A native of Great Britain, Keith Thompson became president of Dynacast's North American Region, based at Yorktown Heights, in 1986. From 1983 to 1986, he served as the firm's group manager, and was based at Dynacast's Schaumburg, Illinois, plant. During his time at Schaumburg, he was also responsible for diecasting plants in Montreal and Mexico, and for the company's Wisconsin tool center. He joined Dynacast at the company's Montreal plant in 1968. He became engineering manager at Montreal four years later, and general manager in 1976. Thompson attended McGill University in Canada.
Innovation means survival and prosperity as OEMs push design and assembly responsibility to diecasters, says Keith Thompson.
Design News: What changes do you see in diecasting industry?
Thompson: Our customers are expecting more and demanding more from us. We're moving more toward adding value, rather than just supplying a discrete component. This sometimes involves assembly, and sometimes involves purchasing other components and providing an assembled package to the customer. So our customers are looking for engineering solutions rather than buying discrete component parts.
Q: How does this trend affect your company?
A: We're doing more up-front engineering work and assisting in the design of the initial product, and we're doing more downstream in terms of added value. And I see a shifting of the burden from our customers to us. It's making our business more complex. We certainly still need tool designers, because the heart of the diecasting process is tooling. But in addition to tooling we're looking at adding more design engineers and process engineers. That's giving our business a direction it didn't have five to ten years ago.
Q: What has been the impact of CAD on precision casting?
A: It permits us to transfer geometry from our customer electronically, to do thermal analysis of dies, and to optimize runners and gating design. It has really changed the whole process of diecasting and tool making. Tool making is an integral, important part of our operation. And CAD/CAM has allowed us to reduce the time cycle for building tools, and is bringing us closer to the point where we make dies right the first time.
Q: How aware are design engineers of your industry's ability to diecast magnesium?
A: It's beginning to penetrate, but they're certainly less aware of the ability to cast magnesium than they are zinc or aluminum, which have been the traditional cast metals over the years. The magnesium industry is in an educational process. They're beginning to teach engineers the capabilities of magnesium, the advantages of the material. As time wears on, new designs in magnesium will increase the total volume of business.
Q: How much impact has robotics had on your industry and your company?
A: It's not part of our four-slide business, but we do have conventional equipment in some of our facilities. And where we have conventional equipment, we go with a manufacturing cell concept where we try to automate as much as possible. So in the larger conventional area, and particularly in plastics, we will move towards robotics to reduce labor costs, increase cycle time, and probably most important, improve quality. Robotics gives you consistent cycles and generally a consistent and stable process that improves quality. We'll continue to automate parts of the process, but we'll never see the day when we will not have skilled tool makers or skilled setup people.
Q: How much of your work involves an outsourcing relationship?
A: It's becoming a significant focus on the part of our business, and it's growing. Our customers are beginning to realize that they can't be experts at everything. And some vertically integrated companies have moved in different directions, wanting to outsource their injection molding or casting work. We feel our expertise is in the design and processing of precision components, and we can often do that cost-effectively for customers. We work hand-in-hand with many of our customers to help them outsource various aspects of their manufacturing in casting and injection molding.
Q: Why is there so much more growth in the use of plastics than in metals?
A: The metals people do very little to promote their materials. They basically dig metal up out of the ground and sell it at so many cents a pound. If you look at the plastics industry, they invest heavily in R&D and developing materials to gain new applications. But they also work with the customer base in developing technology and processes that open up new applications. Also, diecasting machinery manufacturers are light-years behind the molding machine manufacturers. Someone wanting to go into the diecasting business must cope with inferior machines, materials people who don't really promote the metals and work with you, and a process that's generally not as environmentally friendly as in processing resins.