Thomas S. Piwonka
The issues of employment, the environment, and energy are important to all manufacturing enterprises. The U.S. foundry industry has experienced challenges in attracting talented employees, in becoming more energy efficient, and in dealing with environmental regulations. These issues underlie much of the competitiveness of any nation's foundry industry, so it is instructive to see how the Japanese and European foundry industries cope with them.
In the United States, the foundry industry is particularly concerned with environmental regulations, as U.S. regulations are among the most stringent in the world and are enforced vigorously. Today nearly 10% of U.S. foundry annual revenues are devoted to complying with environmental regulations. American foundries are especially concerned with the challenge posed by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, which have the potential to substantially disrupt current foundry practice. Other concerns are the disposal of solid waste (spent sand, grinding dust, slag, baghouse dust, and refractories) and clean water issues. Overzealous environmental regulations and enforcement are seen by U.S. foundries, especially the smaller firms, as a major problem in maintaining international competitiveness.
Energy usage in U.S. foundries has been a major concern since the first oil shock over two decades ago. While energy concerns have faded to some extent, the cost of energy in the foundry industry continues to be significant, and the U.S. Department of Energy has identified metal casting as one of the seven most energy-intensive industries in the country. Energy conservation methods are therefore of great interest to American metal casters.
The ability to find qualified employees, both hourly workers and engineers, is also a concern of U.S. metal casters. The problem is particularly acute for small foundries located in rural areas, where many graduate engineers would prefer not to locate. Trained and capable hourly workers are also a problem to recruit and retain, as the reputation of foundry work does not appeal to many.