Big Foundry Services In A Short-line Package
OEMs are faced with a Goldilocks problem.
They often require a large foundry that can produce big volumes of parts, plus sophisticated services like mold flow analyses and testing. But big foundries tend to be slow-moving and inflexible, with long lead times and strict production requirements.
Short-line foundries are often much more flexible and responsive, but typically lack the size range, production volume and in-house services OEMs require.
The trick is to find a foundry that’s “just right” – one that combines the best of both worlds.
State Line offers the advantages of a large foundry in a more customer-focused, flexible setting.
Matching the high-volume foundries
State Line President Jesse Milks admits that State Line isn’t widely known as a high-production foundry. But he emphasizes that it does have the infrastructure and capacity to produce up to 5,000 castings of 10 pounds or less per year – and 1,000 castings of 500 pounds per year.
State Line has simply found success with a specific, non-volume focus. “Our niche is short-run prototype castings, low-production castings and end-of-life service castings,” he explains.
The company differentiates itself from other small foundries by offering a unique set of in-house capabilities that are normally only found in large casting environments. They include:
Engineering support. “If an OEM needs help reviewing casting designs or if it has casting questions, we’re here to help,” Milks notes. “We have individuals with a lot of experience in design and engineering and we can support their needs.”
Mold flow analysis. “We use the latest and greatest modeling software,” Milks asserts.
He points out that most short-run foundries don’t offer this service in-house: “They use their tribal knowledge. That kind of ad-hoc, seat-of-the-pants approach may work up to a point, but it’s risky. When you’re dealing with a highly-engineered casting, even the slightest change in mold geometry can make a huge difference in how the iron solidifies in it,” he explains.
That’s where the modeling software comes in. State Line’s engineers do a great deal of “traditional” work before running the model. “You can’t just put the casting into the program, push a button and get results,” Milks stresses. “You need a really solid starting point.”
Milks describes the State Line process as “the best of both worlds.”
“We have decades of experience doing the calculations themselves, and now over the last ten years we have enhanced our use of the software to support our thoughts and tell us if there’s anything we need to reconsider or re-think. It makes a huge difference in our first-pass yield, which is currently at 98 percent.”
Pattern tooling and testing. State Line has pattern makers who use the best tools and techniques in the industry. The foundry frequently accepts transfer tooling – over 100 per year – which means it has amassed a wealth of experience in making patterns work.
“When we take a tool into production, we can perform chemical, mechanical and dimensional checks,” Milks reveals. “We do that all in-house. There is no sending out a part and waiting a week for test results. Our fast turnaround times make a big difference for our customers.”
At some foundries, certification paperwork can also lead to issues. “There’s no delay in the certification with the paperwork,” Milks maintains. “It’s going right along with the castings.”
This caliber of testing requires considerable investment on the part of the foundry:
“The cost to offer these capabilities is high, which is probably why some foundries don’t do it,” Milks clarifies. “There are equipment costs and dedicated lab technicians on staff. The machines that test iron for chemistry and mechanical properties are complex and expensive, as well as the cost to maintain ongoing certifications
ISO certification. State Line has been ISO certified for almost 20 years and was one of the first foundries in its niche to win this designation. “Many OEMs require ISO certification,” Milks stresses. “We have proven, documented procedures and processes in place that we follow day in and day out. Even if the OEM only wants a basic casting, there is comfort in knowing that we have the right procedures in place.”
Benefits the “big guys” can’t often provide
State Line does more than meet many of the sophisticated needs of today’s OEMs. It offers key differentiators of its own – benefits that larger foundries rarely, if ever, provide:
Short lead times. State Line’s size and customer-first culture make it much more responsive than its high-volume counterparts.
This can be especially important during prototype development. Recently, an OEM was in a bind and came into State Line with a drawing and a model. Castings were shipped within days, not weeks or months later.
“We have know-how and experience,” Milks affirms. “We’re also willing to accommodate OEMs who find themselves in a pinch.”
State Line’s efforts to maximize the first-pass yield also reduce lead times. The foundry can adjust schedules to help produce an urgent casting or prototype – a level of service a large foundry is unlikely to offer.
Flexibility. High-volume foundries need to mass-produce castings to cost-effectively utilize their massive casting infrastructure. They are often unwilling and unable to meet lower-volume requests – even for existing customers.
“Sometimes production has dipped a bit, and the large foundry discovers a job is no longer profitable at a lower volume,” Milks observes. “The customer can feel very comfortable moving that tool over to State Line, knowing our capabilities are just as good as the large foundry.”
Communication. The State Line team works together closely – figuratively and literally.
“We talk constantly,” Milks says. “We over-communicate and keep people in the know.”
The organizational structure at State Line is rather flat, allowing information to move quickly and efficiently. The production management team meets daily to discuss pertinent topics to ensure goals are met for our customers. Functional teams are located in close proximity to promote quick communication.
“At the end of the day, State Line truly has a great team of individuals that work well together to support our customers’ needs,” Milks adds.
Customer service. State Line’s leadership believes that customer service makes a difference. “Many foundries can make a casting,” Milks declares. “Customer service is the secret sauce that differentiates State Line from other foundries.”
The lack of bureaucracy is a key advantage for State Line customers. “When you call here, you will talk to someone who can help you,” Milks promises. State Line has high standards for responsiveness and is committed to helping OEMs with less industry experience navigate the casting design, certification and production processes.
Empowerment. State Line’s size and the attitude of its leadership ensure there is input from knowledgeable staff throughout the process.
“Recruiting and retaining the best employees is critical to our success,” Milks emphasizes. “I really value empowering and giving freedom to our people so they can make their own decisions and reap the rewards.”
Milks believes that empowerment is every bit as essential as pay, if not more. “Every business is looking to hire more people right now, and starting wages are rising faster than ever,” Milks says. “It’s a tough environment for everyone; I’m not suggesting it isn’t. While money means a lot, it isn’t everything. Treating people right and empowering them is what makes the difference. And it’s been key to helping us retain some incredibly talented people!”
In the future, State Line will continue to build on customer service, short lead times and the production of high-quality castings.
It will rely on what has worked in the past – but will always be looking forward, too.
“We’re not stagnant,” Milks stresses. “We’re not satisfied with where we’re at. We continue to improve our capabilities and grow. We’ve completed several exciting projects during the last few years – and we have even bigger things planned for the next few years, too.”
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