Minnesota foundry includes multiple layers from their organization to decide on the right casting process simulation tool
Dotson Iron Castings in Mankato, Minnesota is an iron foundry that melts and pours 100+ tons of ductile iron castings daily, using 20X24 horizontal, high pressure, green sand molding machines. Products include over 3,000 different castings for over 300 customers in a wide range of applications including medical, transportation, agriculture, construction and recreation equipment. The raw casting weights here range from 2 to 50 pounds with typical production quantities ranging from 25 pieces to several thousand.
Dotson prides itself on engineering excellence, providing customers a higher total value with castings designed and produced in a highly automated, quick response foundry and machining facility.
Operating as a foundry for over 130 years, Dotson credits its success to satisfying customer needs by not only managing, but exceeding, their expectations. The goal is to provide customers with quality products in a fast, flexible, cost effective manner.
As a company best practice, Dotson includes its employees in making all important decisions that will impact not only the job of each of the individuals, but the foundry as a whole. Dotson has a program called, “The $10,000 Project.” As the name implies, any purchase made by the foundry of $10,000 or more is done through a detailed process involving the employees who will be most affected by the purchase of the product or equipment being considered.
Any product or project that costs over $10,000 must have a cross-functional group examine all viable options. Members of the group choose what they consider the best product or piece of equipment to help them accomplish their goals. They then make onsite visits, make comparisons and do cost justifications. With the information they have gathered, they then make multiple presentations to the group explaining the “what” and the “why” of the product, equipment or service they have chosen for consideration.
When Dotson’s owner Denny Dotson and President /CEO Jean Bye wanted to expand their capabilities in terms of serving customers with solidification solutions, MAGMASOFT®, provided by MAGMA Foundry Technologies (Schaumburg, IL) was one of the many software packages considered. “We certainly are a foundry that differentiates ourselves on our engineering services and to do that you must have the right tools,” Jean Bye said. “We researched and explored our options for a few years before making the decision to purchase simulation software for the foundry,” Denny Dotson adds.
The $10,000 Project is a lengthy process with the participants sometimes making three or four presentations to support their argument. Deciding on the simulation software that best supported the needs of this foundry took a long time, due to the importance of doing numerous comparisons. When comparing the benefits of all the products being considered, “…it came down to weighing out the factors and deciding which ones would have the greatest impact on the overall foundry operation,” Bye stated.
When the $10,000 Project is complete and a decision has been made, nobody can say they weren’t onboard. “They might not have gotten their way,” Bye notes, “but they certainly understand all the reasons why the decision was made, because it was well thought out by the entire group.”
Dotson saw the addition of simulation software as more then just an engineering tool; rather it represented a smart business tool specifically designed to improve yield as well as positively impact sales. There was a lot to consider in the justification process beyond the product’s capabilities. Ease of use, speed of use, accuracy of results, presentation of these results, reputation of the provider’s company, customer care, quick response time from company representatives when there was a question or assistance was needed, as well as which company Dotson felt was more technologically advanced with new innovations. In addition, a significant benefit Dotson saw with simulation was the ability to identify jobs that would require some type of stress relief before actually making the tool or gating system. “It’s much more difficult to go back to the customer after the fact and tell them this is your cost, than it is before you cut the tool. There are always options before anything is created,” Engineering Process Manager Jim Headington points out.
“Moving from opinion or educated guess to a factual report supporting changes has made it quicker and easier to communicate the need for making changes with our customers,” adds Jay Zins, Control Manager at Dotson.
When discussing the impact simulating the process has on time to first quality part, Headington explains, “Time isn’t always the most important issue at hand. Cost and the integrity of the tool by the time you’re done with it are the real keys. When you find yourself adding material to a production tool, it’s never a good thing. Once you scab on that material, no matter how you put it on, you’ve really jeopardized the integrity of the tool. This is all now done virtually, instead of through trial and error.”
On one recent customer project, Dotson ran approximately 30 virtual iterations on a particular part. Not only did having the ability to simulate the entire molding process save a significant amount of time, being able to run a large number of iterations also helped them be sure that the quality of the part was not compromised. “Once in a while, on projects like this, we do 30 simulated iterations, simply because we now can,” Josh Jaycox, Quality Assurance Engineer adds.
While all new jobs at Dotson are run through MAGMASOFT®, retro jobs, especially the high yield jobs, are also now simulated. A significant part of the justification process was improving yield. When considering yield improvements, Dotson recognizes that the improvement in the first year will normally be significant, as they hadn’t run simulation before, whereas moving forward, improving yield would be less significant, as all new jobs are now run through the simulation and, as a result, are more efficient from the very beginning. “Running the software on a casting will also help us see that it may be possible to make a riser smaller, this will help in de-gating and reduce grinding time.” Jaycox said.
Sales and Marketing Manager Matt Schindle adds, “The benefit to the customer is that they know we are not going to build a tool, we are not going to spend a dollar of their money, until we have done the solidification on it. It gives us more credibility and it gives the customer reassurance.”
“It’s almost like having a third party in the room giving our observations credibility,” Bye adds.
Seeing the importance of being sure their foundry and their engineers have the tools to be the best they can be, Dotson found the addition of MAGMASOFT® to be a natural next step. When considering the in-depth justification process and the criteria involved in bringing a new product or tool into the foundry, they learned their decision regarding process simulation to be a great benefit to the company overall. Dotson realizes customers now expect and rely on the fact that their parts are run through this virtual process with the end result being the highest quality castings possible.
Choosing MAGMASOFT®, Dotson believes all their performance and value criteria were met and, in many cases, even exceeded. MAGMA’s reputation in the world foundry market and their customer care program, as well as the added benefits of their training programs and annual user group meetings, help Dotson feel more confident in their partnership with MAGMA, according to Jaycox and Headington.