Our Maven of the Month for July is Cupola expert Bruce Blatzer. With over three decades of working experience in the Castings industry, Blatzer has been the Principal Consultant for our upcoming course Cupola Furnace Fundamentals.
How did you get into the Cupola industry?
I was working a summer job, I was in mechanical engineering at that time. I ended up working for a metallurgical engineer who talked me into transferring into metallurgical engineering. That’s how it happened, that’s how I got into the Cupola industry.
Tell us about you background and experience.
I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama there were foundries and steel mills all over the place. The metallurgical department at the University of Alabama had a strong foundry program and it just appealed to me to do that because it was a little unusual— a little different from mechanical engineering. I then started working for US Pipe at the Bessemer plant in Alabama. After one and half years, I went back to graduate school and got an MBA in management and moved to Caterpillar Inc. in Mapleton, Illinois where I worked for approximately five years. I worked for the Lynchburg Foundry (Virginia) for 17 years. In 1996, I moved toIron Casting Research Institute (ICRI) in Columbus, Ohio. That’s where I retired at the end of December 2014.
How will the upcoming THORS course Cupola Furnace Fundamentals help industry insiders?
Well, there is really nothing like this right now for people coming into the industry and those wanting to learn about Cupolas. There are a couple of classes at AFS but those classes are taught once or twice a year so there is really nothing available that I know of to educate people on the real principles of Cupola. It is going to be tremendous for helping new people and also for people who have been working on Cupolas for a long time because a lot of people don’t know that they don’t know anything about other Cupolas than the ones they are trained on so this gives them a wider information about that.
Tell us about your working process for this course. How did you build this information?
We based it on the ICRI cupola guide that was published in the 1970’s. What we decided to do was update the guide and provide basic information because the guide was written for people who knew something about Cupolas. That’s how we started with the course and the course writer Kaitlin Trushel put it into the THORS format. It provides the discipline for the content provider to make sure that we are not leaving something out and that we are thorough.
What kind of knowledge gaps do you see in the castings industry- especially in the Cupola foundries?
One of the problems with Cupolas is that not many people understand how they operate. How that manifests itself lately is that plant managers and purchasing departments try to dictate to Cupola foremen or Superintendents how they are going to run the Cupola based on the cost of the materials. That’s not a good practice. It makes the people who operate a Cupola operate it in a manner differently from the way they would operate it if they didn’t have that limitation. This means that when the price of one of the raw materials increases, the purchasing department will ask the Cupola foremen to use less of that material. In these days and times, many Cupolas are oversized for the melt demand that they need to be producing. What most people don’t know about Cupolas is when you turn a Cupola down to produce less iron than its capacity, they have to add more coke— not less.
You spoke about some common problems in the Cupola industry, how can this be avoided?
Plant management needs to be educated. Being knowledgeable can help avoid a lot of these problems.
What are the immediate repercussions you have seen due to knowledge gaps?
Companies are spending more money on melting than they need to, if they were more knowledgeable about it they would take the most appropriate, effective steps.
If you had access to similar education material like THORS Academy courses back in your day, how would it have helped?
It would have compressed the time it would have taken significantly. Time means money so the companies I worked for would not have spent the money they did if I had similar education back then.
What advice would you give to newcomers in the Cupola industry?
For people that want to come to work for a foundry (in a cupola department) for the first time and for those who don’t necessarily have a college degree and want to make a career out of this, they need to take training classes like these to be introduced to the core concepts. Working around a cupola and educational training are complimentary.
Want to know all about the Cupola Furnace Fundamentals course that Bruce Blatzer helped create? Click on the link below.