania aiming to demonstrate future benefits from automated operations of large Hot Metal Carriers (HMC). CSIRO scientists have been developing automated vehicle technology and Dr Jonathan Roberts of the CSIRO ICT Centre says that this might sound like science fiction but autonomous vehicles have been operating in some factories for over a decade and heavy industrial settings, such as aluminium smelters, are the next frontier. The technology is unique in the world because the vehicles can autonomously function in conditions with extreme heat and dust, very high magnetic fields, and poor weather. Safety is a prime factor when developing automated vehicles that operate in the same environment as people and the automated system has a number of in-built safety systems including an obstacle detection system. Additionally, if there is a complete system failure the vehicle simply stops. In 2005, a twenty-tonne HMC was shipped from Bell Bay in Tasmania's north to the CSIRO ICT Centre's Autonomous Systems Laboratory in Brisbane where, for the past two years, a team of researchers and engineers has been developing an autonomous system capable of delivering buckets of molten aluminium without human intervention. The system has now been operated autonomously for over 200 hours at the Brisbane test facility. Rio Tinto Aluminium in Tasmania aims to automate many aspects of the reduction process, including the transport of molten metal between the reduction lines and the casting shop. Capital Projects Manager for Rio Tinto Aluminium Bell Bay, Wolfgang Wissmann, says that, if successful, the development of self guided autonomous vehicles for the transport and handling of molten metal will deliver health, safety and productivity gains to the business. Information: Dr Jonathan Roberts, email@example.com