Despite increased foreign competition, the metal casting industry expects modest growth to continue.
- Sales of metal castings are expected to grow 14% over the next three years from $33 billion in 2005 to $37.7 billion in 2008.
- Light metals are expected to continue replacing iron and steel castings in transportation applications.
investment casting,investment castings , Metal Castings
The U.S. metalcasting industry has undergone dramatic changes during the past 20 years. While much of it has been market and technology driven, government-mandated regulations have produced equally significant shifts in casting production. Most recently, the rapid and continuing consolidation of both foundries and the major markets that metalcasting serves has changed the structure of the industry.
The number of operating foundries have declined from a high of 6150 plants in 1955 to less than 3000 today. Of those 2900 foundries operating today, 1900 are nonferrous operations, with the rest comprised of iron and steel plants. Most American foundries remain small businesses, as 80% of all operating plants employ less than 100 people and only 6% employ more than 250 people.
China is one of the first countries to develop metallurgical and casting techniques. A bronze sword, unearthed in the northwestern province of Gansu, was produced 4800 years ago and is believed to be the earliest Chinese bronze casting. The earliest iron casting was discovered in the Jiangsu and Hunan provinces and dates back to 600 BC.
Despite this long history, significant advancement of foundry production and technology was not seen till the last part of the 20th century. During this period, casting output rose from less than 10,000 tons/year to 11 million tons today. China is now producing automotive engine castings in aluminum and gray iron, turbo engine blades by the investment casting process and spun ductile iron pipe.
The number of foundries in China is estimated to be 12,000 (although it is difficult to give a precise estimate because many small shops have opened up since the government announcement of the reform and open policy). The largest geographic distribution of foundries in China places 35% in the eastern (Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shandong, Anhui, Jiangxi, Fujian), 22% in the mid-southern (Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Guandong, Guangxi, Hainan) and 17% in the northern (Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Neimenggu) provinces. The greater concentration in the eastern region is because this is the leading area in the development of modern industry and agriculture.
The combined European foundry industry is the third largest producer of ferrous castings worldwide and ranks second in nonferrous casting production. Currently, the total volume of iron and steel castings produced by the foundries in the CAEF member states is 11 million tons/year . Production is dominated by Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain, which share 76% of the total output in Europe.
In terms of ferrous casting, the market is dominated by gray iron with a 50% share. In recent years, according to Urbat, competition among ferrous casting materials has led to a marked increase in the market share of ductile iron castings (an average of 35% across all nations) in Europe. In the short term the market share of ductile iron will level off between 40-45%.
At present, between 40-80% of the total output of iron castings are absorbed by both the motor vehicle and mechanical engineering industries. In the case of ductile iron castings, this proportion may rise to 90% or more, said Urbat. The proportion of gray iron castings used in motor vehicle production is highest in Germany, France and the Netherlands where it exceeds 50%. With regard to ductile iron castings, the share of castings produced for the motor vehicle industry is highest in Portugal (68%) and Hungary (73%).
The mechanical engineering industry claims the lion's share of more than 70% of the total weight of gray iron castings produced in Finland. The remaining producer countries are bunched fairly close together, with output shares ranging between 25-40%.