Palmer Foundry Systemizing Operational Excellence with Performance Solutions by Milliken

On December 1, 2015, Palmer Foundry announced that it has engaged Performance Solutions by Milliken of Spartanburg, SC, to facilitate the implementation of their performance system at the Palmer, MA site.

Phil McIntyre, the Senior Director of Business Development for Performance Solutions by Milliken, said, “We are very pleased to be working with Palmer Foundry in helping them achieve world class manufacturing status. Already recognized as the leader in their field, we believe this engagement will further distance the quality and innovative nature of Palmer’s products from competitors.”

Performance Solutions by Milliken brings a unique, Practitioner-based value proposition to its clients and has built a record of helping companies achieve substantial and sustainable improvements in their operations and safety efforts. This approach helps companies empower employees by working side-by-side to establish a culture of continuous improvement and drive breakthroughs. PSbyM currently serves clients in more than 100 locations in 28 countries across a wide range of industry sectors. Learn more at their website, www.PerformanceSolutionsByMilliken.com.


Palmer Foundry Awarded Massachusetts Workforce Training Grant

On December 8, 2015, Palmer Foundry learned it was one of 87 Massachusetts companies awarded a Workforce Training Grant by Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald L. Walker.  The purpose of the Workforce Training Grant funds is to foster economic growth in the state by allowing companies to invest in their workforce with additional training. Palmer Foundry’s $96,512 grant will be used to train 58 employees; six additional jobs are expected by 2017.  Bob Logan, President of Palmer Foundry, recognizes the positive impact that the training will have on the organization and the employees, noting that “In today’s global marketplace, it is imperative that we leverage the combined capabilities of our most valuable resource – our employees.”

Founded in 1951, Palmer Foundry serves numerous industries including alternative energy, automotive and transportation, compressors/pumps/valves, defense and aerospace, electronics, food processing, hoist and lift, LED capital equipment, medical instruments, power generation, robotics, scientific instruments/measurement, specialty industrial equipment, semi-conductor capital equipment, and urban mass transit.  This project is funded by a Workforce Training Fund grant from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The grant program is administered by Commonwealth Corporation.


Palmer Foundry Successfully Achieves ISO 9001:2008 Recertification

Palmer Foundry successfully achieved its ISO 9001:2008 Quality Management System recertification from BSI on December 12, 2015.  A leading manufacturer of vacuum-tight and dimensionally stable aluminum castings, Palmer Foundry’s Quality Management System originally attained certification in 2012. 

“BSI’s recertification of our Quality Management System demonstrates our commitment to consistently provide product that meets customer requirements, and to enhance customer satisfaction through continuous innovation and improvements,” says Bob Logan, President of Palmer Foundry. 

Founded in 1951, Palmer Foundry serves numerous industries including alternative energy, automotive and transportation, compressors/pumps/valves, defense and aerospace, electronics, food processing, hoist and lift, LED capital equipment, medical instruments, power generation, robotics, scientific instruments/measurement, specialty industrial equipment, semi-conductor capital equipment, and urban mass transit.   Continue reading…


Palmer Foundry Dedicates New Machine to Longtime Employee

The word “career” can have different meanings to different people but one thing nearly everyone can agree on is that when someone spends nearly a half century working for the same company, they’ve had much more than a typical career.  Over that time deep roots develop and strong relationships are created.  And it’s that exact type of person that Palmer Foundry is proud to announce that they will be naming their latest foundry machine after.  Longtime Palmer Foundry employee, Ken “Frenchy” Savoir, will be honored as the newest piece of foundry equipment will bear his name.

Ken recently announced his retirement from Palmer Foundry after 48 years and 7 months of steady employment with the company.  It was clear that such dedication should be rewarded in many ways, and when the new HAAS EC-1600 YZT was purchased, foundry leadership knew that formally calling the machine “Frenchy” was a fitting tribute to an employee whose contributions to Palmer Foundry closely mirror the benefits the new equipment will provide the foundry’s customers.

The HAAS EC-1600 YZT will greatly improve Palmer Foundry’s ability to be responsive to customer needs and demands, will address the increased requirements from the foundry’s customers for dimensional repeatability, and will add the opportunity for “in-process” measurements.  With every improvement to Palmer Foundry’s set of technologies, the company becomes more agile, more responsive, and maintains its position as a leader in dimensionally stable aluminum casting.

For nearly a half-century, Ken Savoir has provided foundry customers with exceptional levels of quality and service.  That tradition now continues with his namesake, “Frenchy”.

Foundry pattern maker, Dave “The Master” Cortelli has skillfully crafted a custom nameplate for Frenchy (the machine) which will be cast in the foundry and dedicated to Frenchy (the man) during a formal ceremony.


Supply Chain Analytic Technology Continues to Advance

Steve Banker, whose articles cover logistics and supply chain management recently featured Palmer Foundry in a compelling article published on Forbes.com.  We’d like to share that article with you in its entirety below.

By Steve Banker from Forbes.com.

A recent report published by ARC got me thinking about the evolution in analytics I have seen over the past two decades. I’ve covered supply chain applications in my tenure here at ARC. These applications are of course a rich source of analytic data. But when I came into the industry reporting tools were the way in which that data was analyzed.

These reports were published on a periodic schedule and by the time they were perused, an important event that needed immediate attention may have been languishing for days. If a user wanted changes in the metrics they were looking at, IT help was required, and this never seemed to be a priority for IT. The reports were not user friendly; users had to pour over reams of data to find nuggets of useful information.

Then the major supply chain and enterprise companies either acquired Business Intelligence (BI) firms or partnered with them. The results were dashboards. These dashboards came prebuilt with many of the metrics important to the supply chain discipline. They were user friendly – the metrics were often color coded red (pay immediate attention to this), yellow (take note), or green (all is well). Many of the metrics were near real time in nature; some were based on data that was at most a day or two old at most. If a metric was red or yellow, users could drill down and see the aggregated data and better understand where problems were originating. And users could configure which metrics they wanted to see and how they wanted to see them. This was a minor revolution.

Nevertheless, these solutions came pre-cubed, which means the data was being pulled from the supply chain solution providers own supply chain applications. In reality, to fully evaluate an end to end solution, data needs to come from a variety of different applications, and perhaps even spreadsheets, not sold by the supply chain vendor.

But analytic technology is continuing to advance: it is more extensible and easier to implement. My colleague Janice Abel, who researches manufacturing analytics, wrote an article about Palmer Foundry’s use of manufacturing analytics. One of the interesting things is that even though this foundry had purchased a solution from Northwest Analytics to use statistical process control and continuous improvement techniques to improve product quality, the solution had been extended.

After using the system on the shop floor for ten months, Palmer Foundry extended the technology to provide decision support for management in a variety of business operations, including the supply chain area. The foundry is now using the solution to examine the quality and timeliness of the raw materials they are receiving from suppliers. According to Palmer’s general manager Jim Legrant, “They know that we are more savvy today and that we will hold them to deliver what we want, when we want it.” And they are using the solution to understand “external scrap,” which I take to mean damage caused by things external to the manufacturing process like shipping. According to the article, “the software manages how Palmer allocates resources, makes workforce adjustments, and modifies incentives. By using the application to monitor capital spending, employees can determine how their actions will impact the business.”

I was also astounded by just how fast this solution was implemented. Despite the fact that the software was being connected to a variety of different data sources, the initial software installation with IT was performed in one afternoon with phone support from the supplier. The foundry spent another week configuring the reference manager that scans the databases for new data and updates for the control chart. The dashboards and alarm notification servers were also configured to send an email message when a rule or specification was violated. “The result was going from zero to full … capabilities in less than three weeks” according to Mr. Lagrant.

The project was quite successful. Customer loyalty and brand reputation are very important in this business. “Shipping bad product is one of the worst things that can happen, because we live and die based on customer feedback, our reputation, and word of mouth,” emphasized Mr. Lagrant. One customer commented, “You are doing something no one else is doing in the foundry industry – which is unique for a company of your size.” The technology has helped the foundry win new projects.


Specialty Foundry Reacts to Customer-Mandated Continuous Improvement Requirement

Palmer Foundry, based in Palmer, Massachusetts is a small, privately owned specialty foundry. Palmer operates with low overhead from its two facilities; approximately 80 percent of the company’s 75 employees are shop floor and maintenance workers. It uses advanced casting technologies to produce aluminum castings to meet highly demanding specifications for the semiconductor manufacturing equipment industry and other industries as well. Customers expected that qualified vendors had a continuous improvement program in place; one that encompassed the entire supply chain from raw materials to the final product shipping dock. Delivering good products on schedule was no longer good enough for Palmer’s clients. If Palmer Foundry wanted to remain on the approved vendor list and continue to sell castings to the semi-conductor equipment manufacturing industry; it needed to implement a data-driven, continuous improvement approach to be able to deliver perfect castings essentially 100 percent of the time.

Part of the foundry’s challenge was to convince customers that it could produce aluminum castings that could deliver the required performance characteristics. The foundry previously collected a significant amount of shop floor data and stored the information in three-ring binders, multiple spreadsheets, and disparate databases. Some were available on the network, and some were not. The data was reviewed only to see if the processes or raw materials were within specification, but not analyzed to determine if processes were in control, trending out of control, or any other abnormal conditions were present. In lieu of in-house Statistical Process Control (SPC) resources, the company needed a solution that could easily link disparate data sources and Excel spreadsheets for analysis and visualization.

To support its customer-mandated continuous improvement efforts, Palmer Foundry selected and implemented an enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI) application from Northwest Analytics. This was a very fast implementation, less than three weeks. Palmer has been able to apply manufacturing analytics designed to manage the production process to all parts of the supply chain cycle – from raw material suppliers to in-process data collection and finally downstream to customers.

The system was installed about two years ago. It tracks, monitors, and validates incoming raw materials such as sand and aluminum ingots. The analytics helps the company monitor the sand used for castings before it has left the quarry and monitor ingot chemistry before it leaves the warehouse. The foundry uses the information to determine potential issues and it can accept or reject sand shipments at the source. The company also uses this information to make in-process modifications. In one example cited, using ingots with low titanium content would have forced the company to remake parts. Instead, Palmer preemptively adjusted its recipe settings and continued producing castings. By avoiding making bad product the foundry was able save about $750,000 of lost production, a substantial sum for a relatively small company such as this.

spcChart

According to general manager, Jim Lagrant, who spoke at ARC Advisory Group’s annual forum, the analytics software has impacted Palmer’s relationship with its suppliers: “They know that we are more savvy today and that we will hold them to deliver what we want, when we want it.”

The solution includes in-process control charts that show whether or not a process is within specification. For example, Palmer implemented a control chart of the resin binder it uses to hold the sand molds together. If the sand has too little resin, the mold will break apart. If the sand has too much resin, it will take extra labor to remove the casting from the sand mold.

The company also tracks scrap on a weekly basis and has set targets to help reduce rework. The charts are available on the plant floor, providing operators with better visibility into the process. Dashboards illustrate how scrap and rework costs affect the business.

After using the system on the shop floor for ten months, Palmer Foundry extended the technology to provide decision support for management in a variety of business operations, including:

* Sales (bookings, shipping, backlog)
* Customer satisfaction information – (on-time-delivery, external scrap)
* Productivity improvement measurements (shipment dollars-per-hour, percent overtime)
* Environmental, health and safety

The same dashboards used in operations are now used by every decision maker in the company. The software manages how Palmer allocates resources, makes workforce adjustments, and modifies incentives. By using the application to monitor capital spending, employees can determine how their actions will impact the business.

Customer loyalty and brand reputation are very important in this business. “Shipping bad product is one of the worst things that can happen, because we live and die based on customer feedback, our reputation, and word of mouth,” emphasized Mr. Lagrant.

According to Mr. Lagrant, customers who visit the foundry are very impressed with the improvements the software has helped it make. The technology has helped the foundry win new projects.


Study: Welding A356 Sand Castings

Dennis Hayden & Patrice Lagrant
Palmer Foundry
Libo Wang
Research Professor
Advanced Casting Research Center Worcester Polytechnic Institute

PDF Copy of this Weld Study

SCOPE

The intent of this paper is to demonstrate the viability of welding A356 sand castings both before and after heat treatment while maintaining the integrity of the casting.

INTRODUCTION

During production of castings, welding is sometimes used as a cosmetic or structural repair process, or to attach features to the parent casting that could not be cast into the part. The integrity of these welds is often questioned especially if the castings are used in high vacuum or other critical applications. The most prevalent questions posed to the foundry are: is the weld leak proof, does the weld contain porosity, and is the weld material homogenous with the parent casting? To answer these questions, a casting was produced at Palmer Foundry. This casting was then sectioned and machined into weld test plates. The welded areas were then sectioned, polished and analyzed using optical microscopy. The microstructures show that the weld material is as sound as the parent material, the bond between the parent metal and weld is fully fused, and porosities in both welding and interface areas are smaller and less than in the casting substrates.

PROCEDURE

A356.2 alloy was used to cast a 300 lb. vacuum chamber with a 25.4 mm (1”) nominal wall thickness (Fig.1). The walls of the casting were sectioned into four sample plates, which were then machined into weld capability test plates per AMS 2694C (Fig. 2). Per the specification, each thickness of the plate had two features milled into it to represent a controlled casting discontinuity. Plates 1 through 4 were solution heat treated. Plate 4 was heat treated “T77” after welding. Plate 5 was prepared without heat treatment in order to see the virgin state of the weld. The order of welding and heat treating operations were varied to simulate a typical casting operation, see Table 1. Welding was performed by an AWS D17.1 certified welder at a Nadcap/FAA certified weld repair facility. The weld was made using the TIG process with an A356 filler rod.

table1

Sample Preparation and Coding
For each of the six features welded on each test plate, a transverse and a longitudinal cross section was analyzed, see Fig. 3 and 4. The samples (and subsequent images) are coded per Table 2:

table2

All samples were mounted in Bakelite, ground, and polished. These samples were all analyzed under optical microscope and stereomicroscope in an as-polished condition. Some selected samples were then slightly etched in 5% HF water solution and analyzed again.

ANALYSIS

When analyzing the samples using an optical microscope under low magnification (50x), it was observed that all welds contained 3 distinct regions. These regions are the substrate or parent material, weld body (filling material), and weld interface or heat affected zone (filling material and substrate) (Fig. 5).

Figure 6 shows complete fusion between the substrate and weld body. This was typical for all weld features prepared on all five plates.

The substrate area (parent A356 alloy), consists mainly of Al dendrites, eutectic Si particles, and small amounts of Fe, Mg, and Cu rich particles.

The weld body consists mostly of fine columnar structures with different sizes and directions. These structures are composed of small Si particles, some small Fe-rich phase (needles), and some other small particles from the A356 filler rod. In the welding body areas one can observe the welding lines and fine columnar structures with different sizes and directions. Discrete porosity can be seen dispersed in the weld body. The observed pores are all less than 0.00254 mm in diameter.

The interface contains large (coarse) Al dendrites with small Si particles in the interdendritical areas. When etched, these particles have a different color from those in the welding body indicating that their compositions are probably slightly different.

The images presented below are from the 8 mm (3/8”) and 16 mm (5/8”) thick sections of the test plates. These are representative of typical wall thicknesses used in vacuum chambers.

Figures 7 through 9 show the sample plates that were cast, heat treated and welded. They show excellent fusion between the weld and the substrate. Particles seen in Fig. 8 are ostensibly silicon from the parent alloy or weld rod. These particles are fully encapsulated by the weld material, and the weld is seamlessly integrated with the substrate.

Differences in microstructures apparent in Fig. 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 16 and 17 are due to the compositional difference, cooling rate (differences in the solidification conditions), or both, of the substrate and filler body. While notable, the reasons for the microstructure differences among the substrate, weld body, and interface were not the focus of this paper.

CONCLUSION

The sample welded castings were sectioned and machined into optical specimens at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Advanced Casting Research Center (ACRC) where they were prepared and metallographicaly examined by Libo Wang, Research Professor. This study clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of welding A356 before and after heat treatment. The microstructures examined and studied confirm complete fusion between the weld body and substrate in all of the conditions, thicknesses, and configurations present in the sample castings. This study demonstrates the principle that welding within the process parameters used in this study is a viable method for repairing, filling or modifying sand cast components.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Worcester Polytechnic Institute
100 Institute Road Worcester MA 01609-2280

Prof. D. Apelian, Alcoa-Howmet Professor of Engineering at WPI and head of the Metal Processing Institute

Advance Welding
47 Allston Ave, West Springfield MA 01089

County Heat Treatment
32 Howe Ave Millbury MA 01527-0330

REFERENCES

AMS 2694C Repair Welding of Aerospace Castings

CONTACT

Dennis Hayden, Palmer Foundry
Patrice Lagrant, Palmer Foundry

NOTES

The figures presented in this paper are a sample of over one thousand images recorded by WPI while conducting this study. Contact Palmer Foundry for further information about images or the study.

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Data-Driven Decisions

From Modern Casting, February 2014.

PDF copy of Modern Casting Feb 2014 Palmer Foundry Article

Palmer Foundry is using statistical analysis of its equipment, raw materials and environment to operate more efficiently and intelligently.

As the foundation of modern electronics, semiconductors evoke high-tech manufacturing and cutting-edge computation. It might be surprising to hear many key components of the equipment used to make semiconductors are aluminum sand castings. Palmer Foundry, a no bake and green sand casting facility in Palmer, Mass., has been supplying this high-tech industry-and others like it-for more  than 25 years, and in the last two years, the metal caster has committed to  thinking and operating like its data driven customers.

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Since the beginning of 2012, Palmer Foundry has been implementing vast data collection throughout its two facilities and integrating the information from its processes, operation s and products into an enterprise manufacturing intelligence system. The still-growing system has given the business a smarter way to operate and improved the way it maintains equipment, controls the working environment, adjusts raw material inputs, schedules pouring and identifies areas of potential capacity.

“You hear a lot about lean manufacturing, but this is much more powerful,” said Bob Logan, Palmer Foundry president. “Knowledge is power, and this is knowledge packaged in a form we can use.”

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Palmer Foundry started its data management in 2012 with standalone pieces of equipment, such as the dehumidifier installed in the nobake facility in 2010. As an aluminum casting facility selling vacuum tight castings, the metalcaster is concerned about the amount of moisture in the air. Formerly, the best way to predict outside conditions was to visit a weather website and see the forecast. Director of Engineering Jim Lag ran t installed temperature and relative humidity sensors on the plant floor and outside. Initially, the information was pulled into a spreadsheet, but trends could not be readily identified.

“It was a laboratory system and it wasn’t bulletproof, but the vice president, operations manager and president saw the value of this data,” Lagrant said .

By con trolling the foundry ambient conditions on high humidity days, Palmer Foundry does not need to maneuver its pouring schedule to make castings impacted by the humidity, such as vacuum-tight castings.

“We want to control all the variables in the process to provide a consistent product, but we can’t control the weather,” Logan said. “I would tell customers to plan for about 17 days a year when we couldn’t pour their parts.”

The dehumidification system controls the moisture level in the air, and the first phase of data collection helped predict what days to run it at higher levels. With that success, more variables of the dehumidification system were collected as data points to help further improve its efficiency, such as when to turn on fans or whether it operates better with an overhead door open or closed .

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After initial successes with data collection, Logan gave Lagrant the go-ahead to expand the data project. A survey of the shop floor revealed some equipment already installed with PLCs and others with no automation at all. Nothing was connected together.

“I identified which equipment just needed a communication module to connect to our network,” Lagrant said. “For those that did n’t have a PLC, we figured out which data points to measure.”

For instance, in the melt department, Palmer Foundry wanted to keep track of bath temperature and the amount of current going into each of the three legs of its electric resistance heaters.

Next, Lagrant selected the hardware to wire into the equipment and commissioned the construction and installation of electric panels. Palmer Foundry also had to make some network upgrades and put network drops on the shop floor to accommodate the project.

“The timing for this is great right now because the industrial Ethernet networks arc robust and the price has come way down on the hardware,” Lagrant said. “This would have been too cost prohibitive 10 years ago.”

In 2012, Palmer Foundry set up its system for the collection of 500 data points. In just a couple of months, the metalcaster had already used up all the data points on equipment from the melt department, shakeout department, sand transportation system, thermal reclaimer and dehumidifier in the nobake facility. In 2013, the company upped the ante with 10,000 data points to handle the rest of the needs of the nobake facility as well as Palmer Foundry’s green sand facility, housed in a separate building.

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Using the Data

Logan admits Palmer Foundry is still unlocking everything all the data is telling them. But in just a year and a half, he already is seeing major benefits in environmental conditions and maintenance.

A PLC on the nobake shop floor performs supervisory control on intakes and exhaust fans tied into the environmental controls. When the furnace that breaks down aluminum returns exhausts onto the pouring floor, the enterprise manufacturing intelligence system sees the furnace is at high heat and turns on the fan by the furnace to put all the heat and moisture outside.

On the shakeout deck, Palmer Foundry would run its 30,000-cfm exhaust fan the entire shift. Now, using the automated PLC, the metalcaster can throttle the fan back when it is not actively shaking out.

Fresh air intakes now are controlled based on how much air is being sucked out of the plant-helpful on those cold winter days when employees found it tough to open doors because of internal pressures.

Maintenance personnel can avoid equipment downtimes with predictive indicators and more quickly troubleshoot breakdowns when they do occur.

When the dehumidification system is plugged up with dust, sand and pollen to a certain level, an email is sent automatically to maintenance to change the filters. Similar em ails a re sent when the current draws on one of the electric resistance heaters drops, indicating a problem with a heating element. Maintenance personnel are alerted of the issue before it is too late and the metal in the furnace goes cold.

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In sand handling, a vent valve in the pneumatic transportation system vents out air when sand goes into the chamber, affecting the sand flow rate. The valve fails over time, so Palmer Foundry tracks how long it takes for the vessel to be filled. As that time creeps up, maintenance can predict when the valve will start to fail.

“Previously, the knockout operators would struggle and struggle because they would have to wait for the equipment to catch up with them,” Lagrant said. “We are proactive now and looking at what the equipment is saying.”

In addition to connecting to the time-series data of the process equipment, Palmer also installed a statistical process control system . This commercial software package automatically connects to multiple databases containing transactional information about raw materials, in-process product process measurements, and laboratory data. The package scans the databases for new data points, automatically charts the points on control charts, and updates electronic overview dashboards. In addition to having a color-coded d ashboard on th eir desktop, process owners will receive e-mail notifications if the parameter is trending out of control or jumps out of specification.

Instituting statistical process control has led to a few changes in operating protocols at Palmer Foundry, as well. At the casting facility, returns are degassed and stripped of magnesium, which must be added back in at the melt department to maintain the appropriate chemistry. When the company began collecting data on chemistry analysis of its metal, it wasn’t expecti ng to see its magnesium content drifting out of specification.

“Prior to graphing out our analysis, we probably overcorrected,” Lagrant said. “Now, when we make a change to the recipe, it is automatically and visibly evident we made the right amount of addition.”

Further, the melt additions such as magnesium and grain refiners are no longer calculated manually. Instead, a touchscreen runs the calculations, so if the crucible is half full, the system provides automatically how much to add.

 

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Playing Detective

The manufacturing intelligence system helps Palmer Foundry arrive at the “why” of something faster than ever.  When the company first installed its dehumidification system, maintenance personnel were unfamiliar with the equipment and troubleshooting took a long time.  By establishing and then measuring and tracking various data points related to the equipment, such as water temperature and pressure, Palmer Foundry can identify areas where the equipment is not working properly.

“It saves us hours and days of sleuthing,” Logan said. “We can go back and do forensic analysis of all our processes and our equipment.”

This ability particularly comes in handy in customer relations. Palmer Foundry can show customers how processes were running at the time a specific part was cast. For instance, if a customer calls about a casting received with a rougher surface finish than expected, Palmer Foundry can identify the day it was poured and all the key process parameter in the facility for that day.

“Maybe we had a sand rate issue, which likely caused the surface roughness,” Lagrant said. “And we can show the process owner was notified of the problem, he acknowledged it and corrected it, along with the data supporting it.”

The data knowledge goes the other way too. One of Palmer Foundry’s semiconductor equipment customers was in a scramble to fix a problem with chromium appearing on the wafer. When Palmer was approached about possibly being the culprit, it had the data to show its processes were in control and operating within specification. The customer saw it needed to look at other sources of contamination.

“They have to figure things out in a hurry, so it helps to point them in the right area to resolve a problem,” Lagrant said.

Logan sees Palmer Foundry’s manufacturing intelligence system as a necessary tool to show its high-tech customers they speak the same language.

“Some of our semiconductor customers have two hours to fix a problem or they are fined by their customer,” he said. “They told us we can’t be magicians any more . We have to provide straight answers, and we can give them that.”

Customer Support

While Palmer Foundry ramped up its manufacturing intelligence, i twas working toward ISO:9000 certification to become an approved vendor for its semiconductor customers, which it achieved in 2013. The metalcaster supplies vacuum-tight aluminum castings to the companies that supply the Intels of the world, as Logan put it. Its castings are used in all processes tied to producing semiconductor technology, including stripping to clean the wafer, etching, planarization and lithography, as well as in the robotic components used in the systems. The metal chemistries of the castings must be tightly controlled so the parts can withstand the vacuum environment.

Palmer Foundry ships its large castings (up to 1,300 lbs. shipped weight) to the Midwest, West Coast, China and Singapore weekly. And while the semiconductor industry is its biggest market, the metalcasting facility also produces performance aluminum components for mass spectrometers, slaughterhouse equipment, blood analysis equipment, and MRI equipment as well as industrial products. The company still produces castings for one of its first customers from when the company was founded in 1951. The industrial hoists and lifts for that customer must bend instead of fracturing; part failure could be fatal.

One of Palmer Foundry’s newest markets is cast aluminum vacuum chambers used in LED manufacturing equipment. Everything else in the manufacturing system is connected to the chamber, so when the customer ramps up, Palmer Foundry must be able to respond quickly in kind.

“They don’t want to hear they can’t sell their $6 million piece of equipment because they can’t get a casting,” Logan said. Palmer Foundry uses readily available ingot and relies on its manufacturing intelligence system to help with scheduling and efficiency so it won’t affect its customers’ deadlines.

Data – driven process control also helps the metalcaster make a convincing argument to convert to a metal casting.

“To convince an engineer to take a leap is not easy,” Logan said . “But when engineers come and look at our process, they see it’s not black art.”

Palmer Foundry is continuing to find data points to mine and conclusions to make from its manufacturing intelligence system , and now it is rolling out metrics analysis for the business side of operations, such as scrap rates, job bookings and shipping rates. The company also is in the planning stages of a potential 10,000-sq .ft. expansion to accommodate the increasing size of semiconductor manufacturing equipment.

“We’re just going to keep getting better and better now that we have the infrastructure in place,” Logan said. “It’s a foundation for us going forward.”

 


Introducing Palmer Foundry’s Manufacturing Intelligence Systems

Since the early 2000’s, industry research organizations have recognized that data collection on the plant floor and quick access to that data is critical to the success of the business. Integration of process data, operations data and product data to form a more comprehensive picture of the manufacturing process and its performance has become known as Enterprise Manufacturing Intelligence (EMI). An integrated EMI system that links real-time and historical plant data, and presents this information to process owners and their support personnel, enables improved plant performance. Production costs are lowered, asset utilization is improved, process efficiency gains are realized and unnecessary capital expenditures are avoided. This is the first in a series of articles that will describe how Palmer Foundry has mapped out and implemented its manufacturing intelligence systems.

Past Performance Guaranteeing Future Results

Having successfully developed manufacturing intelligence systems in other product–focused industries, Director of Engineering Jim Lagrant knew that Palmer Foundry could benefit from these systems as well. With the advances in industrial Ethernet communication protocols, web-based notification systems, and reduction in hardware cost; Jim felt that the timing was right, and probability of success was high, for the typically traditional foundry industry to commit to this modernization. Once the critical process and product parameters were identified, the scope of the work was first defined, and then broken into a multi-year, multi-phased project that would ensure quick results and control cash flow.

Monitoring the Process

The no-bake foundry’s project kicked off early in 2012 with the installation of a process control Ethernet network on the plant floor. Communication adapters were added to programmable logic controllers (PLCs) in existing equipment, which allowed them to be connected to the process control network. New hardware was added to equipment that either did not have PLC control, or did not have the correct communication protocol. The process data gathered by the hardware is connected to a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) PLC. The SCADA PLC then re-distributes the data to human machine interface (HMI) terminals on the plant floor, which allows operators to view their processes systemically and interactively (#1 below). The SCADA PLC also sends the data to a process data historian located in the office server room. The data historian both logs the data for future use, and provides real-time data for process analysis and troubleshooting (#2 below).

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1: Pouring Ladle HMI

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2: Pouring Ladle Data from Process Data Historian

Automated Statistical Analysis

In addition to the process control network, the office network was also expanded onto the plant floor. This expansion allowed for the installation of thin client terminals for operators to interact with the ERP system, as well as to provide an interface for the collection of operations and product data. Up to this point, the foundry had identified the critical characteristics of its raw material, process and product. There were also disparate systems in place to collect and record the data. However, the data was often difficult to access, and there was no unified method to summarize and compile the data into actionable information. In addition to coordinating the installation of the plant infrastructure, Jim also investigated ways to improve the flow of raw material and product data to the process owners. Working with global SPC software providers, Jim was able to identify a suite of products that would interface with the Foundry’s multiple databases, scan these databases for new data points, automatically chart these new data on control charts, and automatically notify process owners of out-of-control or out-of-specification processes, products or raw materials.

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3: Process Owner Dashboard and Control Chart for In-Process Melt Chemistry

Check back for future articles that will delve deeper into the nuts and bolts of how Palmer Foundry implemented these systems, and how they are used to make decisions, take action, and verify the results.

 


Palmer Foundry Launches Highly Ductile Aluminum Alloy

Palmer, MA, USA — Palmer Foundry, the leader in providing dimensionally stable and vacuum tight aluminum castings for complex applications, has just announced the launch of a new highly ductile aluminum alloy called HyDuct5.

This alloy is perfect for applications where high ductility is required.  Compared to the widely known 356-T6 and 356-T51 alloys, HyDuct5 has a higher ultimate tensile strength of 35,000 versus 33,000 and 25,000 respectively; and an elongation value of 9% versus 3% and 2% respectively.  At the same time, Hyduct5 is highly machinable and stable.

Other benefits of HyDuct5 include corrosion resistance and excellent anodization properties.  This specially developed alloy provides significant design flexibility and high performance without high material costs.

HyDuct5 is added to Palmer Foundry’s suite of specially developed alloys which also includes the proprietary Vapore 6 and Stable-Cast® series.  “An important part of our business model is that we are constantly finding ways to enhance our aluminum casting technologies,” said Bob Logan, President of Palmer Foundry.  “We’ve developed a reputation of being able to solve complex engineering challenges, and we’re pretty excited about that.  We think HyDuct5 will be an excellent alloy for applications in the medical equipment industry, the marine industry and for really any part in which cosmetic quality is important.”

Based in Palmer, Massachusetts in the United States, Palmer Foundry produces vacuum-tight and dimensionally stable aluminum castings for countless industrial applications with demanding specifications.  In addition to creating the VaPore®, Stable-Cast® and now HyDuct5 alloys, the company has been noted for its state-of-the-art inspection technology, leading edge cooling and dehumidification system and extensive recycling program.  Thousands of Palmer Foundry aluminum castings are in service

worldwide for critical high vacuum applications with a spotless record of no field failures due to casting defects or vacuum leaks. The company operates with 70 employees, in a 60,000 square foot complex on a 9 acre campus.