All competences in one company
The perceptible objective of car manufacturers and OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) was to reduce costs, and thus keep their tightest core competences for themselves. This means that they mostly deal with pre-development, assembly and parts manufacturing demanding highly specialized competences. After the development of vehicle concepts they require proper component manufacturing and alignment technology from the suppliers. In order to fulfil these, developers need to build manufacturing base sites, or to answer customers’ demands relying on external resources.
Certain elements of the supply chain, such as FÉMALK (Metal Foundry and Parts Manufacturing Plc.) were faced with this ever stronger requirement, so they had to expand their range of services in order to stabilize their position in the supply chain. Naturally, there are additional requirements for staying in the supply chain, for instance, the quality or cost-effectiveness of the primary activities are primary needs. If a manufacture or a foundry is not capable of continuous development or of handling the manufacturing process at higher and higher levels, it will not be able to offer competitive added value to its customers, therefore it will be removed from the list of suppliers. Nowadays car manufacturers are moving towards “greener” and cheaper cars. They partly aim at weight reduction, replacing steel components with parts made of aluminum or polymer materials, and the functionality needed is achieved by an integrated component with complex structure. Perhaps casting is the most effective production technology for components. FÉMALK Plc. and its predecessor have already been automotive suppliers in the field of pressure aluminum casts for more than 25 years. One reason for the company’s success and spectacular development is the group of product development engineers working at the company, whose main tasks are the development of correct manufacturing schemes satisfying customer requirements and the testing of the static and dynamic finished parts. Today, more than 90% of the company’s customer base consists of buyers who largely depend on the developer’s services, or even require them. However, development alone is not sufficient for the company’s successful advancement, as the latter can only be guaranteed by a daily progress of all the tool design and manufacturing, technology and manufacturing, and even the manufacturing development. The listed areas jointly provide everything what the vehicle companies and OEMs can expect from a foundry.
In the first step, the development department, together with the technology, production and tool shop representatives, will examine the feasibility of the part and will set up the directives for the production preparation steps, as well as the requirements for the geometric design of products (parting, location of the sliders, drafting, etc.). If the customer accepts the prepared quote based on the above mentioned criteria, the development work begins. This can be directly the die-cast design, or for some customers prototype sand casting. However, sand cast design cannot deviate from die-cast design. The design principle is that the product in its prototype sand casting phase will be developed keeping in mind the characteristics and requirements of die casting. That results in saving time and money for the customer, and in significant competitive advantage for FÉMALK. Thus, one step is skipped in the process of achieving the final serial casting, i.e. the re-design from sand-casting phase to die-casting.
Strength, dynamic calculations (FEM), and flow simulations are made during the development, and respectively solidification simulations are performed. Based on the evaluated results of these simulations, geometry is continuously changing until the boundary conditions are met. The 3D models are prepared with Pro/E, Catia or NX software packages. For static structural and dynamic FE analysis we use Catia GPS and ANSYS software, while for filling and solidification simulations we utilize the NovaFlow&Solid program.
After the customer’s approval of the casting geometry the prototype plans are passed to the tool design or to the supplier making the sand-casting. The finished pieces are subject to different tests (static fracture, fatigue, crack, porosity evaluation, etc.). The tests are run in parallel by FÉMALK and the customer, and if everything is correct, the process ends with the final approval of the geometry and with placing the order of the tool development needed for serial casting. Our foundry is currently engaged in serial production on 30 casting machines (the casts typically range from 30 g to 3500 g).
Nevertheless, our development work aims to more than designing light, adequately solid and economically castable products in our facilities. Trust is of utmost importance when a car manufacturer entrusts its supplier with the creation of products. Trust is very difficult to obtain, but more than easy to lose. Obtaining and retaining it can be a real challenge. That involves providing permanently high quality in all areas (production, technology, tool design, logistics, development, etc.), as well as developing and nurturing partnerships on a daily basis. Based on customer feedback, we can say that those suppliers are considered good partners who openly declare their expertise or constructive criticism in relation to a product or process, and they are preferred to those who try to satisfy all customer requests without thinking. The competition is growing among car manufacturers. Manufacturers come up with new car designs year after year and face increasing expectations related to weight reduction and aluminum casting issues. For this reason, continuous learning and improvement, as well as state-of-the-art practical knowledge concerning the developing areas are essential. There are a number of on-going non-development related experiments at the FÉMALK development department (chemical composition, heat treatment, mechanical properties) that enhance a deeper knowledge of materials serving the production of casts of quality with lower mass and increased solidity in the future.
The success of FÉMALK is shown by the facts that it is a direct supplier of BMW, Volkswagen and Porsche car manufactures, and almost all European cars contain casts with FÉMALK logo. Nearly 30 components were developed and tested by us for BMW, the introduction of these product series is taking place at the moment, and almost 42 million casts left the factory in 2013. The opening of a new depot in Dunavarsány (Hungary) on July 15, 2014 – when the company celebrated its 25th anniversary – makes possible further development, as it allows eventually to triple our current capacity.•