Nine Westomat dosing furnaces from StrikoWestofen underpin die-casting operations at Lenaal’s industrial aluminum and zinc parts manufacturing facility in Radom, Poland. The plant installed its first furnace in 2007.

When the company decided to evaluate how future investments could be maximized, Lenaal (the company) had the perfect opportunity to gauge current levels of efficiency and explore whether it would be better to switch to pump-based dosing technology.

A pump-based dosing furnace was installed at the foundry for real-life assessment against the Westomat (the furnace). The evaluations determined that they should stay the course, and they replaced the pump-based dosing furnace with a new Westomat to meet current needs and achieve future goals.

 

Spotlight on Reliability

The company’s die-casting machines are rarely at a standstill. With the foundry running a three-shift system to cast parts for the automotive and construction industries, each die-casting machine has an output of roughly 250 kg/hour.

With live operations, genuine demands and actual customer orders to be fulfilled, all dosing technologies met the same conditions and faced the same challenges. Company experts rated the dosing equipment based on system stability, melt quality and process reliability. Metal quality was of particular importance because it directly impacts product quality and scrap rate. Observations of live operations proved the technology to be the superior candidate for dosing reliability and metal quality.

 

On a Global Mission: Life as a Service Technician

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In the following interview, service technician Anja Rögl-Brunner discusses customer challenges and working all over the world. Her work ranges from the commissioning and maintenance of StrikoWestofen’s furnace technology to equipment emergencies.

 

Q   Ms. Rögl-Brunner, you have been with StrikoWestofen since February 2017. How did that come about?

 A:   I have always been interested in technical things. When I started my career, I began specializing in furnace technology. And because I wanted to be at the very cutting edge of it and work for the market leader, StrikoWestofen attracted me immediately. The brand represents the very latest state-of-the-art in furnace technology for the global light-metal casting industry. I wanted to work alongside technical experts who pursue holistic solutions – from melting and dosing through to heat treatment.

 

Q  What do you do as a service technician?

 A: I mainly look after the commissioning, maintenance and inspection of our furnace systems. I do appraisals too. Just recently, I analyzed three Westomat dosing furnaces for a customer in Austria with a view to identifying potential savings. The furnaces had been fitted with third-party spare parts. Following analysis and technical discussion with the customer and colleagues, we decided to renew the fireproof material and bring the system up to date using original spare parts. As a result, energy use of the furnaces was reduced significantly, while dosing accuracy was improved at the same time. That’s an example of how we can show customers that investments in their existing systems can be worthwhile.

 

Q  Commissioning can be planned well in advance. Equipment breakdowns on the other hand happen without warning. How do you deal with those?

 A: Foundries can rely on us around the clock. Our hotline is available 24/7. Whenever we’re needed, we’re there. As part of the Norican Group, we can now tap into an even larger global service network.

 

Q  Your systems are installed all over the world. Where has your work taken you so far?

 A: In the last few months, I have supported customers in Germany, Austria, Italy, Hungary and Slovakia. I’ve also been to Mexico and Turkey.

 

Q  That’s a lot of travelling! What’s it like for you to be away on business so often?

 A: I like travelling, and discovering new places all the time excites me. As service technicians, we meet customers in person through our work on site. So we are also ambassadors for the brand. It’s a tall order, but also true: For staff at customer foundries, we provide a face to the StrikoWestofen name.

 

You’ve seen the inside of a lot of different foundries. Have you noticed anything in terms of working conditions?

 A: On the whole, I see a trend toward health and safety as well as greater environmental awareness. The so-called “hot hell” is fast becoming a thing of the past. There is an increasing emphasis on safe, clean and ergonomic working environments – and on sustainability. However, it goes without saying that there are still great differences between foundries, especially between newly built and older facilities.

 

Q  To end on a more personal question: Foundries are still populated mainly by men. Does the fact that you are a woman in a male environment ever come up?

 A: It’s true that women still are quite a rare sight in our industry. Some customers are surprised to see a female technician. Sometimes they bring it up directly, but always in a positive way. A customer once said to me that he knew there were a lot of good female technicians and engineers out there, and he would be delighted to welcome more female colleagues to the industry. They just have to go for it, he said – and I agree with him. For my part, I have always felt welcomed and accepted.

 

Theodoor van der Hoeven, head of research and development at StrikoWestofen, said, “When liquid aluminum meets air, oxides are formed, making it important not to rupture the protective oxide layer on the surface of the melt during dosing. So for systemic reasons, the Westomat removes melt from below the surface of the bath. In a dosing pump system by contrast, the liquid metal flows over an edge into the pump and is exposed to the atmosphere again. A transfer process into a pump is not necessary with the Westomat.”

 

One Chamber, Numerous Advantages

Heating efficiency was a critical measure in the company’s performance analysis. Process observations highlighted that the metal heating elements used in furnaces with pump systems are susceptible to damage from splashes of molten metal, whereas the three SiC heating rods used in Westomat dosing furnaces are extremely robust.

Cleaning and maintenance are also huge day-to-day challenges of many foundries. On all fronts, the furnace’s simple one-chamber structure simplifies these challenges. The design means the furnace has no pump inlet valve that meets liquid metal. As well as reducing machine wear, this means it is not necessary to clean additional chambers or pump pots, while all areas are easy to access.

“Minimal maintenance requirements, low wear and tried-and-tested components give machines a 98% availability rate,” van der Hoeven said.  “Plus, if you compare the cleaning requirements for dosing pump and riser tube, the downtime for the furnace is considerably lower at around 0.043% compared with 0.7% for the dosing pump system.”

The furnace’s one-chamber system also allows temperature differences to be virtually ruled out, which was an advantage to the company. On the flipside, differences of 1-10 degrees can occur in an additional pump pot. These temperature variations affect the flow characteristics of the melt, impacting dosing precision and the filling of the mold.

Tomasz Marcela, process engineer at Lenaal, added, “As part of our efforts to test, refine and optimize our processes, we tested technologies with a pump system, but the Westomat is the best solution for us. The dosing precision and the lower fluctuations when starting up after the complete cleaning of the furnace were very convincing for us. These properties allow the scrap rate to be reduced too.”

 

Technical Support

When comparing the dosing furnaces, the company was not only interested in technology and performance but also in the support services. StrikoWestofen’s repair and maintenance packages and rapid spare-parts supply provided a great deal of additional assurance.

Marcela concluded, “Not only does Westomat deliver on technology and reliability, the knowledgeable technicians (see sidebar) at StrikoWestofen run a service so efficient that we can plan our maintenance to minimize downtime, which leaves us free to focus on delivering quality parts to our customers.”


For more information:  Contact StrikoWestofen Group, Katharina Seidler; tel.: +49 (0)22 61 – 70 91 108; e-mail: katharina.seidler@noricangroup.com; or Sina Kasper, dako pr corporate communications; tel.: +49 (0)2 14–20 69 1-0; e-mail: s.kasper@dako-pr.de.