Restoring a Damaged Reputation — Faster, Higher, Further for Millenials in the Foundry Industry
Europe’s production sites have been neglected in recent decades, says Caspar Braun, third place winner of the EUROGUSS Talent Award. Together with Julia Dölling, who took first place, and Jonas Arimont, runner-up, he talks about the future of his industry.
For the second time after 2020, the best bachelor and master theses in die casting technology were honored at this year's EUROGUSS with the EUROGUSS Talent Award. The winner was: Julia Dölling, research assistant at the Center for High-Performance Materials at DHBW Stuttgart and doctoral student at the Institute for Metal Forming at TU Bergakademie Freiberg, with her master's thesis "Flowability of Aluminum-Silicon Die Casting Alloys". She worked on her thesis at AUDI AG in Neckarsulm while studying aerospace engineering at the University of Stuttgart. As a doctoral student in the field of materials development, she is supervised by Prof. Dr.-Ing. Andreas Zilly (WIW, DHBW Stuttgart) and Prof. Dr.-Ing. Ulrich Prahl (IMF, TU Bergakademie Freiberg).
The following two prizes each went to foundry technology theses from the University of Kassel: Jonas Arimont, research assistant at the Department of Foundry Technology at the University of Kassel took second place and Caspar Braun, engineer at Kassel-based Revolute GmbH, took third place.
After the award ceremony, Julia Dölling, Jonas Arimont and Caspar Braun sit down together and talk about what's to come. A recording of the conversation.
You are holding the three best final theses in die casting technology in your hands. How do you each envision your upcoming career in the foundry industry?
Jonas Arimont: The biggest challenge of our time is the upcoming transformation of the industry with regard to the climate crisis. The foundry industry is an energy-intensive industry. It is now up to us to make processes such as post-heat treatment as resource- and energy-efficient as possible. And at the same time, we have to ensure that our products remain economical. Particularly here in Europe, the industry has the disadvantage that electricity prices are very high. So the change has to happen without production costs rising further. This is made more difficult by the rising cost of materials. Reconciling all this will be a tremendous challenge for our generation. The transfer must happen as quickly as possible.
Caspar Braun: But the increasing material prices are also an opportunity for foundry technology. Compared to other processes, material utilization is comparatively high. Another issue for us is the end of the combustion engine. It will be important to tap into other sectors.
Julia Dölling: I agree with Jonas. The foundry industry and what is attached to it is very energy-intensive. Finding new approaches to powering the plants will help determine the future. The use of renewable energy sources will become essential. In general, the industry is developing so fast. Current research topics from digitization will find their way into the industry.
Your training and your career start is in Germany. And now? Do you see your future here?
Jonas Arimont: For smaller and medium-sized companies in Germany, it is certainly a challenge to try things out. Testing how they can change their production is difficult without financial leeway. At the same time, we are faced with an insane opportunity: The current time should be used to develop new ways and products and to market them accordingly.
Caspar Braun: I also believe that the trend is moving away from globalization again, especially in terms of reliability and uncertainties. Examples of the last few months: Suez Canal, Covid-19 pandemic or the war in Ukraine. I think many companies are therefore more willing to produce in Europe again. Europe is still one of the largest domestic markets. Security is becoming a more important factor, which was strongly neglected in the last decades. Now European security is making the continent attractive again as a location.
Julia Dölling: I enjoyed a very good education in Germany. I appreciate that very much. The educational path is open to everyone here. Mechanical engineering doesn't seem to be that attractive for first-year students at the moment. I hope this education will become more popular again. Nevertheless, with our education system, industrial Germany brings forth many young and intelligent minds.
So how do these young and bright minds make it into the foundry industry?
Jonas Arimont: When you think of mechanical engineering, you think of machines. But we're no longer talking about classic mechanical engineering, where you design and build machines. Rather, it's about programming, simulation or process control. Especially with foundry technology, the reputation gap is even bigger, because the process is thousands of years old and many students probably don't even know what foundry technology means in the modern context and where the products are used
Caspar Braun: For the people who are starting to study now, climate change is important. People generally associate mechanical engineering with consumption and negative influences. The reputational damage from the automotive industry has also finally reached the young generation. Now, who would want to get involved? And yet this is precisely the opportunity: perhaps more than anywhere else, industry is now about efficiency and progress. This must be emphasized to young people. If they want to change the way the world is, mechanical engineering is a good place to start.
Julia Dölling: When you leave school, you only know what you've already seen. Things from everyday life that are tangible. Some people have contact with mechanical engineering topics at home. Otherwise, foundry technology is hardly visible to young people. So how do I know I want to go in that direction if I don't even know it exists. The parts we manufacture are usually hidden away and only visible when you remove the shiny plastic part.
Jonas Arimont: Castings are everywhere, but you don't see them. It was clear to me early on that I wanted to study mechanical engineering. Maybe that's also in the family. My father was a mechanical engineer, my grandfather was a mechanical engineer; both also worked in foundry technology at times. I have always been interested in technology, but not so much in electrical engineering and programming. So I knew early on that I wanted to go into mechanical engineering.
Caspar Braun: I've always had contact with machines and have always repaired everything. It was always exciting to look into a system and understand how the mechanics work. Mechanical engineering fits my way of thinking well.
Julia Dölling: I studied aerospace engineering because I originally wanted to become an aerodynamicist. Through internships in the automotive and motorsports sectors, I came to the challenge of casting simulation. The simulation is highly demanding, the interaction with material parameters is essential. That's how I ended up in materials. I have learned to appreciate the experimental way of working there very much and would not want to do without it right now. Having fun at work every day - that's important. And there's something else I've learned: The women who started their studies with me always followed through with their degree. They are dedicated.
The industry likes to claim that casting is tangible. But how can this be put into practice in the course of studies?
Caspar Braun: For me, the practical relevance was totally missing.
Jonas Arimont: That's feedback that I've already received from some professors. It was often noted - at least here at the University of Kassel - that students rush through their studies and try to get their degree as quickly as possible without looking to the left and right. This means that they not only lack practical experience, but also important contacts in industry. This is something that many of them find hard to accept later on when they start a job without having had the necessary practical experience beforehand.
Caspar Braun: I've noticed a stronger focus on the standard period of study. That was not the case when we started.
Jonas Arimont: In no job interview was I asked about the number of semesters I had studied. The experience gained from practical work is much more relevant.
Caspar Braun: The greatest strength of the German education system is its emphasis on practical experience. Like in apprenticeships. Why are we not including that in our university system? That's the greatest irony.
Julia Dölling: Everything is getting faster, higher, further. You get the feeling that you have to keep up with this speed.
Caspar Braun: Those who finish now are less and less willing to take on leadership positions and responsibility. That's something you should have learned in your studies: Take responsibility for your studies, for your own education, and don't blindly adhere to a prescribed standard period of study. Practical experience should not be mandatory. But students must be encouraged to go their own way in the education system.