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Foundry Industry Job Descriptions, Careers in the Foundry Industry, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Industry, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Pots and pans, bathtubs, and automobile engine blocks are among the many kinds of products made by casting metals in foundries. There are several methods of shaping metals. The method used depends on the kind of metal and the intended use of the finished product. Casting is a relatively simple and inexpensive method that can produce intricate shapes and that can be easily adapted to the techniques of mass production. Metal is cast by heating it until it is a liquid and then pouring it into a specially prepared mold. As the metal cools, it becomes solid and takes on the shape of the mold.

Many workers in this industry are employed by independent foundries that make and sell castings to other manufacturing companies. Manufacturing companies that make finished products also employ foundry workers. For example, automobile manufacturers have their own foundries that make engine blocks, crankshafts, and other parts for motor vehicles.

The leading foundry states have traditionally been in the Great Lakes region; however, the industry is declining rapidly in the United States as foundry operations move to countries with lower labor costs. According to the American Foundry Society, in 2004 there were approximately 2,400 foundries, down from more than 6,000 fifty years earlier.

There are several ways to cast metal. The most popular method is sand molding. Workers using this method pack a special sand around a pattern in a box called a flask. The flask is usually made in two parts—one for each half of the finished product. The pattern is removed, and molten metal is poured into the hollow made by the pattern in the sand. The hardened metal is removed once it has cooled. If the product is made in two parts, they are joined together using special pins and bushings. Other methods of casting use metal or ceramic molds or shells made of sand and resin. Sometimes metal is cast using dies or by spinning it at high speeds.

Foundry workers often work for independent foundries that make steel metal castings for other manufacturing companies to use in their machinery or products. (© Ed Wheeler/Corbis.)

Several kinds of foundry workers are involved in the casting process. Once a casting has been designed and a blueprint has been drawn up, highly skilled patternmakers prepare a wood or metal pattern in the exact shape of the casting. Most patternmakers prepare metal patterns using a variety of hand tools and metalworking machines. A few patterns are still made from wood. Wood patternmakers use hand and machine tools, glue, screws, and nails.

Next, sand mixers prepare special sand, which pattern molders pack around the pattern to make a mold. Machine molders or hand molders pack the sand. Bench molders are hand molders who make molds for small castings. Floor molders are hand molders who make molds for large, bulky castings. Molders form the largest group of workers in the foundry industry.

Coremakers fill patterns with sand to make cores. Cores are solid forms that shape the hollow inside metal castings. Like molders, coremakers work either by hand or with machinery. Coremakers who work by hand may be known as bench coremakers or floor coremakers, depending on the size of the cores that they make. More and more cores are being made by machine. Operators of these machines are known as machine coremakers. Most cores are baked in ovens by core oven tenders. Baking hardens and strengthens the sand cores. The cores are then placed in molds by the molders or by workers called core setters. Furnace operators control furnaces that heat and melt the metal that is to be cast. Pourers regulate the flow of the metal into the sand molds.

Once the metal has cooled into solid castings, shakeout workers take the castings out of the sand. The rough castings are sent to the cleaning and finishing department. Workers use several different processes to clean and smooth the castings. Shot blasters, or shot blast equipment operators, run machines that blast large castings with a mixture of air and metal shot or grit. Tumbler operators place smaller castings in revolving barrels with sand or a similar rough material. Chippers and grinders use hand tools and power chisels, files, and saws to remove excess metal and finish the castings. Many castings are also heat-treated to give them strength. Workers known as heat treaters, or annealers, run the furnaces in which the castings are heated. Finally, the castings are checked by casting inspectors, who make sure they meet the foundry's standards. Sometimes inspectors x-ray the metal castings to check for defects.

Foundries employ many other workers including machinists, maintenance mechanics, millwrights, crane operators, and machine tool operators. In addition, foundries employ unskilled laborers, building custodians, office workers, and administrators. Professional and technical workers employed in foundries include engineers, metallurgists, and metallurgical technicians.

Education and Training Requirements

The training required for a career in the foundry industry depends on the kind of job you want. Many skilled foundry jobs require a high school education before you can start the training program needed to learn the trade. Patternmakers, hand molders, and hand coremakers are among the most skilled foundry workers. They often learn their trade in formal apprenticeship programs that take about four years to complete. These programs combine on-the-job training with formal classroom instruction. Sometimes workers learn these skilled trades informally on the job instead of through a formal apprenticeship program. You can also get training at trade schools. Some foundries have training sessions to help workers upgrade their skills.

Some less-skilled jobs such as those of machine coremakers and machine molders can be learned in shorter apprenticeship programs or in a few months of onthe-job training. Many workers start in unskilled jobs, such as laborers or helpers, and learn more skilled work, such as chipping or grinding, on the job. These jobs usually do not have any specific education requirements. Professional employees usually need four years of college. Technicians must usually have two years of formal training beyond high school.

Getting the Job

The best way to get a job in the foundry industry is by applying directly to foundries or to manufacturing plants that have their own foundries. You can contact local unions or foundries for information about getting into an apprenticeship program. Your state employment office may be able to help you find a job. Sometimes foundries place want ads in newspapers. If you attend an engineering or trade school, the school may be able to give you information about getting a job in a foundry.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Workers in the foundry industry can advance within their trade, sometimes becoming supervisors of other workers; however, the employment outlook for foundry workers is poor through 2014. Even though a growing demand for metal castings is expected, the number of workers needed is anticipated to be reduced by more efficient production methods and the outsourcing of work to other countries. Openings for patternmakers, hand molders, and hand coremakers should occur primarily to replace workers who leave the field.

Working Conditions

Working conditions vary depending on the job and on the specific foundry. Some plants are hot and dusty, while others have up-to-date air conditioning or ventilating systems. Foundries can be dangerous places in which to work. Workers have to be especially careful to avoid burns, cuts, and bruises. They are expected to follow strict safety precautions and wear special clothing such as metal-plated shoes. Patternmakers generally work in quiet, well-lit areas away from the foundry floor. The workweek is usually forty hours long. In foundries that operate around the clock, workers have to work in shifts. In addition, some employees work on weekends. At times, overtime may be required. Most production and maintenance workers in the foundry industry belong to unions.

Where to Go for More Information

American Foundry Society
1695 N. Penny Lane
Schaumburg, IL 60173-4555
(800) 537-4237

Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics, and Allied Workers International Union
608 E. Baltimore Pike
Media, PA 19063-0607
(610) 565-5051

North American Die Casting Association
241 Holbrook Dr.
Wheeling, IL 60090-5809
(847) 279-0001

Earnings and Benefits

Wages depend on the experience of the worker, the location, and the kind of job. Benefits often include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesManufacturing & Production