ID&I initiatives in the foundry sector

Foundry on Wheels 2017, October 19th 2017, Part 2

In a time where automakers are going through a real industry revolution, their suppliers have to react and cannot expect to receive instructions on what they should provide. Now more than ever, suppliers must be proactive in anticipating the needs of their customers by delivering technology solutions that match the needs of the market.

OEM & ID requirements for your suppliers

One of ID&I's great needs for automobile manufacturers is linked to the constant need to reduce the weight of components. This reduction is achieved through the application of new alloys and materials of lower density and higher strength, which allow an increase on engines’ energy efficiency (internal combustion or electric) and reduction of emissions of polluting gases.

Tier 1 suppliers seek to provide solutions to the automotive industry that are innovative and anticipate their needs. Continental Automotive, which in its hydraulic brake system business unit, identifies 5 fundamental market requirements:

  • The environment and the reduction of CO2 emissions by reducing the weight of the components;
  • Development period for new projects with suppliers, in less than 1 year;
  • Reduction of warranty costs, where quality is the number one focus of the manufacturers;
  • Constant reduction of noise and vibration (NHV) with expectation of having "zero noise";
  • Global vehicle platforms as a means of reducing costs.

The foundry industry has an important role to play in automotive innovation

Such as Tier 1, foundries other than first-line suppliers should also seek to anticipate solutions for their customers and implement an integrated, customer-focused product development approach. This approach, according to Enrico Veneri from Zanardi Fonderie, must be supported in the response to customer needs, always carried out with a logic of sharing, technology transfer and strong networking component. The production of casted automotive components, should they be structural components, braking system or engine, they must always seek new solutions to meet the various needs of the market. Often, these new solutions are born of technological advances in the development of new materials, with greater strength and better performance. An example is the work that Zanardi does in the development of Austempered Nodular Cast Iron, which due to its mechanical properties, allows in certain situations, design change in parts that result in the significant reduction of weighting.

However, it is not only in the final product that foundries must innovate.

The continuous improvement of the production processes is fundamental to give a quick response to the customers and to allow the production of higher quality components with lower production costs. In Continental's opinion, for the production of critical cast iron safety components, the foundries must present "State of the Art" processes, in which any process applied to castings after blasting should be avoided or minimized. That is, foundries must avoid costs related to the operations of fettling, cut of gating or riser systems or other actions of finishing. The process should end in-line. Also at the technological level of the processes, the foundries must make their processes more digital, have greater traceability and implement predictive quality control systems. This was a winning bet from Sakthi Portugal, when in 2001 it started developing its DataPro database, which nowadays acquires and automatically records about 300.000 production data per day. Later this year, Sakthi Portugal implemented an artificial intelligence system that predicts the quality of the components during production. The next step in the opinion of the mentor of this process, Fernando Vilela, is to have a system that allows to create cast iron alloys that meet the customers’ needs.

Innovation is a process that must be supported by sharing and collaboration between various stakeholders

Throughout this innovation process, it is important that there is good articulation and communication between the supplier and the customer. Technological advances must result from a push and pull process in which the supplier must respond to the needs of the customer, but he must also play an active role in suggesting new solutions.

In support of innovation processes, foundries should seek allies in innovation and technology centres and universities. They are often the source of new knowledge and technology transfer for companies. Another way to help companies in their innovation process is to conduct doctoral theses and incorporate doctoral researchers with a greater focus on research and greater proximity to the academic world, in their R&D departments. This is, moreover, a very successful practice in central and northern European countries.