The foundry industry in the UK goes back quite a long way as it does in most countries. I’ve been involved with it for virtually all my life as has my father before me – he’s ninety one and still takes an active interest in what we’re doing. One constant during both our working lives (and presumably my grandfather and great grandfather before that as I’m the forth generation of my family to be running Durham Foundry) has been how foundries relate to each other. Historically, I think the following quote best sums it up. This was told to me by dad many years ago following a conversation with a fellow foundryman. I’ve censored it a bit so as not to offend but I reckon that with a bit of thought you’ll be able to add the missing word. To give you a clue, it begins with an f. To get the full flavour of the quote, you also need to read it in a heavy Glaswegian accent, a way of speaking that is particularly suited to this sort of comment. Here goes.
“If there were only two (deleted) foundries left in this (deleted) country, one (deleted) foundry would be trying to (deleted) undercut the other (deleted) foundry.”
Succinct and, sadly, to the point. Historically, the UK foundry industry has always been a rather insular affair. Nobody really talked to anybody and you certainly didn’t talk to your competitors. Sure, you might be a member of a trade association but the conversation with fellow members had it’s limits, often rather narrow ones. I would think this attitude is the same in other industry sectors and not just peculiar to foundries.
I’ve never subscribed to this view. I understand about protecting things like intellectual property, new processes and innovation but I firmly believe that the foundry industry in the UK can be stronger and healthier if we cooperate rather than not. I suppose the question is how do you do this without giving away the family jewels.
For me, it’s the simple things. For a start, talk to people. Develop relationships with companies that you compete with. It’s surprising what people will be willing to share. You just need to be honest about what you can talk about and what you can’t.
Another example is inquiries for castings you can’t make. Maybe a metal you don’t cast, quantities that don’t fit your production facilities or it’s the wrong size or weight for you. Often these either get turned down flat or you might try and get a price from someone else, add a mark up on and then never get the order as you’ve priced yourself out. I don’t do either. Yes, I’ll decline to quote but I’ll always point the customer in the direction of someone who can. Often these are my competitors who can offer something I can’t. It works both ways. I now get jobs put my way by the same firms I’ve put people in contact with and the customer gets the best price as they are dealing with the foundry that’s making them rather than a middleman or woman.
If I can’t think who to put someone in touch with, the next port of call is the Cast Metals Federation (CMF) website where there’s a Find a Foundry search page. The link to that is here and it shows how attitudes are changing as it sits smack in the middle of the CMF’s home page. To show how important I think this is, the offer of help sits smack in the middle of Durham Foundry’s home page as well.
Ultimately though, any way of doing business has to be of benefit. We’re not charities and the final arbiter will always be the bottom line. I think this approach works in a number of ways.
I put customers in touch with other foundries and get the same in return, Everybody wins.
The conversation are often not about technical things. A lot of them are about the other stuff that’s nothing to do with making a casting. Health and Safety issues, environmental performance or employment legislation. Finding ways round problems that affect us all and helping other people do the same.
Finally, one of my passions is trying to ensure that the UK foundry industry thrives and prospers and that we retain as much casting work as we can in this country. To do that we need to talk to each other.
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Merry Christmas and a cooperative New Year,