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Foundry’s shareholders saw that they were losing a lot of jobs for one to two-part orders because the traditional pattern was so expensive. “Everybody was going to fabrica-

tion,” Savard said. “We are a job shop, and we are pretty efficient at those onesie/twosie jobs, so we tried to figure out different ways to [reduce the pattern cost].”

Te team explored CNC machines to cut the patterns, but at the time, a typical pattern would take two weeks. It was too slow and would result in significant wear and tear on the machine. What Saguenay Foundry wanted was a robot that could machine a 3-D shape into a sand mold. By 2009, robotic technol- ogy had sped up considerably, and Saguenay Foundry was able to develop a software program that taught the robot how to machine in a 3-D envi- ronment, essentially combining CNC software with robotic programming. Having a robotic engineer as a share- holder was certainly helpful. Installed in 2010, the robotic

machining system was named Nopat- ech by Saguenay Foundry and has been a key piece in winning those single to two-part orders. “Te first three years, there was a

learning curve, but since then we have been operating our Nopatech system about 70% of the time,” Savard said. “Customers benefit in both time and cost. If there are going to be several iterations, it’s better to use Nopatech. It helps our customers put their parts in the market faster.” The Nopatech robot typically

can handle 10 programs/castings at one time. It takes about 8 hours to machine a mold, and the robot is basically left to run on its own after the program’s been entered into the software. The Nopatech process is patented by Saguenay Foundry and is under license in Europe. While Saguenay Foundry was

perfecting its patternless prototyping system, it also watched for the next opportunity. With one of its two pat- tern suppliers closing and the other with an aging owner and no one wait- ing in the wings, the iron caster saw a potential supply problem looming.

“I strongly believe the pattern shops that ultimately will be left are all going to be CNC operated,” Savard said. “Te true skill people will be retired. Few real patternmakers will be left who know the foundry process. So us being in the process, it is easy for us to design the patterns, and I think it will give us a nice competitive edge in three to five years.” Within the metalcasting build-

ing, Foundry Saguenay expanded its traditional pattern shop to take on more than just repair work. In 2015 it also invested $2 million in a new building on the same land to house CNC equipment to further extend its capabilities for rapid prototyping work. Tis equipment can machine foam or MDF patterns for quick part develop- ment and turnaround. “Everything is moving toward using

3-D drawings and technology,” Savard said. “If engineers are using 3-D, why not use that here in the foundry?” New machinery. New processes.

New disciplines. A few stumbles were inevitable. “Two major issues hurt us this

spring,” Savard said. “Te way we processed the work scheduling wasn’t efficient, so many of the jobs came all at once. We weren’t processing fast enough. We also realized that bringing

patternmaking in-house took away a barrier of quality control, so there was some slippage in the quality.” Saguenay Foundry brought in an

outside consultant to help with find- ing a more optimal way of running that department and incorporating it into the rest of the business’s operations. Te reorganization improved job scheduling, which opened up capacity. Jobs no longer pile up to be addressed all at once. Te machines are now running 80% of the time. Te metalcaster also hired more technicians for quality control and to operate the CNC shop. Additional train- ing is ongoing to increase the knowledge in that department. “We are 200% better than we were

four months ago. Today we want to be good but tomorrow we want to be great,” Savard said. “We have learned a lot from our mistakes, and it was a necessary step to become a one-stop shop for our casting buyers in the next three to four years.” Te company continues to fine tune its CNC operation and explore additional ways to control the process, such as incorporating a foam recycling unit onsite. “It makes sense from a cost stand-

point, and we of course want to think about the environmental footprint,” Savard said.

Foam is dense enough to withstand the force of molten metal, but it is easy to machine. September 2016 MODERN CASTING | 21

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