In 1975, Alfred B. “Fritz” Hall took the reins of what was previously Harrington Foundry in Benton, Pennsylvania. At the time, Benton poured 22 tons per day, had 22 squeeze molders, 2 B&P 16×20 Match-Blomatics, no overhead sand system, a cupola and a muller that didn’t work. Iron was poured only 4 hours each day. Rather humble beginnings.
Today, Benton Foundry is a state-of-the-art gray and ductile iron jobbing foundry. With roughly 250 customers and 5,500 active part numbers, Benton’s forte is the mass production of jobbing-type work. Order volume varies from 10,000 molds per release down to 50 molds per release for any given part number and castings range in weight from 1 pound up to 250 pounds. On a daily basis, Benton runs the gamut: pumps, valves, gear boxes, manifolds, and more… from simple non-cored jobs, to water jacketed parts and other moderate volume work with up to 21-core assemblies. Seventy-five percent of the castings produced are cored, from simple cores to multiple cores per casting. With a common gray iron base, Benton pours class 25, 30, 35, 40, and several Heat Resistant Iron grades. From a common ductile iron base, 60-40-18 (as cast or annealed), 65-45-12, 80-55-06, 100-70-03, 120-90-02 and ADI grades 1 through 5 are poured. This diversified mix is by design. No single customer represents more than 10% of either sales or tonnage. Benton currently pours approximately 175 tons per day and is headed to 200-225 tons per day. Total melt and sand preparation capacity can support up to roughly 300 tons of iron per day.
Benton is a small town in rural Pennsylvania. The foundry is five miles north of Benton tucked back in the mountains with a state park to the north and a golf course and fish hatchery to the south. Regardless of its location, this is where some of the industry’s best casting, plant and financial engineering work are performed. Benton is not managed with a quarter-to-quarter mindset, but rather through well thought out 5-year plans, with some longer term plans taking 10 to15 years of foresight to completely develop. This goal-oriented mentality is ingrained into the organization. Fritz and Jeff have always reinvested profits back into the plant.
Under Fritz’s leadership, the 1980′s saw reinvestment in a new muller, overhead sand system, vibratory conveyors and shakeout units, additional automatic molding lines and mold handling, pallet lines for the remaining manual lines, cleaning machines and a spectrometer. During this period, Benton also transitioned into cold box and began producing ductile iron. However, as a multitude of regional foundries shuttered, the biggest claim to fame during the ’80′s was the ability of Benton Foundry’s trucking fleet to quickly mobilize. Backhauling tooling from closed neighboring foundries became a regular event.
Also during the late 1980′s, the third generation of the Hall family, Fritz’s son, Jeff, came into the business. Throughout Jeff’s high school years, he spent summers working at the foundry performing a number of duties, including core making, maintenance, molding, shake-out and pouring.
In 1990, Jeff graduated from Drexel University with a Bachelors of Science degree in Commerce and Engineering with a triple specialization in Operations Management, Human Resource Management and Finance. While at Drexel, Jeff was named the Foundry Education Foundation Scholar and Ingersoll Rand Scholar and received distinguished awards such as the Wall Street Journal Award and the Management Achievement Award in Operations Management. He was additionally inducted into the Beta Gamma Sigma honors fraternity. Jeff then proceeded to obtain his Masters in Business Administration from Wilkes University while working full time at Benton.
Since 1990, Jeff has held the positions of Human Resource Manager, Plant Manager, Quality Manager, Vice President of Manufacturing, and most recently (in February 2013) Jeff assumed the role of President.
In 1990, Benton was still a small, non-water cooled, cupola shop pouring 55 tons per day, but the idea of taking a mass production approach to the intermediate volume market began to take shape. Small foundries generally did not have the financial strength to reinvest in the necessary equipment to survive. The choices were simple: grow or die. With a rare passion for the industry and a deep desire to succeed, an extensive capital expenditure plan was established. Below are some of the highlights under Fritz and Jeff’s leadership. Keep in mind that these investments were made with essentially one long-term integrated plan.
PP&L completed a 22 mile, 69KV line from Rohrsburg, PA to Benton Foundry.
Two 4-metric ton Inductotherm furnaces with a 2500KW power pack were installed.
Automatic mold handling installed on two 14×19 Hunters.
June, 1996-January, 1997
Removed the cupola and installed two 10-metric ton Inductotherm furnaces with a 7,000KW Dual Track power supply. These furnaces were the focal point of the AFS Cast Expo in Philadelphia.
Upgraded the sand system. The return sand travels from shakeout to a magnetic separator, through the first rotary screen into a 200-ton holding silo. The sand discharges onto a belt where a water addition is made. Then the sand goes through a General Kinematics Fluid Bed cooler to a second rotary screen and then into two 250-ton tempering silos. The 700 ton sand system was designed for two mullers, but at the time there was only one B&P 100B Speedmuller with Hartley Controls.
Additions were made to the grinding and shipping areas. Also, the roof was replaced throughout the grinding, shakeout and molding areas to 28 foot under truss.
Benton became the proud home of the World’s first DISA Horizontal Match 130. This was installed with a Vulcan mold handling line. Benton was heavily involved in the design of this machine’s features including the drag presentation for ease of setting core, variable cope and drag heights, pattern access during the cycle, and complete compatibility with other patterns used in the market place. The compatibility of tooling, which even included common down sprue positions, was a key attribute in keeping the machine cost effective in the jobbing market. This machine was the focal point of the AFS Cast Expo in St. Louis.
One of the 1970′s vintage Hunter 14×19′s was replaced with a new Hunter 10G.
The lab was upgraded to include a Spectro spectrometer, Leco C/S Determinator, Leco Automatic Image Analysis equipment, Newage Automatic Brinell Machine, CMM and (now) all recent Simpson sand testing equipment.
Added 15,000 square feet to the molding department and replaced the sand distribution system. The new system was raised to provide additional clearance for a future larger machine and to provide more sand capacity above the existing molding machines.
A second DISA Horizontal Match 130 was added with Vulcan Mold Handling. This unit has an automatic core setter.
Several molding centers were moved and/or replaced. The objective was to get the low volume squeezers and rotolifts furthest from the sand and iron distribution points and the higher volume automatics closer to these sources. The layout was based on the Transportation Model Theory of managing constraints and optimizing the use of inputs.
Installed a Foxall Robotic grinding station.
Partnered with Inductotherm to assist in the development of an “Automatic Robotic Melt Shop”.
Installed a 120,000 CFM dust collector with a 500hp motor and return air system to provide clean tempered air during winter months. This system was part of a 5 year plan developed with RMT to lower releases to the atmosphere. The system also solved the foundry’s negative air pressure problem, improved air quality and keeps the facility at roughly 70° F in the winter months.
Added a second Simpson 100B-250 Muller with Hartley Controls and upgraded the first unit so that both Mullers are identical.
Installed a new Hunter 20XL with Summit Mold Handling.
Streamlined the flow of the shakeout system. Replaced all vibratory conveyors with new General Kinematic units and added a second Didion MD100 rotary drum.
Installed a Powerit Energy Director with Demand Control and Demand Response software. Benton participates in demand and emergency load response within the PJM grid.
Benton became the proud home of the World’s first DISA Horizontal Match 28×32. This was installed with a Summit mold handling line. Once again, Benton was involved throughout the design process. The emphasis was on having the same features offered on the Match 130, but in a mold large enough so that 24″diameter parts could be produced with enough room on one side of the mold for gating. This is the first time that DISA worked with a single foundry on two different “out-of-the-box” concepts. Benton pours castings up to 250 lbs at a rate of up to 100 molds/hour.
Installed a 60,000 CFM dust collector for all products of combustion. This collector features a 200hp motor and lime injection system to coat the bags for longer bag life and improved efficiency.
Installed a new Laempe LB25 core making machine.
Benton Purchased a second Foxall robotic grinding cell. This was ABB’s first Foxall with Force Control Technology
Office addition completed, including a new cafetaria, shower and locker rooms, and training facility. This expansion project also included a significant upgrade to the phone and computer systems.
Grand opening of Benton Foundry’s “Discovery Center”. This on-site museum–like atrium displays the basics of the casting process, materials used, the history of Benton Foundry and the industry that we serve
Completion of Inductotherm’s first MM300 retrofit on the four-ton furnaces.
Manual molding discontinued. Benton becomes a fully automated grey and ductile iron foundry.
Completion of Inductotherm’s first MM300 retrofit on the four-ton furnaces.
Installed Powerit’s Spara advanced demand management software. This fully integrated software tracks real-time power rates, monitors total demand within the PJM grid, and sheds power using a customized, programmable approach.
Installed a 60,000 CFM dust collector for all metallics. This collector features a 300hp Baldor Super E motor and return air system to provide clean tempered air during winter months.
Benton installed two additional Foxall Robotic grinding cells, bringing the armada of ABB robotic finishing cells to four.
Benton has also developed customized software for production planning and control. Prior to production, a preliminary schedule is generated so all patterns and cores can be pulled and staged, the tonnage per hour is predicted as well as the amount of core sand that will be added to the system. Common grades of iron are grouped together as well as pouring temperatures. The software offers complete scrap analysis. The history of a job can be reviewed prior to production by defect type, impression number, molding center, operator, etc. A complete change log is available that identifies every change made to the job. This feature can be used in combination with the scrap history to determine if the last change was effective.
Future projects include upgrading the core room and upgrading the cleaning/grinding operations. Benton is also in the process of integrating all of the production equipment on its electronic highway.
Few foundries have such an aggressive capital expenditure program or execute the plan as effectively as Benton. Benton Foundry firmly believes in selling castings for more than it costs. Loss leaders and give back programs are not part of the plan.
Benton’s success has been rare for the industry. Since 1975, Benton has had consistent growth and has never had a losing year financially.