Lose a Supplier, Gain a Partner
Tri-Tec Manufacturing is one of the country’s leading FireSeal Ventilation Valve Closure manufacturers, a vital component of the first line of safety for the US Navy’s fleet. They take seriously their mission to provide innovative and affordable solutions for our Nation’s defense.
Losing a vital supplier can be a crisis time. Around three years ago, Tri-Tec’s primary foundry, which cast the parts for FireSeal valves, among other Tri-Tec products, went out of business. Though this change temporarily left Tri-Tec in the rough, their sand patterns for casting valve parts also turned out to be somewhat rough as well. Connecting with Stainless Foundry and Engineering (SF&E) enabled Tri-Tec to fill the supply chain hole and introduced them to a game-changing approach to producing high quality, complex stainless steel castings.
Kicking off this relationship, SF&E needed to pass a head-to-head comparison. Tri-Tec split 40 patterns between two foundries – SF&E and a foundry in the east – to give each a shot. Dividing up the work allowed Tri-Tec to evaluate each foundry in terms of production process, quality, and how they handle pattern changes.
“We found the relationship with Stainless Foundry is very good, along with the excellent communication and their exacting attention to casting quality,” said Kyle Ralph, Quality Engineer for Tri-Tec Manufacturing. “So, when Mitch McCaffery, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, along with SF&E CEO Jim Stachowiak, visited our shop and started talking about the other casting methods to produce more near net shapes with better surface finish, we were really excited.”
A New Relationship Leads to an Improved Process
Given that Tri-Tec was up against the wall on deliveries because of their casting source closing, they appreciated that SF&E took on the work quickly, minimizing delays in fulfilling orders to the Navy and Tri-Tec’s other customers.
“One of the big issues we were facing from the sand castings we got from the previous source was the high level of porosity,” said Caleb Booth, Sr. Buyer, for Tri-Tec Manufacturing.
Upon receiving castings from a foundry supplier, Tri-Tec turns them over to their machine shop for finishing to specification.
“Nothing drives our production team more insane than when they spend hours fixturing parts to prepare them for machining and find they can’t use any of the castings,” Booth said. “At one point we had failure rates as high as 40 percent.”
The defect was happening consistently in the same spot of the valve body, so an immediate need from SF&E was to identify a solution.
FireSeal ventilation valves range in size from 2.5 inches to 36 inches. In investigating the quality issues Tri-Tec was experiencing with the current patterns, SF&E explored a major change that would drastically improve the quality and consistency of the problem parts – a transition to investment casting.
SF&E offers two foundries in one – a sand casting division and an investment casting division. Decades of experience in both processes provided the foundry team with first-hand knowledge that many of the quality issues Tri-Tec was experiencing with its sand patterns would be avoided in an investment pattern.
“Investment casting is preferred for its near net shape with a close tolerance to the final finished part and a smooth finish compared to sand castings,” McCaffrey said. “For any Tri-Tec part that was under 12 inches, we were confident that transitioning to investment casting would allow us to address the porous areas, but would greatly reduce machining time and improve overall production efficiency for Tri-Tec.”
Investment Casting Brings Benefits
Using investment casting for the smaller, high-volume valves provides Tri-Tec timely deliveries and minimal waste.
“Quality also depends on rigging methods and the skill set of the foundry– it makes quite a difference,” Ralph said. “We have similar valve bodies at other foundries and the ones SF&E provided through the investment casting process have been relatively free of porosity.”
The lost wax technique of investment casting produces a part with a smoother valve finish than sand casting, allowing Tri-Tec to reduce the finishing steps on their end. Visually the parts look much nicer. The lettering and the part numbers displayed on the valves are much crisper and more defined. The product looks much more professional and conveys to the Navy inspectors that the valves promise to be reliable.
“Sand castings vary significantly from part to part,” Booth said. “They can all be in the same batch but look completely different because of the process. That is less likely with investment casting.”
With castings from SF&E delivered closer to net shape, Tri-Tec is cutting off less stainless steel per valve in the finishing process, which means buying less metal. Along with the uniformity, the housing castings are flatter and are much easier to fixture on their milling machines, leading to less setup. The machining area can mount the castings on the milling machine, do a quick probe to ensure everything is straight, and then hit run.
Keeping in Touch Is Vital to Quality
As Tri-Tec transitions sand patterns to investment patterns and works to update old sand patterns, the supplier relationship with SF&E has evolved into a partnership with the best interest of Tri-Tec’s product – and end user – in mind.
This process wouldn’t be possible without effective communication. SF&E foundry, metallurgical, and process engineers guide Tri-Tec on designing for a successful casting and setting realistic tolerances. SF&E works alongside Tri-Tec’s engineering staff to generate a model, build a tool, pour the casting, and create a dimensional layout for inspection to confirm first article approval and transition over to production. When Tri-Tec receives the part produced by the tool, they inspect it against the drawing, perform their own dimensional inspection and penetrant inspection, and respond. This feedback loop is a catalyst for solving problems quickly and perfecting a process easily.
“When it comes to communication with some of our other suppliers, we don’t get the fastest response when we need process improvements,” Booth said. “We find SF&E team members are attentive, more than happy to listen, and are proactively looking to meet our needs. We now have a better working relationship with SF&E than we did with our previous foundry.”
“Our objective is to be upfront and honest to support our customer regardless of the situation,” McCaffery said. “On behalf of the business, I’m happy it’s being noticed, as customer service is a core value for us.”
Replacing a supplier can be difficult, risky, and create anxiety for management. It is important for OEMs to get a clear picture of what the new partnership will be like. To start, SF&E can lead you through the process with our helpful guide to the 4 Critical Questions to Ask Before Working with a New Foundry. If you are ready to learn more about our capabilities, contact us today at email@example.com.