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“If you have all their products in

house, you can stop a lot of bicker- ing down the road,” Walkup said. “If you have a defect, and no one has one in the foundry that’s ever their fault, it’s hard not to take a little ownership if you’re supplying everything.” Gil negotiated a three-year deal with ASK Chemicals, Hilden, Germany, that included necessary technical support and employee training. While cost proved important, ASK’s direct support in Mexico was another factor that led the deal.

Alagarsamy continued to work with the metallurgists, tooling managers and/or operations man- agers to prepare for metallurgical changes in the nobake process. “As a foundry moves from

small green sand castings to larger castings in nobake, there are differences in solidification time,” he said. “This affects nod- ule count and can [increase the possibility] for graphite floata- tion and exploded graphite. Both chemistry and inoculation need to be optimized.”

Competing for the Future An expected 3,000 metric tons

of castings will be produced in the new nobake facility in 2014, and Blackhawk anticipates the line to reach its full capacity of 12,500 metric tons within three years. The orders are in place, though hurdles, namely product approv- als, remain before production can increase. “If we received approvals today

for all the patterns we’re develop- ing right now, we have enough jobs for two full shifts,” Gil said. “But it takes time. We already have orders for two shifts of production, but we need to go through that initial approval process.” For the time being, Blackhawk

has moved one high volume part from green sand to help the nobake line run on a more consistent basis. Te transfer has the additional ben- efit of opening capacity in the green sand operation, which continues to operate near 85% of capacity. Also, the current expansion has led to approximately 20 new employees, with the possibility for 30 more as production increases.

While looking to fill a niche in

larger castings, Blackhawk sits in a unique place as one of the only mid-sized metalcasting facilities in Mexico. While other facili- ties tend to be either much larger plants or smaller, family-owned shops, Blackhawk is without many competitors in Mexico. As a result, it tends to measure itself against similarly sized firms in the U.S. While labor costs are much

lower in Mexico, other costs can reduce the benefit of being south of the border. Scrap, sand and utility costs can be more expensive in Mexico. Also, because it competes directly with U.S. facilities, Gil knew he couldn’t rely solely on delivering low-cost castings depen- dent on less expensive labor. “We decided to install a nobake line with automation and good equipment, because we want to be a big player that’s not rely- ing on labor in Mexico,” Gil said. “That’s temporary. We want to be a very good foundry in terms of technology and technical support. In the end, it’s about quality.”

The $15-million first stage of the project included expanding the facility by 50,000-sq.-ft. to house the molding, melting and pouring lines. April 2014 MODERN CASTING | 25

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