"Let's talk about free trade; trade barriers are only a temporary solution," Heiko Lickfett talks to us about economics, environmental issues, processes and perspectives for the European foundry industry
GIFA interview with Heiko Lickfett, Secretary General of CAEF the European Foundry Association
Heiko Lickfett succeeded Max Schumacher in January 2019 as Secretary General of CAEF - The European Foundry Association, which is the umbrella organization for 22 European member countries. Founded in 1953, CAEF promotes the economic, technical, and social interests of the European foundry industry.
Mr. Lickfett studied economics and political science and has gained rich experience in the steel and foundry industries in diverse leadership functions, including his roles at CAEF for more than a decade.
Mr. Lickfett, the European foundry industry is facing a lot of challenges at the moment. What is the current situation in June 2019, what does the European Foundry Industry Sentiment Indicator tell us?
The European Foundry Association publishes the Sentiment Indicator at the CAEF website every month. It is the earliest available information about the mood in the foundry industry. The latest survey tells us about a lot of uncertainties. This is to see against the background of global trade conflicts as well as de-globalization trends. Our most important customers, the Automotive and Engineering industry, are burdened with this situation. These uncertainties are limiting investments and production perspectives.
Even if the figures are quite stable at the moment, considering the challenges of digitalization, additive manufacturing, e-mobility, world economics and climate change, what affects European foundries most?
First of all, Digitalization is a chance to optimize all processes. In consequence this leads to a reduction of material and energy usage. Therefore, digitalization is one of several keys how to deal with climate change and global competition. Additive manufacturing cannot be implemented without digitalization.
Regarding e-mobility: The question is why governments impose a specific technique. Instead, it should be ensured that no particular technology is favored. On the other hand during the next decade the most specialists are forecasting a growing number of requested components because of hybridization. This time is necessary because some foundries have to reinvent themselves to identify new business models.
Looking at Additive Manufacturing as an add-on technology, have foundry owners already embraced 3D printing and made it part of their industry? Where is the technology at currently and at what speed is the technology growing for sand and metal printing?
Sand-based additive manufacturing is state of the art in core and mold production. But every foundry manager has to decide which technique, additive or “conventional”, is the right one for the individual production structure. To deliver added value is the unbroken mantra! To implement new techniques makes only sense if there is added value.
Direct metal printing is an interesting add-on technology. That is right. The rule to realize added value applies for direct metal printing too. Direct metal printing can lead to new components in niche segments. Yet, it is not a technique to substitute a proven and economical serial production in a foundry. Some journalists are writing that direct metal printing can be used to produce industrial spare parts in the middle of nowhere. This is wishful thinking, not more.
“One Belt one Road”, “America first”, “Make in India”; the international competition seems to be on the rise as Europe moves relatively slowly, politically and economically. How can Europe maintain its leading position and what opportunities for strengthening it do you see within the European association CAEF?
These are different key words with different impacts. Let us talk about free trade. Free trade is currently to see with a lot of question marks. We are promoting free trade in line with the rules of the World trade Organization. But we are not naïve and know about reality. These days trade barriers are a common instrument to protect domestic industries. But they work only temporary and are a sweet poison. And man is weak. If there is no competition the pressure to improve is lowering. But fair international competition creates positive pressure on every company to improve and innovate.
Coming back to the new silk-road: This should not be a one way street. European foundries are self-confident. They are offering high value components with destination route Asia. At the end it is the question of the unique selling point. Too often it is only the price, yes. But if you are acting as a problem solver for the customer you can compete. So, Problem solving is added value!
At CAEF we are providing platforms for networking. We are offering meetings with international experts to discuss trends in casting intensive industries. To know what the customer is expecting is the key. These meetings are helpful tools being prepared for the medium-term future. These events are open for all foundries being member of a national association in the CAEF circle.
Especially in Europe, the political pressure on the industry to face climate change is increasing. What opportunities do new environmental concepts offer for the foundry industry?
Casting components are a core element of every energy transformation system. Without castings no change to renewable energy is possible. This affects wind energy, solar energy as well as hydro power. And, not to forget, e-mobility is thinkable only with new lightweight castings. Please have in mind that lightweight is material independent, means ferrous and non-ferrous castings.
And there are additional points:
The optimization of energy and material efficiency is an ongoing task for foundries. This year, the revision of the so-called Best Available Techniques has begun. This document is a description of technologies and setting of limits to reduce the environmental impact of foundries. Our industry is typically small and medium sized. Thus we will be very careful to ensure that our special conditions are taken into account.
In the past energy was completely national issue. One of the few exemptions was Emission trading. About 28 CAEF-foundries have to participate and to buy allowances.
But climate change discussion will be a game changer here. Politic wants to switch to a renewable driven energy supply. This works only on an international level. Also grid-interconnections or carbon taxes make only sense on continental or global level. No singular state will be able to drive successfully an isolated energy policy.
Thank you for the informative interview, Mr. Lickfett. There is probably no better time for the GIFA than now - what do you recommend visitors from all over the world not miss at the exhibition?
GIFA is the world´s leading fair, perfect for networking and getting in touch with new trends. Beside all the exhibition booths I recommend to visit the lecture fora in hall 13. A lot of interesting presentations will be held. Amongst other things we have organized the CAEF Forum with focus on strategic and management topics. A perfect chance to hear about best practice examples.