Casting about for the Proper Balance
Mixing the old and the new, the tried and the true, a small-town Texas foundry has learned how to deal with the ups and downs that come with living in the Oil Patch.
In the heart of Limestone County, 40 miles northeast of Waco and just about midway between I-35 to the west and I-45 to the east, sits Coolidge, TX. This classic American small town is home to another classic, Frazier & Frazier Industries (F&F), a ductile and gray iron foundry established in 1972 by C.W. Frazier as a traditional cope-and-drag sand casting operation with two squeezers and run today by Plant Manager Will Frazier. An ISO 9002 Certified process operation, F&F combines the best of the old ways with the newest casting technologies and equipment in the market. As Will Frazier pointed out, “This is one of the biggest reasons we’ve continued to prosper, while so many other foundries have disappeared. We recognize what works and what doesn’t, to best suit our current business and market conditions.”
Once a heavy production shop, F&F today continues to support their large batch customers, but has reshaped the business model in many ways, according to Frazier. “We have traditionally worked in pieces from a few ounces up to 150 lb [67 kg] or more. The large runs were more typical in days past, while we saw a new business environment emerging several years ago, when the market began to decline overall.”
He explained how many of the company’s traditional customers began to reduce their inventories and thus placed shorter run orders with much tighter lead times. In something of a “perfect storm” scenario, this combination of increased job numbers and more urgent shipping requirements literally changed the pace of business at F&F. Frazier noted, “It’s not unusual for us to come in on a Sunday to finish a job for a customer who really needs it … and we rarely charge a premium, because we know how tough things are for most of our accounts.”
Diversification Balances the Workload
This being Texas and the Oil Patch, oil & gas market applications are prominent here, as they are at most foundries in the region. Another energy sector, wind energy, is also on the F&F client list. In addition, F&F currently sells to end-product manufacturers for the automotive, agricultural, municipal water works and other market segments.
This strategy has helped to maintain a better balance in this shop’s workload, given the notoriously cyclical nature of the petroleum business. With its own sales force plus several manufacturers’ rep organizations in the field, Frazier & Frazier boasts customers in a wide variety of markets and as far away as Indiana, a relatively rare achievement in the foundry business, especially when larger, heavier workpieces are involved.
With over 8000 patterns in-house, F&F today experiences as many as 15 pattern changes per day per machine on the floor. At first this further complicated the job scheduling and work flow. Will Frazier and his team of Bob Pranger, general manager, and Harlon Easton, vice president of sales, quickly saw the need for more automation in the machinery lineup.
F&F still does hand-rammed oil and air set cores, but over the years they’ve acquired automatic core-setting equipment, as well as automated molding machines, including the most recent purchase, a Hunter XL2024 automatic matchplate molding machine, which is used with the already in-place Hunter mold-handling turntable system at F&F. Other molding machines are also used with this mold-handling turntable system. Three melting units feed the certified chemically-correct iron to the molding stations.
Currently, this shop does approximately 70% of its work in ASTM Class 60-100 ductile and 30% in Class 15-50 gray iron.
Founded in 1964, Hunter Automated Machinery (Schaumburg, IL) operates in more than 30 countries, providing sand preparation and testing and linear mold-handling systems in addition to the aforementioned turntable mold-handling systems and matchplate mold-handling systems.
The XL2024 is a fully automated matchplate molding system, using gravity-fill technology pioneered by Hunter. It produces sand molds up to 20 × 24" (508 × 610 mm) with shallow 6½" (165-mm) cope and 5½" (140-mm) drag at 180 cycles per hour, using 400 lb (181 kg) of sand. Variable squeeze surface pressures to 142 psi (10 kg/cm2) can be achieved in production.
Establishing Key Criteria
This latest Hunter machine continued the tradition of leading-edge sand casting technology used at Frazier & Frazier. Although several generations of Hunter and other brands of machines have been used here, when a new machine was planned, Will Frazier noted there were some key criteria to be met. “We’d been having critical problems with another machine builder getting parts and service,” he said. “We always knew the Hunter folks were excellent in those areas based on past experience, plus they were willing to provide considerable application engineering assistance and setup help with the new machine. Coupling that with their stability as a company and great reputation in the world foundry market, we looked at all our options and settled on the XL2024.”
Frazier further cites his long relationship with Hunter’s Mike Hughes as a factor. “Mike came down here several times,” he said, “to help us and, since the machine has been up and running, he’s stayed in close touch with us, even though we’ve had no performance issues with the machine.”
Will Frazier also pointed out that, currently, more than 20% of the orders at F&F are rush and the quick changeover time of the Hunter machine makes it a highly productive piece of equipment and a definable competitive advantage for his shop in the marketplace.
Frazier & Frazier draws further advantages by providing its customers not only with metal castings but also CNC machining, heat treating grinding, cleaning and galvanizing services, when needed. The shop has a fully equipped quality-inspection department, highlighted by CMM and other state-of-the-art lab apparatus.
Edited by Yearbook Editor James D. Sawyer from information provided by Hunter Automated Machinery.
This article is a digital exclusive feature for the 2013 edition of the Energy Manufacturing Yearbook. Click here for PDF.