By Nathan Stantiall, Callaghan Innovation Business Innovation Advisor
Callahan Innovation led a successful technology delegation to GIFA in Dusseldorf, Germany this past week. GIFA is an international trade fair focusing on Casting and Foundry technologies, taking place every 4 years, this one being the lucky 13th.
The objective of our mission was to help expose the New Zealand foundry & casting industry to new technologies, techniques and partners. The New Zealand casting industry has lost a large chunk of business over the years to offshore suppliers who compete on cost. A national body, CTNZ (casting technology NZ), brings the industry together working as a collective and was a first port of call in pulling this mission together. Businesses that joined us were: A&G Price, Fraser, CWF Hamilton, Cast Components, IXOM, Precision Foundry (formally Masport), Progressive Castings, Metcast, Pyrotek and The Casting Shop.
Top of the list of must-sees was the additive manufacturing space. New 3D printing equipment removes a whole step by printing sand direct to form the sandbox ready for pouring. Two major players in this space are German companies Voxeljet and ExOne – both of which had machines on display. What became apparent was for prototyping and low-run complex profiles, this technology is on the cusp of disrupting major sections of the industry. A spare 1 million Euros will see one of these big boys in your foundry capable of 2 cubic metre moulds, and could aid the return of large, complex work to New Zealand. What is uber-exciting about this technology is the design freedom it creates because complex tooling doesn’t come into the equation. It completely rewrites design for manufacture where the primary design consideration can now be design for function.
Another observation from the delegation was the focus on teaching the craft of casting to the younger generation. German polytechnics teach hands-on foundry techniques, something that could very well be lost after our current generation of foundry-men retire.
ABB and KUKA robotics were everywhere at the show with the heavy, dangerous, and dirty work being done by very fast and accurate robots. This included loading cores and sandboxes, cutting off gates and runners or loading castings into CNC machines for finishing.
Also exciting was the use of dry ice to clean metal surfaces. Traditionally abrasive media are used to grind surfaces, which can cause damage. Now solid CO2 can be accelerated at very high speeds to sublimate on impact and lift contaminates.
As well as attending the show Callaghan Innovation organised a meeting with VDMA (the industrial association covering the German engineering sector), and a visit to the impressive GROHE (tapware) factory.
The group also got to see firsthand examples of world leading automation, LEAN and quality focused casting and manufacturing.
We already know that two of the companies who joined us at the show discovered technologies that they will implement.
If there was a quote from the delegation that has stuck with me it’s “the black art is being taken out of casting”. For that alone, the trip was a great success.