Q&A: Raising the next generation of foundry leaders

IT Published

They say it takes a village to raise a child. What will it take to raise the next generation of foundry leaders? A similarly diverse group of people and organizations, says Mike Lewis, Vice President of Foundry Sales for DISA and Wheelabrator in North America, in this short Q&A inspired by the American Foundry Society’s Future Leaders in Metalcasting (FLM) program. Mike concludes that everyone, including equipment suppliers like DISA and Wheelabrator, can and must play their role in equipping tomorrow’s foundry talent with the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed.

In brief, what’s the context that the next generation of foundry leaders will be ‘growing up’ in?

Foundries around the world are changing. It’s something we’ve been seeing at Wheelabrator, a more ‘down-the-line’ equipment manufacturer, and at DISA, where we are of course a lot more deeply embedded in the foundry industry.

Supply chains are tightening, demands on quality, precision and efficiency are increasing. At the same time, we’re seeing the industry booming where it had previously been counted out. What’s certain is that there will be foundries in the future and that they can do well. But they have to adapt and keep step with change that is speeding up. 

What skills will they need and how will they differ from the skills needed in the past?

The next generation will have to have a good understanding of the trends and challenges that have been driving the evolution of foundry operations over the last decade, as well as trends that are only just emerging. 

Ongoing efforts to reduce weight of castings while maintaining their strength, for example, are particularly important in the automotive sector, which of course has played a significant part in the resurgence of foundries here in the US. 

It’s also important to keep an eye on new, potentially competing technologies, such as metal 3D printing – to fully understand how they compare to metalcasting and where foundries can retain their edge.

A focus on efficiency and consistency – and designing both into foundry processes – will only become more intense. Future leaders will have to have a much more holistic understanding of the end-to-end process than was previously necessary.

What does that mean in practice?

It means understanding the latest technologies, but also how they work together and can be joined up efficiently. At Wheelabrator, we’ve been working on new handling systems that improve the ability for a shot blast machine to process parts that are difficult to clean – all part of a wider effort to strip out inefficiencies and improve overall productivity.

And over at DISA, we know that the importance of achieving ‘near net shape’ should not be underestimated in this context either. By achieving the best result first time, the need for secondary operations to achieve the required shape of parts will be reduced, leading to obvious productivity improvements.

Knowledge of tightening environmental regulations and energy costs, along with the supply and responsible use of raw materials, will also be important attributes of a fully-fledged, rounded foundry leader, sharpening their senses for waste, inefficiencies and hidden costs.

Why are the DISA and Wheelabrator brands getting involved in this?

The skills and knowledge required by the next generation of foundry leaders is so varied – and potentially fast-changing – that they cannot be imparted by universities and employers alone. I firmly believe that equipment suppliers like us - plus potentially some of the big foundry customers in automotive - must play a role in transferring specialist skills and knowledge to emerging talent. 

We do this naturally, when we talk through upgrades or process specs, but as connected foundry operations are becoming more and more complex, we will strive to better support our customer contacts, young and old, in navigating this new world. Together with our sister brands (including our new additions Italpresse Gauss and StrikoWestofen), we can develop young talent by providing training and consultancy that is relevant to the various parts of foundry operations that we support, fostering a deeper understanding of every corner of the industry.

One way in which we do this is by continuing to support the efforts of the AFS. Programs such as the FLM provide personal development, community outreach and networking opportunities to support metal casting’s next generation of leaders. It’s a great platform for anyone with skills or knowledge to share to get involved in. It’s the village square of the foundry industry – where we exchange ideas and best practice and pass our knowledge on to the next generation.