The property on which Benton Foundry resides was originally part of the 45,000 square mile grant that King Charles II gave to William Penn in 1681. The granted land, which includes all of Eastern Pennsylvania was sold to the first private owners from 1682 all the way up into the mid 1900’s.
Five hundred of those acres were purchased by Jacob Harrington in 1836 when he moved to Upper Coles Creek, Sugarloaf Township. Jacob was in the timbering business, manufactured shingles and in 1841 he erected a sawmill. Jacob’s son, Newton Harrington, fought in the American Civil war and, upon his return, built a small iron foundry.
In the early years, the foundry produced sled shoes used to transport timber and stone. The foundry also produced laths and stands for shoe repair, griddles and plows. During World War II, the foundry produced stove parts for the Army and Navy, as well as 75mm shells. The foundry continued operations, through multiple generations of Harrington’s until 1958.
Meanwhile, in the early 1900’s, Al Hall apprenticed with the Lackawanna Railroad (now part of the Steamtown National Historic Site), then worked for foundries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He and a partner bought Hallstead Foundry for $1,500 in 1929. Hallstead was a jobbing foundry, making all kinds of iron castings for many different customers. Hallstead flourished, and in 1958 Al Hall and his partner purchased Harrington Foundry for $25,000 and renamed it after the nearby town of Benton.
In 1974, Al died suddenly. At the time, Benton Foundry was a separate corporation, about one-third Hallstead’s size, owned by the same two families. Without a succession plan, the companies and families became divided. In 1975, Al’s sons, Fritz and Butch, took over Benton Foundry. This experience drove home an important lesson for Fritz and Butch: business survival depended on solid, long-term planning. They were already united in the work and financial ethic that still drives Benton: money must be reinvested in the company to continually improve technology, efficiency, skill and working environment.
FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
When Fritz and Butch took over ownership in 1975, Benton had about 60 employees, 7 customers and poured 22 tons of iron per day. At the time, Benton had 22 squeeze molders, 2 B&P 16×20 Match-Blomatics, no overhead sand system, a cupola and a muller that didn’t work well. Iron was poured only 4 hours each day. Rather humble beginnings.
Today, Benton Foundry is a state-of-the-art gray and ductile iron 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 2,500 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 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 200-250 tons per day. Total melt and sand preparation capacity can support up to roughly 300 tons of iron per day.
This is where some of the industry’s best casting, plant and financial engineering work is 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 to 15 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 late 1970’s and 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 Bachelor’s 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 Master’s 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 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.
NOTABLE MILESTONESWith 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.
Summer 1990PP&L completed a 22 mile, 69KV line from Rohrsburg, PA to Benton.
August 1991Two 4-metric ton Inductotherm furnaces with a 2500KW power pack were installed.
June 1995Automatic mold handling installed on two 14×19 Hunters.
June 1996 – January 1997PP&L completed the last 5 miles of 69KV line from the town of Benton to the Foundry. These 100-ft poles can be seen along Route 487. 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.
August 2000Upgraded 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 550-ton sand system was designed for two mullers, but at the time there was only one B&P 100B Speedmuller with Hartley Controls.
2000 – 2002Additions were made to the grinding and shipping areas and the insulated roof (constructed of rubber) was replaced throughout the grinding, shakeout and molding areas to 28 foot under truss. This project considerably improved the work environment and enabled many of the future projects that significantly streamlined the manufacturing process.
December 2000Benton 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.
June 2002One of the 1970′s vintage Hunter 14×19′s was replaced with a new Hunter 10G.
August 2002The 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.
2006Added 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.
November 2006A second DISA Horizontal Match 130 (with an automatic core setter) was added with Vulcan Mold Handling.
2006 – 2008Several 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.
March 2007Installed a Foxall Robotic grinding station.
November 2007Installed a 120,000 CFM dust collector with a 500hp Super E motor and return air system to provide clean tempered air during winter months. This system was part of a 5-year plan developed with TRC to lower releases to the atmosphere. The system also helped solve the Foundry’s negative air pressure problem, improved air quality and continues to keep the facility at roughly 70° F in the winter months. This voluntary effort resulted in a reduction from 0.018 gcf to 0.005 gcf (more than a 2/3rds reduction).
January 2008Added a second Simpson 100B-250 Muller with Hartley Controls and upgraded the first unit so that both Mullers are identical.
March 2008Installed a new Hunter 20XL with Summit Mold Handling.
June 2008Streamlined the flow of the shakeout system. Replaced all vibratory conveyors with new General Kinematic units and added a second Didion MD100 rotary drum.
September 2008Installed 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 22″ 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. The extended cooling lines allow for controlled shakeout temperatures, thus predictable mechanical properties and consistent machinability are achieved.
March 2009Installed 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.
April 2010Installed a new Laempe LB25 core making machine.
September 2010Benton Purchased a second Foxall robotic grinding cell. This was ABB’s first Foxall with Force Control Technology.
September 2011Benton Purchased a LECO oxygen/nitrogen unit.
June 2012Office addition completed, including a new cafeteria, shower and locker rooms, and training facility. This expansion project also included a significant upgrade to the phone and computer systems.
September 2012Grand 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 industries that we serve.
March 2013Completion of Inductotherm’s first MM300 retrofit on the four-ton furnaces. This update included a PLC platform with fiber optic controls and advanced diagnostics.
December 2013Manual molding discontinued. Benton becomes a fully automated grey and ductile iron foundry.
May 2014Installed 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.
June 2014Installed 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. The system also provides extra capacity for future grinding and cleaning expansion.
July 2014Benton installed two additional Foxall Robotic grinding cells, bringing the fleet of ABB robotic finishing cells to four.
A 12,000 square foot maintenance addition was completed which includes maintenance offices, an engineering office, electrical fabrication room, tool room, flammable materials room, maintenance lift for rolling stock, steam cleaning area with a catch basin for the rolling stock, millwright capabilities, two high bays with overhead cranes, several work cells for fabrication, hydraulic fittings, air tools, etc…, consolidated mechanical and electrical stores with a high density storage unit, keyless security and video surveillance.
Also included is an electrical substation for some redundancy and improved power distribution, as well as a secondary air compressor/dryer plant. The heat generated from the air compressors heat the new addition during the winter months.
April 2016VFD’s were installed on two dust collectors. The energy savings is in excess of 40%. Metering devices and control software on the air compressors were installed to optimize those running, while keeping constant air pressure throughout the facility. The savings were in excess of 25%.
July 2016A new sand silo was added to the green sand system, bringing the total molding sand capacity to approximately 725 tons. In addition to adding capacity, this upgrade also reduced the clay required to meet the desired properties. By adding tempered sand capacity, the molding sand can be stored with a higher water content, activating the clay remaining in solution.
March 2017Benton installed two additional Foxall Robotic grinding cells, bringing the fleet of ABB robotic finishing cells to six.
July 2017Installed a VFD on our third collector with similar energy and compressed air savings experienced on our other dust collectors. This standardizes our approach on all of our dust collection units. Teflon coated bags were also installed on this collector, reducing the compressed air requirements by roughly 75%.
October 2017Purchased Magma solidification software and a high end computer to support it.
January 2019We completed the relocation of the lab and expansion of our pattern shop. This area better utilizes the vertical space within this 28 foot high fire-rated room utilizing a new Crown TSP-6500 Turret forklift. Extra space was incorporated into the design to accommodate our future growth plans. On the first floor, the new structure also includes a room for our CMM and Romer 3D scanner, a mechanical testing room, pattern shop office, and a pattern shop area that includes 10 work benches that consolidates pattern and corebox rigging, gating and risering, minor repairs, revisions and modifications. On the second floor, we have a records room and is also the location of our new lab. This is a full service sand and metals lab. Our Quality Management team and metallurgists also call this new area home.
Upgraded our wireless system which currently includes 23 access points to communicate with forklift operators and to monitor performance of remote units, such as the dust collectors and sewage treatment facility.
Added more hydraulic wedges for the removal of gates and risers. This brings our fleet to six units.
Installed a gate crusher to increase the density of our charge, remove excess sand from our gating, ease the handling of our returns and reduce our kwh/ton melted.
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.
Many of the above projects that involved energy savings were partially funded through our local utility via ACT 129.
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.