Aluminium is displacing classic steel, the shortage of skilled workers is to be compensated for by progressive automation, and environmental protection is increasingly becoming a priority - this is only a small part of the topics that will dominate the foundry industry this year and in the years to come. We present you with five trends that you should keep an eye on this year.
1: Aluminium instead of steel
Ever more products are produced with the material aluminium. There are numerous reasons for this: The automotive industry is just as pleased as the avionics sector when it comes to lighter components. However, the stability of aluminium is also a major factor. In mechanical engineering, this material is also used for mechanically demanding tasks.
In 2017, approximately six per cent more aluminium was produced than in the previous year. The higher price of the material becomes an ever smaller argument against this metal: The price of the finished product decreases due to advanced manufacturing methods and state-of-the-art machinery. Raw material prices have been comparatively high for years, but they are not affected by as many fluctuations as metal.
Fewer and fewer people are working in the foundry industry. Harsh working conditions and falling training figures suggest further declines. In order to remain competitive, companies rely on semi-automated or completely autonomous systems to maintain or even increase their production.
By no means does this lead to further job cuts. Quite the opposite: Employees are able to invest more time in designing or testing instead of pressing buttons on machines, transporting raw materials or filling molten metal at high risk. At the same time, this increases the interest of younger generations to get involved in the design or the development of the foundry industry.
3: Digitisation and Industry 4.0
Sensors, linked machines and smart controls have no fear for the foundry either: Numerous production sites are already centrally connected. Not only foundries, but also customers and potential clients benefit from the data. Processes can be optimised with big data and possible bottlenecks and errors in the system can be detected at an early stage. Manual adjustments in the operating procedure are less necessary.
New technologies like virtual reality help companies to present themselves to the outside world. Thus, a virtual tour of the production halls becomes possible for everyone. Safety concerns are no longer necessary - furthermore, a presentation of the company is possible everywhere. Thanks to augmented reality, technicians can easily adjust or repair machines with a superimposed virtual image. Also virtual learning becomes easier with the new technologies. Meanwhile, numerous CAD programmes can also be used by way of 3D glasses to make prototyping more efficient.
Foundries are considered to be amongst the most energy-hungry industries in Germany. The plants, which are often fed by coal, use around 16 per cent of the total electricity produced in Germany and 12 per cent throughout Europe. A study by the Federal Environment Agency proves that the majority of foundries could get their energy requirements from renewable energies. For this, however, energy storage devices are necessary that can meet the enormous requirements for continuous day-night operation.
Through the use of more efficient casting moulds, fewer raw materials are required, which also do not need to be transported. The energy requirement can be further reduced by using more efficient furnaces in order to make the entire production process more environmentally friendly.
Particularly for smaller cast products, things could change soon: More and more 3D printers are managing to deal with metals. Selective laser sintering (SLS) applies metal layer by layer in order to produce small components cost-effectively, quickly and more accurately than with conventional processes. Depending on the individual application, additive manufacturing offers various sizes ranging from half a cubic metre to entire warehouses that can be converted.
The innovative technology is already being used in projects that require only a small quantity of the final product. Structures, which would not be possible in normal casting, pose no problem for additive manufacturing either. For large quantities and parts with larger dimensions, not much will change for the time being.
Editor: Mika Baumeister/Jonathan Kemper
The Norican Group supports foundry customers in developing a growth strategy tailored to customer and industry requirements. Experts from the Group will present their knowledge of the trends that dominated the industry in 2018 and will continue to dominate in the coming years.