Interviews with our people
Sustainable. But what is sustainable?
Interview with Alexander Laugier-Werth, Vice President of Sustainability at Vesuvius
If there was one message that came through at GIFA 2023, it was the importance of sustainability. But what does a sustainable foundry industry mean in practice? Alexander Laugier-Werth, Vice President of Sustainability at Foseco, took time out at the show to share his view.
When most people talk about sustainability, they are thinking about the environment, often specifically about the need to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. And there is no doubt that this is the major challenge facing the foundry industry. “Macroscopically and over the long term, there is a deep transformation occurring in society toward decarbonisation,” said Laugier-Werth. “In coming years, this process will increase and mature, having a profound impact on all sectors of the economy.”
This poses a two-pronged challenge for foundries. The first is to decarbonise their own operations. The second is to adapt to changes in demand for its products. “We’ve seen it already with the growth in renewable energy,” continued Laugier-Werth. “We’re now seeing it with e-mobility and the massive impact this is having on the auto industry. These changes will cause demand for certain types of castings to fade, while new types of castings will emerge. Casting processes will thus have to evolve to adapt to the demands of this new world.”
The greenest company in the world
“The good news is that, in the foundry industry, many of these challenges are linked,” explained Laugier-Werth. And this is where Foseco takes the field. The company’s range of products and services may be large but look through them and you will find a company that, at its heart, is focused on helping foundries reduce inefficiency, improve quality, and meet the changing demands of their customers.
“What do we do?” asked Laugier-Werth. “Fundamentally, we provide solutions that reduce waste in a highly energy-intensive process. This could be by reducing heat loss when melting and holding metal. It could be by reducing scrap and re-work through solutions that improve casting quality. But the end result is a more efficient process, and thus a more environmentally sustainable process.”
Look at it like this and “our job is to reduce CO2 emissions in one of the world’s most energy-intensive industries,” concluded Laugier-Werth.
More than just carbon emissions
Sustainability goes beyond environmental concern, however. At Foseco parent company, Vesuvius, two of four strategic sustainability priorities relate to CO2 emissions: the other two focus on social sustainability.
One of these is to become a zero-accident company. “We strive to be best in class from a safety standpoint at our own manufacturing facilities. But we are also eager to share our knowledge and practices with our customers,” said Laugier-Werth. “When it comes to health and safety, we believe we all benefit from openness and partnership and are glad to use our own experiences to support foundries improve their own safety practices.”
The fourth priority relates to gender diversity in the workforce, particularly at senior leadership level. “The industry is facing a chronic shortage of skills, yet because we remain a predominantly male industry, we are effectively missing out on at least 50% of the labour force. That’s a not something we can afford to do. Workforce diversity thus has very real benefits when it comes to the success of a business and an industry.”
What does the future hold?
Many of these ideas were on display at the Foseco stand at GIFA, which was designed around three key themes: sustainability, innovation and technology, and partnership and knowledge. “This is the single best opportunity for us to engage with our customers on these different topics,” noted Laugier-Werth. “We have the right people here to have the right conversations. It is thus the ideal place to discuss ideas and solutions to the macro challenges we all face.”
And when it comes to looking ahead? Laugier-Werth is succinct: “It’s a simple vision of an industry enabled to deliver better quality products, cheaply, and with zero accidents and carbon emissions. That’s the industry we are working toward at Foseco; and it’s an industry I’m excited to help build.”
Innovation and partnership: the foundations for 90 years of success
Interview with Rob Welland Vice President of Marketing and Technology at Foseco
Foseco was founded in 1932 as the Foundry Services Company. Since then, it has focused on providing not just products, but services that address the needs of the industry. Over ninety years later, that mission hasn’t changed, as Rob Welland Vice President of Marketing and Technology, Foseco, explained at GIFA 2023.
“If you look at the foundry industry today, there are some very clear challenges around input costs, around the availability of labour, and around sustainability,” began Welland. “These are all areas where foundries are looking for solutions – and where Foseco can bring value. Our business model is founded on innovation and finding solutions, whether that means new products, technologies, systems, or applications, or a combination of all of those.”
Underlining its importance for the company, innovation was one of three key themes of the Foseco stand at GIFA. The company brought 51 exhibits, of which 29 were new products launched at the tradeshow. 11 of these new products also related to sustainability, another key theme of the stand. “Our focus has always been on bringing products and services to foundries that solve their problems,” added Welland. “Our stand at GIFA demonstrated that we are still on that mission, delivering the services the foundry needs to succeed in 2023.”
Collaboration is crucial
This approach has led Foseco to a leading place among casting consumable suppliers. But the company is not content to rest on its laurels. “The continuing success of our customers is our priority,” said Welland. ““We understand that our market position is a privilege not a right. If we don’t continue to provide the solutions and services our customers need, they will go elsewhere, so we continually invest heavily in R&D and innovation.”
This customer-centric approach also places significant emphasis on partnership: the final key theme of the Foseco stand, which featured 37 customer case studies. These tell the story of how Foseco works with its foundry customers to innovate solutions that meet specific needs and challenges. Innovations such as the new SEMCO range of water-based coatings.
“There is a trend within the industry to move away from solvent-based coatings for health and safety and environmental reasons,” explained Welland. “But water-based coatings come with their own challenges: they take longer to dry and need drying in an oven; this impacts mould shop productivity and increases energy consumption. They are also prone to microbial attack, which impacts their efficacy, and so many will contain formaldehyde as a biocide. But formaldehyde is itself hazardous.”
The new SEMCO coatings address these issues with a range of features:
- SEMCO FD is a fast drying formulation that reduces oven drying times by 50%.
- SEMCO CC coatings change colour when dry to help avoid over-drying and improve mould shop efficiency.
- SEMCO FF is formulated to eliminate coating-related formaldehyde emissions.
“The end result is a coating that that reduces energy consumption, optimises drying times, improves core and casting performance – and thus supported the transition from solvent-based to water-based coating solutions,” concluded Welland. “Importantly, these coatings are the direct result of us listening to our customers’ needs and tailoring our innovation to meet them. This was but one example of such collaboration on display at GIFA.”
Into the future
It’s fair to say that a lot happened between the last GIFA in 2019 and this year’s event, much of which was almost impossible to predict. But Welland ended the interview by gazing into his crystal ball to GIFA 2027.
“In four years, I would expect electrification in the transport sector will have developed to such a large extent that foundries now casting parts for internal combustion engines will have had to diversify and reinvent themselves,” Welland said. “With that, I would expect a much stronger position for aluminium casting and HPDC processes, which will gain market share from ferrous applications and sand- and gravity-casting processes.”
And as you might expect, Foseco is already preparing for this shift, showcasing a new type of sand core for HPDC applications that uses a WASCO water-soluble binder system, with adaptable coatings to avoid liquid metal penetration. “This novel system has already demonstrated strong potential to meet a wide range of customer requirements in HPDC processes, with high strength values, easy removal of core residues, and high flexibility in the use of additives. It also uses cost-effective materials and standard hot box manufacturing techniques,” explained Welland.
“New technologies and societal shifts – particularly on the sustainability side with decarbonisation and circularity, and digitalisation – will also generate new opportunities and challenges for metal casters,” continued Welland. “This will require new product development from us, as a supplier of consumables, but also the development of new application knowledge, skills, and expertise. There’s no doubt it will raise challenges. But as we have done for over 90 years, I’m confident we will stay true to our original mission and provide the services and solutions our customers need to succeed.”