Millennials in the Foundry Industry
In the midst of change, Generations Y and Z remain optimistic and have risen to the challenges of their time: Environmentally friendly production with rapid adoption in the economy is becoming the mandate of the next generation who is entering the workforce in the foundry industry.
Two people who should know why are Marvin Emde and Marius Kohlhepp: both won the EUROGUSS Talent Award last year, an award for Bachelor's and Master's graduates worldwide whose work has brought about innovations, improvements or new applications in die casting. Emde and Kohlhepp are the pioneers of a young generation who see their professional opportunity in the transformation of an industry that is steeped in tradition.
Marvin Emde of the University of Kassel developed a seat armrest as a die cast component with "Potential for Die Cast Components through Wall Thickness Optimization". Using his component, he showed that thin-walled die casting can compete with high-performance plastics in terms of lightweight construction and even outperform them in terms of load-bearing capacity. Substituting die cast components for plastic ones opens up new product fields for foundries.
Marius Kohlhepp of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, in cooperation with Audi AG, demonstrated the "Influence of the Alloy Composition on the Mold Bonding Behavior of an AlSi7Mg Die Casting Alloy". He is currently researching the development of a cost-efficient ductile unit alloy for high-strength aluminum structural castings as part of his doctorate.
Kohlhepp: Someone from outside the industry would not describe casting as an innovative topic. Self-driving cars, IT and machine learning are more likely to come to mind. This makes it difficult for the foundry industry to find young talent. In the future, the focus will clearly be on lightweight construction, especially for electric vehicles, and casting will play a major role there. However, this has not yet occured to the public.
Emde: I myself only came into closer contact with foundry technology through my Bachelor's thesis. The fact that it doesn't sound interesting at first glance is certainly due to the way the industry presents itself: smoking halls and large crucibles with liquid metal spraying through the air. But the technology behind it, be it materials science or process technology, is not recognizable immediateley.
Kohlhepp: We definitely need to change our image and this his is already being promoted. Die casting is modern and uses modern means. The challenges of the e-drive can attract young talent.
Emde: Once you are part of the industry yourself, the pictures are impressive. For all outsiders, it would certainly be more interesting to show modern parts and areas of application. Take Tesla for example, trying to cast an entire car body as one part certainly makes an impression.
What importance do you attach to Tesla and CEO Elon Musk within the industry?
Kohlhepp: Elon Musk is helping the industry become cooler and more desirable. Everyone has understood that we need to change our image. Lightweight construction and aluminum were big in the media ten years ago, but then had to give way to other trendier topics. Elon Musk has brought aluminum die casting back into the public eye. He has put the entire industry under competitive pressure and forced it to invest in the area again.
Emde: Everyone is talking about fewer castings that the shift to e-mobility will bring, and then Elon Musk comes along and casts an entire rear frame as one part. This shows new technologies and opens up promising new markets.
Kohlhepp: Elon Musk quickly realized that digitalization is a very good way to advertise. There is no advertising in the conventional sense, but the marketing works, among other things, through Elon Musk's self-dramatization. He quickly built up a large following via social media, and now he can't get rid of them. They click on what he posts, and they no longer care whether the windshield of the cyber truck breaks or the semi truck is delayed again.
Why can't the automotive industry in Germany create the same buzz?
Kohlhepp: In Germany, as long as something isn't patented or out on the market, it remeains highly confidential. Tesla sees things very differently. There are podcasters and Youtubers who are taken on a tour of the factory in Fremont, California, film/record everything and later publish it to the world. That's a completely different way of looking at things than the Germans. We very strictly protect internal processes and knowledge, even if they are patented!
Germany was a pioneer in the internal combustion engine. How do you perceive the shift to e-drives?
Kohlhepp: From what I hear from suppliers in my field, business is not bad. But if I had been supplying parts for the internal combustion engine for 40 years and now had to reorient myself, the mood would be different for me, too. I work in alloy development, I'm younger and I have no past in the industry. This gives me the simple advantage in my mindset that I don't carry any old burdens as I'm starting from scratch compared to the older generation.
What advice do you have for those who are not starting from scratch?
Kohlhepp: The change will definitely not be a downfall. Sales will not collapse and the foundry industry will continue to be in good shape in the future. Even those who are older in the industry should not forget that. But we have to think more in a future-oriented way. Which components will come into the picture tomorrow and what requirements must these components meet? There are already some approaches, for example, cases for electric motors with cast-in cooling channels. I see the challenges the industry is currently facing as an opportunity for my generation.
Emde: I see a problem with Germany as a business location. It would be difficult to find a balance between environmental protection and economic efficiency. But if we move forward decisively and manage to use modern methods and technologies to make the process environmentally friendly, with less electricity consumption for example, then we can export that to the world.
Kohlhepp: The largest share of CO2 emissions from aluminum comes from its production. Electrolysis requires an immense amount of electricity. But here too, there are approaches, especially with renewable energies, which would be difficult to implement in Germany. Other countries have some advantages. For example Norway uses hydropower for its aluminum electrolysis. This way, it is actually possible to procure almost-CO2-neutral primary aluminum. And in the United Emirates, a huge solar plant has been set up to supply electricity to a foundry right next door. This means that there are already approaches for using CO2-neutral primary aluminum when recycling is not possible.
Is there a difference in the importance attached to aluminum as a material at university and in industry?
Kohlhepp: Considering the order in which topics are dealt with in lectures, aluminum seems old at first. It is still used, but the "new and cool" materials are different. But the fact that a huge part of the industry is still dependent on traditional materials, and that there are still opportunities to improve them even after 80 years are not made clear. There would be an opportunity here to steer students in this direction.
Emde: The recyclability of aluminum, for example, is an advantage over many engineering plastics, which are difficult to recycle and are thus often lost for future use. This is whrere the use of aluminum can make a contribution to environmental protection.
Kohlhepp: The foundry industry has so many different areas: mold-side development, alloy development, process technology and more. There's something for every interest group in the industry, whether it's materials science, IT or electrical engineering. Decisive innovations can still be made here that can actually be used by the industry. For me, that was always a big plus. If I develop something groundbreaking in aluminum die casting, it will find application in the industry. With other popular topics, it's still about basic research, so it's not like that. In the foundry industry, you can still change things, and this is where the great motivation lies for young people.
What should change at universities and colleges?
Kohlhepp: It helps when companies cooperate directly with colleges or universities. I am currently working on my doctorate in a cooperation between a university and a company. That usually continues. A good cooperation is usually continued with new generations of students at a university. This also offers a great opportunity for development.
Emde: There are basic lectures everywhere. If practical examples are used to show which exciting technologies are used in the foundry industry, this would certainly help attract many young people to the industry. Companies should therefore make an effort to show which cutting-edge technology is used in their products. Offering attractive internships and excursions can be helpful for companies and universities so that students can quickly gain practical experience. This is the only way they can experience the technology first-hand and quickly get their bearings. People always imagine everyday working life differently than it ends up being. In most cases, it's worth taking a look over the fence.