There are some similarities among, as well as differences between, metalcasting research in Japan, Europe, and the United States. In all countries there is a reliance on foundry suppliers to develop new methods. University research depends on individual professors forming consortia, which then may or may not receive supplemental funding from various government agencies.
Most metalcasting research in Japan is carried out by large corporations, which tend to keep the results to themselves. University research plays a much different role in Japan than it does in the United States. Professors' salaries are paid by the Ministry of Education, and graduate students are expected to pay their own tuition and rely on their families for support. As a result, professors have students to work on their research problems, even if there is no support from industry or the government. One industry host mentioned difficulties in funding university research. However, many companies now are finding ways to increase the amount of support they give universities.1
At some of the small foundries the WTEC team visited, the hosts expressed the view that the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) has little interest in the foundry industry (even though at least two of the advanced process developments we saw were said to have been partially supported by grants from MITI to the company) because metalcasting is perceived to be a low-tech manufacturing process, which is not under competitive threats from overseas. However, large corporations were more likely to take the view that MITI could support their research. It was clear that although the Japanese government is willing to fund research in areas that may bring breakthroughs (e.g., supermetals or a more efficient melting method), it is not supporting research on day-to-day problems or incremental improvements in the foundry industry. As in the United States, these types of projects are frequently done by vendors to the casting industry or in the laboratories of large corporations with foundries. As noted above, one source of funding that has been used in Japan is MITI's Agency for Small and Medium Enterprises.
The university professor who wishes to pursue a course of research is often better off forming a consortium of companies to underwrite his research since there is no limit on the amount of funding that may be contributed by each consortium member. Professors learn of industry interest in topics the same way they do in the United States: by attending meetings of the Japanese Foundry Engineering Society. Japan alone among the industrialized countries has committed to a substantial increase in overall research funding. It is not clear, however, how much of this increase will find its way into foundry research. The government does give equipment grants to professors whose work is promising.
European metalcasting research follows different models, depending on the country. It is not possible to generalize, and the WTEC team visited only one national research center. In addition, some projects are carried out under the umbrella of the European Economic Union, a trend which is accelerating.
In France, the primary source of foundry research is Centre Technique des Industries de la Fonderie (CTIF) in Sévres (see site report, Appendix C, p. 141). This institute has an annual budget of Fr 75 million (about $15 million) to serve a foundry industry with annual sales of Fr 30 billion ($6 billion). The funding comes from the French foundry industry (no government funds) and is determined by the Syndicat Général Fonderie Fondation (SGFF). The fee structure is 0.31% of foundry sales. SGFF mandates that CTIF be supported for five year periods and evaluates their performance at five year intervals. Foundries employing fewer than 10 employees do not pay a fee. CTIF employs 160 professionals and technicians and operates four satellite branches. In addition to carrying out research projects, CTIF also consults with foundries and conducts seminars; one-third of its budget is derived from consulting and from projects tailored for industry.
CTIF research is decided through a committee structure. There are six technical committees representing various sectors of the industry; each committee is made up of 10 foundrymen. These committees meet several times each year to set the research agenda.
Technology transfer and dissemination of information is also important at CTIF. Information is disseminated primarily through written reports although special focus meetings and seminars are held throughout the year. CTIF also trains foundrymen through standard courses (such as ISO 9000) and special courses tailored for a specific company. They are now experimenting with distance learning in order to serve foundrymen throughout Europe. They maintain a library of 200,000 items as a resource for industry.
Current research items at CTIF include the following areas:
1Editor's note: Information supplied to WTEC by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and by the Ministry of Education (Monbusho) just prior to the publication of this report indicates that industry funding for academic research in Japan is growing steadily. This may take the form of joint industry/university research, university-based research conducted under contract from companies, grants and endowments, etc.