Mr. Gandini, in five weeks, the gates will open once again after four years at the GIFA the world's leading trade fair in Düsseldorf. Die casting plays a prominent role at this event. What personal expectations do you and your companies StrikoWestofen and ItalPresseGauss have for the fair?
GIFA is always a special event in the calendar for us, but this year even more. Not least because so much has happened since the foundry world came together in Düsseldorf four years go.
The impact of COVID was hard hitting and remains far-reaching. From supercharging developments in terms of remote services to influencing the way, we look at supply chain risk management.
During that time, sustainability has also risen to the top of the global agenda - with practical action replacing previous theoretical discussion, a fact which has certainly impacted what die casters want and need from their melting and casting solutions.
Coupled with dramatic shifts in energy costs, aluminium prices, and of course major sector developments – especially within the automotive industry in terms of e-mobility – I think it’s fair to say that at this year’s GIFA there is more to discuss than ever before.
Amid the transformation in propulsion systems, solutions for e-mobility, lightweight construction, and large structural parts take center stage. What challenges do you see for foundries and suppliers?
I think you’ve actually highlighted a key point in your question. While the trend for larger, lighter parts is set (we’re only going one way here!), the fact that we are still ‘amid the transformation’ is important. How parts are designed and what’s expected of them in terms of performance characteristics is still evolving, especially when it comes to e-mobility.
For die casters this means ensuring that equipment and processes are able to meet current needs, yet flexible enough to adapt without significant additional investment. Our responsibility as suppliers is to help customers in this regard; to make sure we are producing solutions which guarantee the cast part performance expected right now, alongside the adaptability that’s needed to futureproof casting operations and deliver a strong ROI.
The TFs Toggle Free Smart series range of HPDC from ItalPresseGauss, is a good example of this thinking in action. As well as offering the massive closing forces needed for casting larger structural components, its modular design means that die casters can tailor aspects such as tie bar distances and injection forces to perfectly align with current needs, safe in the knowledge that they can change modules (rather than have to buy a new machine) should customer requirements shift.
Adaptability is just part of the puzzle. There’s also a broader challenge inextricably linked to these developments. Especially in terms of serving the e-mobility market. And that is the challenge of sustainable production.
Almost all major car manufacturers have now committed to science-based targets (SBTs), formally agreeing to set emissions and net-zero targets in line with those climate science deems necessary to limit global warming to less than 2⁰C (most have based KPIs on the more ambitious target of 1.5⁰C). At Norican we are very familiar with what this entails, having signed up to it ourselves.
In order to reduce ‘total energy consumed per vehicle produced’ manufacturers need to look (and are already looking) at what exactly goes into producing their cast parts – the lower the carbon footprint the better. And the die casting industry is well aware of this pressure. Research of our global customer base revealed that 81% see ‘being more sustainable’ as key to winning future contracts, due to endcustomer carbon efficiency targets. Many die casters are already being asked to demonstrate their credentials in this regard.
We certainly see it as our responsibility to help customers to navigate this requirement, from ensuring our equipment saves them energy and reduces waste (therefore lowering overall carbon footprint) to offering advice and support to those who also wish to set emissions reduction targets.
Whether you call it giant, mega, giga or ultra-casting – this is a topic everyone talking about now. In which direction is this trend going? Adoption is still relatively limited – does this indicate that not everyone is convinced by it?
I think it’s less about being convinced by it and more about understanding your market.
Foundries, able to cost-efficiency cast larger, lighter structural components that help to reduce overall vehicle weight – and using fewer energy/producing less emissions at the same time – will gain a competitive advantage in the automotive market. The right giant casting technologies definitely help fulfil this brief. But if that’s not your primary focus, then investing in this area may understandably not hold the same appeal.
Many of our customers do have this as their primary focus, meaning we have developed solutions to match. But equally, we also work with smaller foundries and die casters in other markets, so we make sure that our product ranges span a breadth of applications.
In terms of the direction of travel for giant casting, however, I’d say it’s not just about thinking bigger. It’s about thinking ‘better’. There are a lot of factors to consider in terms of getting the best possible results.
StrikoWestofen’s LeanMelter suite of solutions for giant casting applications is a great example. It gives aluminium die casters the opportunity to carry out melting, holding, and dosing within the casting cell – a far more efficient way to support the high metal throughput you need for casting large structural components at speed. It has also been developed with modularity in mind, meaning that die casters can mix and match the individual components to best suit their specific giant casting requirements.
Similarly, achieving the best results with giant casting doesn’t simply mean choosing a machine with bigger closing forces. There’s much more to it. With the TFs Toggle Free Smart series, for instance, we’ve made our giant casting machines lighter, so they use less energy during production cycles. Well equalised tie bars, a closure mechanism able to automatically compensate for geometrical imperfections of the die, plus a shot control system that works intelligently to detect and automatically compensate for metal flow variation. These design details all help to deliver casting consistency and support scrap reduction. When it comes to going ‘big’, small details matter.
Another important subject at GIFA is the digitization of foundry operations. How do you think this fits in with the other trends we are watching, and what does this mean for die casters?
It fits very well indeed. Particularly in terms of sustainable casting, giant or otherwise. Digital solutions are all about process optimisation – about helping die casters to produce more good parts (less scrap), faster, with less downtime, using fewer resources. All of them are good news for productivity and for carbon footprints.
You can’t improve what you don’t know. So being able to collate and interrogate data generated across an entire casting line, provides a valuable opportunity for die casters to see exactly where (which phase or process) and when specific settings or conditions are impacting process times, cast parts produced, energy consumed and scrap rates. Once you know where to look and what to focus on fixing, it becomes much easier to achieve better results.
Some AI-based solutions, like Monitizer Prescribe for instance, also provide the opportunity to detect issues and to automate corrective measures in real time, thereby preventing potential scrap-inducing problems before they can negatively impact production.
Additionally, it is worth remembering that digital solutions also enable things like remote support and troubleshooting, as well as avoiding emissions linked to travel (for technical engineers to conduct site visits). This will help to avoid periods of inefficiency or downtime, both of which can negatively impact overall environmental performance.
What would you recommend to die-casters for a relaxed visit to GIFA?
My advice for a relaxed visit is to enjoy the experience. Come with a focus, of course. But if you see how much had changed since we all met last time – what I mentioned earlier – and if you consider all the exciting developments out there, I think the secret to this year’s show is to savour the opportunity to ‘discover’. It’s going to be a truly exciting trade fair and I certainly can’t wait to be part of it.
We look forward to seeing you again at GIFA in Düsseldorf. All the best and thank you very much! Thomas Fritsch, CEO Foundry Planet