Serving the waterworks industry since 1898, Ford Meter Box has created many original products since founder Edwin Ford invented the in-ground meter box over a century ago. Innovations range from a 1916 patent for its original water meter test bench to ball valves for waterworks applications introduced in the 1960s and, in the 1980s, check valves in meter pipework that prevent backflow that might contaminate the water main.
Today, the company offers a wide range of brass water-related hardware for new buildings and also produces a full line of stainless-steel pipe products, repair clamps and restraints at its Pell City, Alabama, facility.
A mix of automatic matchplate and semi-automatic molding machines
Using the green-sand process to produce a wide variety of small (up to 3lb) of leaded and lead-free brass castings at its Wabash foundry, the company operates a mix of automatic matchplate and semi-automatic molding machines. With its automatic machines beginning to age, the search began for replacements.
"We started looking for a new molding machine around mid-2019", Andrew Lannettoni, Foundry Technical Engineer at Ford Meter Box. "We talked to a few vendors and compared the advantages and disadvantages of the equipment available. Quite frankly, we were looking for a change of supplier."
"DISA didn't offer a MATCH 14/19 at that time but the foundries we talked to that had the bigger DISA MATCH machines like the 20/24s were very impressed with DISA's support, how well the machines operated and their excellent reliability", continues Andrew.
“Based on that and the reputation of their vertical machines, our thinking was that, if DISA made a MATCH 14/19, it would perform as well as the others. We asked them to do it and just hoped that they would – something of a shot in the dark!”
A casting dream comes true
Because many of Ford's castings carry water, it needs to set a lot of cores to form the required channels. Unfortunately, its legacy automatic molding machines required manual core setting.
"That really cut into the number of molds per hour we could produce," explains Andrew. "The cycle time and quality also very much depended on operator skill and the size and number of the cores. In-cycle coresetting with DISA's auto core setter promised substantial productivity gains so that was a big attraction too."
Combining a DISA MATCH with DISA's Automatic Core Setter became Ford Meter Box's dream solution. And, sometimes, dreams do come true.
"Matchplate molding is very popular in US foundries and we had many requests from customers who wanted to upgrade their existing 14/19 format machines to a DISA MATCH," says Roberto Ramirez, Director of Foundry Sales at DISA Americas. "Optimized to suit the smaller pattern size, the new 14/19 machine retains all the speed, accuracy, quality and flexibility DISA MATCH is famous for."
“When DISA confirmed they would develop a 14/19 model, that made us very happy indeed,” says Andrew, who welcomed the very first MATCH 14/19 to Wabash in February 2021.
Why the speeds of the DISA MATCH 14/19 are perfect for foundries like Ford Meter Box
The DISA MATCH 14/19 runs at speeds of up to 180 uncored molds per hour with fast pattern changes - perfect for foundries like Ford Meter Box that specialize in short to medium runs. Its matchplate adaptor means it can reuse existing jolt-squeeze pattern plates or patterns from other vendors' matchplate machines with minimum modification - making upgrading quick and pain-free.
"This was our first DISA machine and we were very impressed with their knowledge and helpful attitude," notes Andrew. "They helped us to adapt all our existing matchplates to fit our new machine, which was a huge benefit for us. We decided not to use the normal DISA adaptor but all it took was a couple of simple changes to the pin configuration of our existing patterns and they all fitted straight on."
The installation went very smoothly, with DISA's engineers getting the new machine ready within two days. Once Ford had the peripheral equipment in place - power, air, water, sand, mold transports and so on - it was time to start testing.
Up to full speed and stay there, quickly and easily
Trained by DISA's engineers, the Ford Meter Box team quickly learned how to handle the user interface, make the required core masks and choose the right settings for each pattern. DISA also showed the maintenance team how to change service components and how to overcome small set-up challenges.“Nils the DISA Application engineer and Cameron the service technician were both extremely helpful and knowledgeable,” says Andrew. “They helped us to ramp up production, answered all our questions and stayed with us until the machine was 100% ready and we were completely happy.
"We've subsequently had a few technical queries on subjects like mold heights and they have worked closely with us on that too. This excellent support made us very comfortable about our decision to go with DISA."
Five months of two-shift running later and Ford Meter Box are even happier with their choice.
"Quite simply, the machine likes to make molds," says Andrew. "The mold quality is very consistent and that makes our casting finish equally consistent. It's as fast as they said it would be - if not faster - in and out, every day, it just keeps going. It's easy and intuitive to operate and has given us zero problems."
Ford's MATCH is digitally enabled with DISA's Monitizer | CIM, supporting data collection, sub-process automation and many other powerful features. Recipe management (storing the optimum machine settings for each individual pattern) has proved particularly useful.
"Digital is new for us and we like recipe management a lot, especially when we're running different shifts," says Andrew. "Once we set up a pattern's parameters, we get less trouble with operators adjusting things. In the past, that made troubleshooting hard: is it the machine, is it the settings? Operators really like this standardization; once they know it's running OK, they just let the machine get on with it. Digital is very much how we want to do things in future and we will be looking into a more integrated system soon."
Superb matchplate casting quality, time after time
"The Automatic Core Setter has really lived up to expectations too," says Andrew. "It has impressed us with its sheer speed and consistency - it's exactly the same every time. It's also cut down a lot of the scrap related to manual core setting. Before, an operator might accidentally put a finger into the sand but that's been eliminated."
"Overall, I know we're able to produce more molds more quickly than with our old matchplate machine, it's definitely improved our throughput," states Andrew. "We usually have quite short runs and, between the speed of the core setter and MATCH's flexibility, we can complete more of those jobs each day or week."
MATCH's taller mold height capability has also helped Ford with certain castings that its other machines struggle with.
"With the MATCH, we can open it up a bit further and one particular casting now runs only on the DISA machine for that reason," he says. "MATCH's consistency also means that some jobs where we'd previously had flashing and had to do some grinding, we get a good tight close on the molds. So that's cut out the need for finishing on some parts."
Another aspect of the machine Ford really liked was the in-chamber parting spray system. That prevents sand sticking to the pattern plates and, along with MATCH's patented sand slot design, helps deliver consistently higher casting quality. A side benefit is that, with no external spray, sand doesn't end up all over the machine.
"I think the internal spray gives more consistent coverage and so we see fewer mold defects due to mold parting," says Andrew. "With a conventional external spray, sand and water goes all over the place and sticks to the machine, which makes work for us in cleaning. With the MATCH, the machine stays completely clean which makes it easier for maintenance to work on. It's very quiet in operation too, so overall the working environment is much better."
Robust and simple for maximum uptime
DISA MATCH's robust and simple design has a minimum of moving parts for quicker, less frequent maintenance and maximum uptime. Its fixed cope chamber, along with its incredible rigidity, helps reduce mismatch to a maximum of 0.2mm (0.008") and offers extra-precise stripping.
"With or without cores, casting quality is better due to MATCH's very low mismatch," says Andrew. "We had problems with plate misalignment on our previous machine where the independent cylinders would wear and move differently. Our maintenance team particularly like MATCH for that as they don't have to spend any time aligning plates."
Overall, Ford's maintenance people prefer how the MATCH machine operates compared to their other automatic molding machines. Parts are accessible and easy to work on, and they appreciate the higher build quality and functionality of the DISA machine.
"The maintenance guys really like it and there have been no mechanical issues at all," says Andrew. "Talking to other DISA users, they say their maintenance is lower, they don't have to replace parts as often and they have lower downtime, so we're looking forward to benefitting from that."
"Apart from our machine's excellent performance, the service has been phenomenal too," continues Andrew. "Once or twice, we've seen an error code we're unsure about and we've called the service tech in the middle of the night and they pick up straight away, every time. Parts availability has been great as well."