The sand used in casting metal parts at Milwaukee foundry Badger Alloys is usually discarded. But the company recently installed a sand reclamation unit that will allow it to divert 17 million pounds of sand from landfills annually.
The reclamation unit was a significant investment, but it will have an outsized impact on the company’s bottom line, said president Rob Cowen. The unit allows for 80 to 85 percent sand reuse and will save the company more than $600,000 and 100,000 truck miles per year in sand transportation.
Badger Alloys is a job shop that makes ferrous and non-ferrous metal castings for a range of applications. It can make cast, semi-machined, finished machined and assembly products.
“We do a wide variety of things—we’re traditionally in the short-run engineered production,” Cowen said.
Founded in 1966, the company makes parts for national OEM customers, mostly in the pump and valve industry.
It also has a local impact. Large impellers cast at Badger Alloys are used in the pumps at the Wisconsin Energy Corp. power plant in Oak Creek.
Badger Alloys now has 97 employees.
Employees form the tools for the casting, two halves of a mold. The raw material is then melted and poured into the mold and solidifies.
Once the metal part has cooled, the chemically bonded sand used in the casting process is shaken out of the mold. When the reclamation system is up and running, within the next month or so, the sand will then be recycled.
The company’s lead time is about 10 weeks. Since he became president in 1997, Cowen has worked to reduce lead time through efficiency.
The company was one of the first manufacturers to join ME3, Milwaukee Economy, Energy, Environment. The program helps manufacturers implement sustainable manufacturing practices that cut down on negative environmental impact.
The program helped Badger Alloys identify where there was waste in the manufacturing process and reduce lead time.
“You do a complete analysis of your entire process and you look at where you have waste,” Cowen said. “This is a work in process. We still have a lot of opportunity to get better. We’re constantly looking at ways to become more efficient, to lean out our process.”
In 2009, during the economic downturn, Badger Alloys laid off 23 people and put some of its capital projects on hold. Now, it is nearly back to previous staffing levels and is investing in projects like the sand reclamation unit.
“We want to grow and expand like I guess everybody does,” Cowen said. “We don’t feel we’ve even tapped our true potential.”
The company’s revenue has increased about 80 percent since its 2009 low. Some of that growth has been driven by companies bringing orders back from overseas as U.S. companies get leaner and foreign wage rates rise.
“That gap is narrowing at a pretty significant pace,” Cowen said. “There’s going to be many instances in the future where the U.S. can be the low cost producer of things.”
Badger Alloys is spread through five different buildings, and has room to double its size in the existing footprint going forward, Cowen said.