“Who Cares” Research


Many foundrymen have a “who cares” attitude about research. Why? One possible reason for this turnoff could have come from there trying to read research reports. These accounts are usually filled with pages describing the thoughts and results of previous work on the subject as well as the thoughts of the present researcher on the previous research. In addition, or instead, the report will have page upon page of details on the equipment and procedures used for the experiments followed by vast quantities of data generated by the test and the method used to analyze the data. In other words, you have to do a lot of reading to find out the results and what makes it even worse, is that the reading is DULL.


In all fairness to researchers low, while all this information does make for dull reading it is required to make the report complete. After all, if you are thinking about changing your operation because of some research work, it’s good to be able to learn what other researchers have done and said about the subject before you make your decision. For example, if metal temperature is an important aspect of the experimentation you would certainly want to know whether the data generated in the experiment was from thermocouple or from an eyeball estimation of a college freshman lab assistant. Dullness is certainly not a valid reason for turning off research.


The Real Reason


While reading most research reports can induce sleep within minutes, the real reason for the “who cares” attitude toward research is its apparent lack of practicality. Senator Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Awards and others have done an excellent job of pointing out research projects that appear to have no relationship with our lives except for their expenditures. What good does it do to learn about the sex life of an African tsetse fly unless you raise tsetse flies?


Undoubtedly, there are many research projects deserving of the label of wasteful; however, not those using your AFS dollars. Since our projects are usually initiated by a committee of foundrymen and must be approved by yet another committee, we are assured of their practicality. Yet I can easily see where many foundrymen can look at the titles of some if this research reports and question the practicality of their work. But that is exactly the problem; the titles usually describe what was done but not why.


The Gray Iron Research Committee (5-C) recently recommended a project that provides a good example of the problems with titles. Of course, the title for this report is not final since the work has barely begun but I can imagine what it may be: “The Effect of Cell Size On the Fatigue Behavior of Gray Irons.” It wouldn’t surprise me to hear a gray iron foundryman say, “What a Waste of Money.” “Who cares.” When he hears the title.


Unfortunately, the thoughts leading to the proposal of the project do not appear in the title or the question of “who cares?” would never be asked. Testing designers have realized for some time the static properties we normally test for it are irons don’t really represent what a casting will be subjected to in the real world. Instead of the steadily increasing loads we put on our test bars with a tensile machine, a casting and service is more apt to be put under a tensile load for a short period of time and then the load will be relaxed or maybe even change to compressive. In other words, fatigue tests really more closely duplicate what castings well after was the end than the test we are now running.


Our knowledge of the control of fatigue (or dynamic) properties of gray iron is very limited; until now it hasn’t been very important. We have always produced castings with fairly heavy walls, because of the limitations of our molding equipment to reproduce thin walls. The extra thickness in the walls provided enough extra strength that fluctuations in the fatigue properties were of no concern.


Recent innovations in molding equipment and materials now allow us to produce thinner walls with smaller variations in thickness. With the current emphasis on weight reduction, it is only natural for designers to utilize these new molding techniques. But in order to do so the fatigue properties of the iron will have to be controlled.


Grain size is thought to be an important element controlling fatigue properties but at present we are not sure of all the factors that affect them much less and what ranges factors have to be controlled. We cannot satisfactorily produce thinner wall castings without this knowledge. If we can’t achieve weight reductions with iron, designers will be forced to go to the lighter metals. We had better learn if we want to continue making castings. As it turns out, what originally sounds like a “who cares” project really does have a real practical and important value.


If you care to take this further, to a more personal level, think of its effect on the iron metallurgist such as myself. What if grain size does have a significant effect on fatigue and fatigue turns out to be an important design criteria? After all these years of learning how to make test specimens that can meet static specifications we will have to learn how to make test bars that meet a whole new set of specifications. Some of us may have to go so far as to learn how to do it in castings.