Contractors began construction of Virginia Tech’s Foundry Institute for Research and Education (VT-FIRE) on March 29, following a long struggle to raise the capital necessary for the project.
According to Robert Hendricks, professor and associate head of the Materials Science and Engineering Department at Virginia Tech and director of the VT-FIRE project, equipment will begin to be installed in the new casting facility on Aug. 29. Final completion of the building is scheduled for Sept. 29, and classes will begin during the Spring 2011 semester.
“Our goal when we are ultimately done with it is for this to be the premier [metalcasting facility] at a university in the U.S.,” Hendricks said.
Several years ago, funding for VT-FIRE was sought but could not be obtained. Now, thanks to the donations of four groups (John and Joan Kroehling, the Piedmont chapter of the American Foundry Society, a small conglomeration of companies in the industry, and Virginia Tech Univ., Blacksburg, Va.), about $1.6 million in cash, equipment and in-kind donations have been secured.
“The original [fundraising] strategy was to go and ask for a lot of money,” Hendricks said. “The piece of information that I happened to know by accident was that we didn’t have to have all the money in hand. We just needed the long-term pledges, and we could obtain a mortgage.”
Hendricks said more equipment must be purchased—he is currently taking bids for a melting furnace—and more funds must be raised. But by the end of the year, VT-FIRE should be a fully functional metalcasting facility capable of melting 300 lbs. of iron or steel (or smaller weights of nonferrous metals) and pouring castings in the green sand, nobake and investment casting processes.
In conjunction with the completion of the center, Virginia Tech has created a minor in metalcasting engineering. Some of the funding for the project also will be used as scholarship money for students interested in the minor.
“Especially in these bad economic times, it’s remarkable we were successful in raising this money,” Hendricks said. “What [these groups] donated was the ability to develop an undergraduate metalcasting program. That is what they were buying with their money.”