MARCH 1997

Merton Flemings (Panel Chair)
Diran Apelian
Dennis Bertram
Wayne Hayden
Paul Mikkola
Thomas S. Piwonka

Full Report:


This report examines the impact of technological innovations in the foundry industries of Japan, Europe and the United States. These innovations are enabling technologically sophisticated foundries to prosper in Japan, Europe, and the United States, while commodity foundries are being forced to move to areas where labor costs are lower. To examine how these currents of technical innovation and economic change have been playing out in Japan and Europe and what these changes augur for the industry, the WTEC panel visited with researchers, management, and officials at 22 different facilities. The following are some of the panel's most important findings. The United States leads Europe in manufacturing but lags behind Japan. Japanese foundries strive for a deeper fundamental process understanding than the United States and use that understanding to focus their process controls. Japanese processes are often slower but more robust than those in the United States. In engineering the United States leads Japan but lags behind Europe. Recent foundry technological developments in Europe are significant. These include advanced permanent molding, flexible machines for metal mold casting, improved molding and solidification practices for sand casting, and rapid prototyping. Computer modeling and simulation in Europe is strong, and advanced casting processes are rapidly being adopted. These include lost foam castings in volume production, advanced semipermanent mold casting, and semisolid casting (SSM). Between Japan and the U.S., Japan leads in the areas of squeeze casting, metal mold casting, foundry ceramics, and energy conservation; while the United States leads in the areas of computer applications, lost foam casting, investment casting, and semisolid forming. In all three regions of the world covered by this report, critically important innovations in the foundry industry have occurred in both incremental technologies and in leapfrog technologies. Government support has been most effective when it has focused on leapfrog technologies, providing the incentives and safety nets that encourage foundries and researchers to accept higher risks. This support of foundry R&D in Japan is primarily directed toward new processes and new materials. Research institutes and some universities are performing leading studies in these areas. It also includes a high level of university/government/industry interaction in R&D planning and prioritization with interaction in project allocation to reduce duplication. However, facilities for foundry-related research and education in universities lag behind those in the United States. In broad overview the United States compares favorably with Japan and Europe in manufacturing and engineering.

1 Published by the American Foundrymen's Society
Published: Summer 1998; WTEC Hyper-Librarian