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Cast Products, Inc.
Award-Winning Illinois Company Casts a Successful Glow with Design Innovation and High-Tech Production
In the heart of the Midwest, Cast Products, Inc., has six international design awards, 28 four-slide die cast machines, and the production and price power it takes to keep customers from being lured overseas
With nearly 50 years of experience as a producer of zinc die castings, Cast Products, Inc. (CPI), has developed into a company that prides itself on working closely with clients from the beginning stages while creating its own dies and investing in the latest four-slide technology. The result has been high-quality, innovative products, and a low-cost advantage for customers, including those who have had bad experiences overseas.
The four-slide Techmire equipment used by Cast Products lends itself to highly-precise, net-shape parts with thin walls, spiral threads, through holes, fins, and pockets. In addition, wave forms, spheres, lettering, and symbols, as well as etchings of every description and complex geometries, can be produced to a customer's exacting specifications. The company's latest purchase in October was a Techmire 88NTX, the largest die-casting machine offered by Techmire. It reportedly has a dry cycle speed of 2,100 cycles per hour with a "quick change" feature that allows die changeover in as little as 15 minutes. The machine allows for a nominal die size of 8x10 inches, a clamping force of 45 tons, and a shot weight of 23 ounces, and can produce zinc parts under one pound.
Company executives say they purchased their first four-slide die cast machine in 1989 and currently have 28 such machines, demonstrating the company's commitment to investing in new technology. Although the majority of current production utilizes the multi-slide die casting process, Cast Products is equally strong in the manufacture of larger, conventional, hot-chamber die castings.
"Exclusively casting zinc alloys for nearly 50 years has put Cast Products, Inc., at the top of the industry with an award-winning, innovative approach to creating parts using the unique production advantages of four-slide, hot chamber, high-pressure, precision die casting," said vice president of sales and marketing Scott Guttman in an e-mail response. "We are a leader in new techniques of mold making, producing in-die degating and flash-free parts to exacting specifications. Because we can consistently produce precision net-shape parts, it often offers the lowest cost alternative to component selection. We consistently find cost-reducing solutions in the early stages of product design."
Cast Products (www.castproducts.com), based in Norridge, Ill., strives to work with its customers at the earliest stages of design and has won six NADCA (North American Die Casting Association) International Design Awards during the past five years, said management representative Helen Salata, daughter of company co-founder Paul Salata. Entries were judged on design, quality, cost savings, ingenuity, and innovation. The company also was given a magnesium tooling design award from the International Magnesium Association in 2009, as well as numerous safety awards.
In-house Die Making Ensures Quality at Lower Cost
Company president Zoli Salata, Helen's brother, said the company fabricates its own dies to have more control over the quality. "By doing it in-house, we can monitor all of that activity very closely and thereby ensure quality, ensure our on-time delivery, and really offer a much better quality tool," Zoli Salata said. "It means much better quality parts in the end. If you have a good-quality die—that means in the first-shot run off—you have a much better shot of being successful on your first go-around when you're sampling."
The company maintains their dies over the life of a project and offers a "one million shot guarantee" because of their confidence in the design and quality of their tool, said Helen Salata.
"A common reason for customers to seek a new die caster is due to poor quality and poor tool performance, since maintenance of that tool is a hidden expense. Many casters just fail to do timely maintenance to avoid bad parts," she said. "So Cast Products has a continuous tool maintenance program and we check and refurbish tools after every production run. We accept that tool responsibility and then keep the overall tool maintenance cost as low as possible."
A good quality die the first time around translates to a lower net cost to customers because they're not waiting around for samples or changes to the die because of mistakes or errors, Zoli Salata explained. While the competition is delayed waiting for tool shops to complete a job and working around those shops' schedules, Cast Products is creating its own dies with an in-house machine shop that allows them to offer far better lead times than the competition. Production lead times are also cut because the four-slide process does not require trimming and often eliminates other secondary operations.
The Techmire multiple-slide, hot-chamber die-casting machine has moveable slides, which carry die blocks that have one or more cavities on its face. The molten metal is injected into the complete cavity. A clamping system holds together the mating faces of the die blocks and the injection is made perpendicular directly on the parting line, which eliminates sprue associated with conventional die-casting systems.
Cast Products CEO Ron Paquet said that getting in early on a project, planning ahead of time, and understanding the customers' requirements cuts down on lead time. "We find that if we ask the right questions up front, we can eliminate the surprises and delays later. So that gets the shorter time for tooling," Paquet said. "Many die components are common sometimes from tool to tool, so we pre-build those and that gives us a one-to-two-week jumpstart on any kind of new tooling."
Paquet's father, Adolph "Duffy" Paquet, started the business in 1966 with Paul Salata and William Vichotka, using only two 25-ton casting machines built in a Chicago bungalow basement. The Cast Products team said it's proud to be a second generation company with Zoli Salata and Ron Paquet joining their fathers in 1983 and Helen Salata joining the team in 1995, when the company transitioned its management to the new generation.
Located just 12 miles northwest of Chicago's Loop and 7 miles east of Chicago O'Hare International Airport, Cast Products sees its Midwest location as a benefit to both customers and suppliers because of their central proximity to so many manufacturers. A three-building campus comprising 65,000 sq. ft. of production space is easily accessible from the airport for visits. Visiting the company and viewing the smooth work flow and the two running shifts on the shop floor shows customers that Cast Products runs a high-quality operation, said Ron Paquet.
With 86 employees, Cast Products serves an array of industries, including automotive, biomedical, appliance, construction, computers, electronics, defense, telecommunications and consumer products. Using SolidWorks modeling software, Cast Products engineers can accept 2D or 3D data to design a mold and tooling. Certified mold makers with an average of 25 years of experience begin the process of writing CAM programs for cutter paths; this data is then transferred to the CNC department. Premium tool steel is cut to 0.005 in. and sent out to a certified source for heat-treatment. The heat-treated, hardened blocks are re-squared and hard-cut on the CNC machine to final specification.
A Hands-On Advantage Pays Off
"We will provide parts that meet 'fit, form and function' parameters as directed by the customer, but may arrive at those parts in an unconventional manner," Guttman said in an e-mail response. "Countless years of tooling design geared toward the four-slide, hot-chamber, high-pressure production technology advantages can often provide automatically degated, no-flash, net shape parts of higher quality and lower cost than other alternatives. In-house mold making and tooling development give us a hands-on advantage many other suppliers cannot offer. CPI also maintains a complete machine shop for finishing and secondary operations. We offer complete QA (quality assurance) resources for PPAP (production part approval process) processing and conformance, assuring accurate, consistent parts on-time as promised."
The company prides itself on its design-to-delivery approach, and controlling the whole process is a key to excellence, Zoli Salata explained. "Once the customer contacts us with their casting concept, they will work with a team of experienced experts all under one roof. The hand-off from one discipline to the next happens at Cast Products, so there are no missing pieces. We take responsibility for the whole job, from design to delivery," he said, adding that stocking programs and JIT services are available to meet a customer's delivery needs.
If involved in the early stages of product design, Cast Products can often save a customer both time and money. In one instance, a potential customer complained that their current supplier was not meeting their quality and design requirements. They were a bit skeptical about whether the die-cast process could meet all their needs. After meeting with the customer for two hours, Cast Products shared design ideas and discussed several options that focused on part design strategies and practices. Company leaders said they enhanced the part while saving the customer more than $10,000 by reducing the weight of the part with reduction of excess material, strengthening the part, and allowing for multi-cavity tooling.
"Burned" By Offshoring, Customer Turns To Cast Products
One customer came to Cast Products after learning of the many "pitfalls" of taking work overseas, said Guttman. The customer had 15 months to design and build three complex die castings and received aggressive pricing from an offshore competitor. The customer faced extensive communication and engineering problems that stalled the project with only three months before their deadline. The customer came to Cast Products having to start from scratch and still make their deadline. Cast Products engineers worked side by side with the customer's engineering team to thoroughly review designs. Communication with the production department happened regularly, with the result that the dies and parts were completed on schedule and within budget.
The clarity of communications at a project's conception is essential to keeping projects on-time and on-budget, said Guttman. "Any errors or omissions at this point only grow larger as the process goes on. If there's language or cultural differences that are a hindrance to the process, it makes the relative success of that project much more difficult."
There is an intrinsic value to having been in business since 1966 and being centrally-located in the U.S, Guttman said. But many companies are lured by a low-quoted price, without thinking about broader issues, such as the cost of travel overseas and a break-down in communication that can have devastating effects. Guttman mentioned the frustration that can sometimes be encountered when speaking on a technical level with an English-as-a-second-language design engineer, such as communicating 'in-die degating' in Chinese.
"So we always think, 'Wouldn't it be great if a customer knew ahead of time which of these pitfalls they are going to experience?' because we know they're going to experience some of them, maybe all of them. It's just a question of time before they recognize how costly they are to them. We have customers who have come to us after they've worked overseas, and they start to notice the leak of resources to offshore suppliers as more people are required to pay attention to fix even the most mundane tasks that we take for granted with a domestic supplier."
According to the company, it has had many customers who've turned to them after being "burned" overseas. "And once the customer gets to work with us on the same project where they've experienced so much pain [overseas], we hear comments from people that they're happy to be back with a domestic supplier. It's just so much easier," Guttman said.
Word is spreading, and the lure of offshoring is starting to wane as these hard-learned lessons keep appearing on the news, he added. "We're seeing that trend reversing and finally coming back due to those lessons learned," Guttman said. "The advantages of going overseas are just getting smaller. The U.S. casting suppliers have always had an excellent product—some better than others—and it's taken a lot of time for the customer to recognize those hidden [overseas] costs. And I think that's starting to happen now."
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