Something happened in Myerstown, PA while no one was looking. Tech Cast, Inc. grew up.
But like a young adult who tries to live down his wilder days of youth, the company has felt something of an identity crisis since its recently gained maturity and transformation. Staff members claim it is not the same foundry it was three years ago.
Tech Cast has been in business 22 years. It was formerly know as Quaker Alloy, and until l999, was known as CMI Tech Cast. Ray Witt, owner of CMI Management Services, Inc., currently owns the operation.
In 1998, Hank Harvey, who has worked in the foundry industry since 1963 and concentrated the last 15 years directly in the investment casting area, took on the task of upgrading and improving the production facility and the quality of castings at Tech Cast, Inc.
Harvey’s biggest challenge was turning the enthusiasm of a younger staff to the company’s advantage. “They had a history of poorly organized management,” he said. “Morale was low and the frustration level was high.”
“When I took over, I just watched for about six months to find out who was doing what and why,” Harvey said. In the end, he let the staff solve their own problems by giving them the freedom to do what they knew how to do, but hadn’t been given the authority to do. The result is a high-energy staff with a lot of ideas and very low employee turnover. “The young folks helped the facility gain back its enthusiasm,” he added.
Education and empowerment are key concepts in the current organization. CMI Owner Ray Witt has a reputation for focusing on educating the staff as well as donating to educational organizations including the Foundry Educational Foundation, Case Western Reserve and Worchester Polytechnic Institute for higher education in the foundry processes.
Tech Cast has sponsored several co-op students from Millersville University and Penn State. Students begin their coop experience as sophomores and alternate academic and work experience. The plan traditionally takes three years, and co-op students are asked to sign a contract to work for the company for three years. Two current members of the Tech Cast management team, Marketing Engineer Eric Morgan and Operations Manager Andy Oskam, were co-op students.
Another morale builder is an emphasis on total employee involvement. Weekly management meetings and quarterly meetings with the whole plant support this focus.
Harvey noted his next goal was to reduce overall expenditures. First of all, the company was overstaffed — too top heavy — with too many metallurgists and too many engineers. He trimmed more than $300,000 from the operating budget. Purchasing Manager Holly Kreisberg continues to scrutinize how money is being spent and provides preventative solutions. New equipment has reduced the monthly expenditures of maintaining old, outdated machines.
And thanks to an energetic staff with a penchant for new ideas, several cost-saving measures have permeated the production line. Continuous improvement groups have initiated changes throughout the plant.
A recent accomplishment is a dramatic reduction in scrap. Where scrap once ran 18-20%, it has been reduced to less than 3% for the past eight months, and most recently dropped to less than 2%.
Another money-saving idea is the installation of a wax reclamation system. Use of the reclaimed wax is expected to drastically reduce the current wax costs.
The shell system has been converted from a mulgrain system to a total fused silica system. This has resulted in a thinner shell, which is lighter and stronger, with less shake out, less material removed, less drying time and reduced cost. In addition, a polymer was recently added to help the shell dry quicker and stronger.
Dip Room Supervisor John Schubert can access the shell monitoring system from a personal computer at home so the shell system can be monitored even when no one is at the plant. The plant engineer can also monitor the system.
In other parts of the plant, plant engineers built burnout ovens; a new spin blast system has reduced handling and dropped overhead by half. Where did all these ideas come from?
Operations Manager Andy Oskam indicated each department has its own continuous improvement group. About 75% of the projects– whether centered on safety, quality, or productivity or some specific task– come from these groups.
Perhaps the biggest investment made in their manufacturing process is the addition of a machine shop. “We have made a large investment in machining equipment and talented personnel to operate it,” Harvey said. Tech Cast has added equipment to the machine shop such as an AccummaHawa turning center, Hitachi vertical mill and Yam 650 horizontal machining center to name a few.
“We don’t use ‘I’ or ‘can’t,” Harvey said emphasizing the staff’s can-do-team approach.
Where Tech Cast goes from here is anybody’s guess, but if the past three years and the current enthusiasm are any indication, the future is bright. Harvey notes the company now has $7 million in sales with little inventory. “We have sufficient capacity to go to $15 million before we have to add to the physical plant,” he said.