Get a Foundry Involved Early in Your Design Process
Inviting a foundry earlier in your design process can help you avoid many common part quality and cost challenges – and can increase your odds of launching your new product on time and budget.
OEMs often go it alone for the entire part design process and then put it out to bid just before they need it for production. The foundry must then turn it into a successful casting. Many times, it can be easy, with the design manufacturable and easily converted to a casting.
Other times, it can be problematic – and very costly. Complications can cause delays, making it difficult or impossible to meet deadlines that are essential to the introduction of new products. On some occasions, the materials specified are used inefficiently, adding unnecessary costs.
And then there is the impact on quality:
“We help many OEMs be successful,” emphasizes Jesse Milks, President of State Line Foundries. “We’ve seen just about every type of part design you can think of. Our experienced engineers, working with state-of-the-art casting simulation software, can significantly improve many casting designs. But first, the OEM needs to ask for our help.”
OEM Design Processes
How do OEMs develop part designs? The answer varies.
“It depends on the OEMs, the way their businesses are structured and the resources they have,” Milks reveals.
The largest OEMs may have engineers with foundry experience or design engineers with a sound understanding of castings. “They may go through the entire design cycle on their own, and then send that design to several foundries to quote,” Milks says.
The next tier of mid-sized OEMs is likely to have some product design engineers. But quite often, they don’t understand the intricacies of draft and core designs.
“They may have a preliminary design and ask a foundry to critique it and make it more castable,” Milks states. “That allows us to have a dialogue and offer solutions.”
The final tier of OEMs includes product design engineers with little to no foundry experience. They know what they want the casting to look like – but have limited knowledge of how to get there.
When these OEMs send the part – as an end product – the foundry is left to overcome shortcomings and produce a casting. “We may need to add machining stock, draft and determine the parting line – there are adjustments we frequently need to make,” Milks summarizes.
Even with these improvements, the casting may never reach its full potential.
Consulting with the foundry seems elementary. So why doesn’t it happen more often?
“If the OEMs have the resources on staff, they may think they can handle it alone,” Milks offers. Some OEMs have foundries of their own, so they may rely exclusively on internal engineers.
“Sometimes it’s the timeline – they don’t think they have the time to entertain any conversations about optimizing their castings,” Milks says. “Also, they may not want to be tied to one foundry. They may think, ‘If the foundry helps me, then I’ll be obligated to use them to make the casting.’”
Benefits Gained from Early Foundry Involvement
OEMs that seek State Line’s input early in the part design process experience several significant advantages, such as problem-free designs, better-fitting parts and quality improvements. Here is a deeper look at how State Line accomplishes this:
Access to Advanced Software
With the foundry’s involvement, customers can be certain they have good designs. “Many times, they think it looks like a good casting design – there is enough draft and it’s manufacturable,” Milks recalls. Yet they may be mistaken.
State Line utilizes advanced modeling software to help determine the viability of a casting. Based on that data, it can offer insights into how it can be improved. The software is run by foundry experts, ensuring there is an optimal blend of technology and real-world experience.
Porosity problems are often discovered during this process. “We then offer suggestions on how to make the design more casting friendly or that will result in a casting that’s more sound,” Milks explains.
Other design features commonly missed by OEMs include parting lines, draft, sharp corners that can create voids and optimal fill locations.
A Thorough Evaluation
When State Line is involved early in the design process, its engineers often ask questions that hadn’t occurred to the OEM. One common question is: “How does this part fit into the finished product?”
“It’s sometimes hard to fully understand what customers’ end needs are. What he or she is having us make can be one piece out of hundreds in a product. You really have to think about how it all fits together.”
If one part is adjusted, others can be impacted. “There’s often a domino effect,” Milks explains.
If there is a casting problem, the OEM may choose to “make do” with what it has. And that is never the best scenario. “It may never completely fit together properly,” Milks cautions.
Early foundry involvement often improves part quality, too. In one recent case, an OEM needed small holes in one of its castings. State Line studied the part and recommended a solid casting, with the holes machined in.
“The OEM agreed, and we sent the castings without holes. They machined them and it was a big success,” Milks declares. “The quality of the part is higher and there’s less waste.”
OEMs that engage the foundry early in the process also avoid these common, often critical problems:
Most new product launches have tight timelines. “A design engineer may use the entire timeline to get his or her work done. If there’s an issue at the foundry, they’re immediately behind schedule,” Milks declares.
Early identification and prevention of problems helps to keep important projects on track.
OEMs can also be overconfident with the designs they submit. “CAD software can be one source of that overconfidence. They may think they’ve created an optimal design. In reality, what they’re asking us to produce may be quite complicated or not feasible.”
CAD software can provide a great deal of efficiency during the design process. But Milks cautions that such tools are for design – not producing castings.
“Some of the software is exceptional at what it does – but it’s only part of the equation,” he explains. State Line utilizes mold flow analysis software that is specifically designed to run casting simulations.
Foundry experts with years of experience run the casting models at State Line. “It’s not something just anyone can do successfully,” Milks cautions.
If the foundry uncovers a problem late in the game, the OEM may have to go back to the very first steps in the design.
“If that technology is used properly and early, first-pass yield is optimized,” Milks maintains. “The idea of improving the design before casting is critical to first-pass yield and maintaining a tight timeline.”
Mold flow analysis often saves OEMs a significant amount of time and money. “In the old days, when you didn’t have that software, there was a lot of trial and error,” Milks emphasizes. Involving State Line early in the design process maximizes the potential of the modeling tool, which often eliminates the majority of testing and the costs that go with it.
Early foundry involvement can also reveal opportunities to use less expensive materials to achieve the same end result. “A casting can do the job, but can still be inefficient in terms of the materials used to cast it,” Milks stresses.
Such a shortcoming can be an enormous drag on the cost of the final product. “If the casting works, the OEM may use it for many years,” Milks says. Yet each casting will have unnecessary materials and the costs associated with it. That adds up over time.
Leverage the Foundry’s Experience
State Line’s business model enables it to provide essential input from the beginning. The foundry specializes in low-volume castings, which means it sees a multitude of sizes and complexities.
“There aren’t too many designs we haven’t seen,” Milks states. “That experience enables us to help our customers be more successful with their iron castings.”
Milks believes that the industry could benefit from more collaboration. “There is always pride in what the OEMs do and what they produce – as there should be. But not any one person or business has all the answers. That’s why we need to work together.”
No one – at the OEM or the foundry – should be hesitant to seek help. “I’m a huge advocate of asking questions of others, of getting their opinions,” Milks declares. “You may be surprised by the benefits that result when you’re open to input.”
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