No foundry can be everything to everybody. But finding one that can produce your part right on spec is crucial to your business. So, how do you know what to look for when you need a quality foundry to manufacture your metal part?
“Because the majority of foundries specialize in certain metals and have equipment specific to it, the first and most obvious factor to consider is whether they are able to pour the metal you need,” says Greg Whitman, VP of Sales and Engineering at Spuncast Foundry.
Spuncast’s 45 years of experience and the fact they can cast over 200 types of alloys gives Whitman a unique perspective. So, in addition to the metal a foundry can cast, he advises manufacturers to search for these seven other specific factors.
#1: Offers readily available material produced in the U.S.A.
Whitman says the foundry’s approach to material selection for your part provides a point of comparison between a quality foundry versus one you may want to stay away from.
He suggests looking for a foundry that uses the cleanest, highest level of certified scrap material on the market. That means you won’t have to worry about contaminated material and the expense of any additions often required with foreign metals.
It’s an important consideration because, with ongoing disruptions to the global supply chains, including steel tariffs, there is an increased cost for imported raw materials. A manufacturer who gets their material domestically offers more stability.
Their material should be readily available and offer a large and varied selection. If they don’t have a reliable way to do that, delays and mismatches are inevitable.
Finding a foundry that can accommodate your material selection and, in some cases, even suggest cost-saving alternatives maximizes efficiency and shortens the supply chain.
#2: Uses consistent, cost-efficient production processes
When it comes to product design and production, a lot can go awry.
A quality foundry will have consistent production processes in place but also be flexible enough to solve design problems if they occur. They will also keep cost efficiency top-of-mind.
Whitman says a process like cutting shorter parts to be cast in multiples and then cut to desired lengths is a great example of this type of thinking. Producing many needed parts, all from a single casting, is not only innovative, but it also saves the customer money.
In addition, he adds that processes and methods should always aim to reduce defective and, therefore, rejected parts. Again, it is something that saves the customer costs.
Other cost-efficient production processes you should look for include:
- Using high-standard, certified recycled materials
- Providing onsite secondary services
- Offering full-service product shipping
Keep in mind that the efficiency of the process may also be influenced by quantity. Some foundries are simply not set up to produce low-volume castings, which means production cost-efficiency may go up in that case.
Finding a foundry that can accommodate high or low volume will allow flexibility and originality in design. Creating a single prototype or placing a large order of a familiar part in the same place maximizes efficiency and shortens the supply chain.
Intelligent processes like those used in centrifugal casting require less metal and produce less waste creating improved production cost-efficiency.
#3: Keeps equipment and facilities modern and maintained
A foundry’s facility environment says much about who you are working with and how they operate. Whitman urges manufacturers to take a site visit to see if things look in good working order. Asking about routine and scheduled maintenance can be revealing.
A quality foundry should have all equipment and processes in good working order to produce the best-of-the-best parts and components.
Proper maintenance and updated equipment ensure the foundry is safe too. The regularly scheduled care and upkeep of the entire facility help its employees and customers feel secure.
Facility and equipment upkeep also helps prevent process failures. When critical systems stop working, it costs time and money for everyone. Cleaning the equipment and replacing older machines keeps the facility running smoothly.
#4: Provides current, relevant, and onsite foundry expertise
Access to highly skilled and trained experts is critical.
“The key to expertise doesn’t just boil down to one thing,” says Whitman. “It takes continued reinvestment in the procedures and personnel.”
Your foundry should be able to provide expert insight into your specific part and be able to communicate effectively every step of the way. They’ll know what questions to ask before any metal pouring begins.
And to ensure you get the exact metal you want for your part, one of those experts should be a material specialist who offers a material test report (MTR).
An MTR provides traceability and assurance that the quality of your material and the process used to produce it is what you have requested.
It’s testing that typically includes:
- ASTM and/or ASME standards compliance
- Specific size, shape, and/or diameter specifications
- Chemical and physical properties specifications
Knowledge of metallurgy and materials, plus an understanding of the overall need for the material itself, is essential. This is why a qualified material specialist should be the only one to do the test.
#5: Includes a knowledgeable, customer-focused team
Good customer service means someone continuously focuses on your part’s accuracy and functionality. A quality foundry will understand this and have detailed knowledge of your industry.
Another part of finding the right foundry team includes a check on how they communicate.
When you’re working with a foundry, it’s easy for signals to get crossed and communication to break down. “Good communication is a critical requirement,” Whitman says. “You need a foundry where the entire team speaks your industry’s language.”
Your relationship should start from the moment you make an inquiry and continue throughout the lifetime of your part.
#6: Maintains ISO certification and a lifetime warranty
Given the quality demands and the audits that come with it, a metal foundry should give you absolute confidence that your product is well made. Whether a one-off prototype or a large component run, the results should be top-notch.
Luckily the industry has a check-and-balance system established through the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
The ISO is seen as a global leader in developing standards across industries. Certification from it, including ISO 9001:2015, offers assurance the company and its products are in compliance.
“We don’t wait for that annual audit from ISO,” Whitman says. “We perform quality checks constantly. That way, we can catch any procedural issues that might exist before an outside auditor would even know to look for them.”
Many manufacturers guarantee the material they produce against defects with or without ISO certification. However, most don’t want to talk about providing you with that added guarantee of a warranty on them.
It’s another important consideration because if an issue develops after your product has left the manufacturing facility, you’ll want to know there’s some type of recourse.
#7: Takes your product from start to finish
It can be challenging for manufacturers to find foundries capable and willing to handle the complex specifications of taking a product to completion. You can eliminate a lot of searching if you can find a single source that can take a turnkey approach.
Some steel tube manufacturers provide that complete solution, including value-added services your part may need. But, many manufacturers can only offer those additional processes by taking your part off-site.
A part moved from one facility to another can mean more expense and possible disruption to your schedule.
A turnkey operation is ideal for projects with highly-specific requirements that must be carefully monitored for overall quality. It’s why onsite secondary treatments like heat treating and machining are such a benefit.
A quality foundry should help you keep your promises
In the end, finding a quality foundry means finding one that sweats the details, has proven processes, and makes an exceptionally good casting.
When it comes to all the many considerations, knowing the main factors to look for and doing the necessary research is crucial.
Manufacturers following these recommendations will be well on their way to finding a foundry that can help them keep their promises to their customers.