Established in 1995, Tycon Alloy is dedicated to providing customers with highly precise and complex casting components. By offering casting components, machining, as well as surface treatments on castings, the company has earned a reputation for providing high grade engineered casting solutions.
Pump Engineer recently had the pleasure of meeting with Mr. Michael Lo, General Manager of Tycon Alloy, at the company’s new foundry in Zhongshan, China, to discuss Tycon’s quality control system, market strategy, and management philosophy. He was joined by Mr. Charles Shen, a Senior Procurement Specialist from Emerson China, visiting the Zhongshan foundry as a customer, who shared his perceptive views.
By Xue Guanpu
As a leading casting enterprise with locations in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China, Tycon is committed to introducing advanced technologies into its processes, as well as incorporating research into the development of special casting materials. In order to stand at the forefront of the casting industry, and become a leader in engineering casting solutions, it manufactures pumps, valves, flowmeters, and other castings applications for a number of industries. Tycon’s pump-related castings, specifically, are widely used in the marine, petrochemical, and electric power industries.
In response to changing industry trends, Tycon began to build a new foundry in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province of China, in 2015. The finished foundry covers an area of 100,000 square meters and is the result of a total investment of $500 million RMB. This project allowed the company to gradually transfer its production capacity from Shenzhen to Zhongshan, and produce an annual output of 10,000 tons per year.
Mr. Lo, who is now responsible for the business operations of two foundries, joined the company in 2001. “For the past few years, I have been preparing for the transfer of our processes to Zhongshan. This has involved a vast variety of tasks including foundry construction, right through to equipment procurement. It has taken a lot of effort to finally get our products to the production line here and we are very excited to offer them to our clients; it is our customers who measure the success of our products and service,” said Mr. Lo.
Smart Plant with Digital Management
With the Zhongshan foundry operation entering the second phase of planning, Mr. Lo is focusing his attention on transferring Tycon’s production capacity from Shenzhen to Zhongshan. “Precision casting experiments are currently taking place to test some complicated components and difficult-to-make products, while the sand casting automatic production line is ready for use. Our customers in Europe, the United States, and Japan are mainly involved in the pump and valve industry, so our production capacity will expand in accordance with changing market demands there,” he stated.
To keep up with the ever changing market, Tycon has ensured that all of the equipment in the Zhongshan foundry complies with the latest environmentalprotection, energy-consumption, and sewage treatment standards, required by the Chinese government. In recent years more stringent regulations have been introduced in China because of a general concern about the environment. “We have conducted a number of inspections to ensure that our equipment meets these standards. Moreover, the equipment here is all digitalized so that it can be networked in the future. Through digitization, workers and engineers can check the status and energy consumption of the entire foundry through the produced data,” continued Mr. Lo.
As enterprises in China are now facing greater barriers to entering the casting industry, unqualified companies are more likely to be eliminated from the market. “From Shenzhen to Zhongshan, I have noticed that equipment has been digitized. Compared to traditional foundries, the biggest change is that we can now see if equipment is fully functioning, or not, by simply connecting it to a computer. Tycon has therefore laid a good foundation for the establishment of ‘smart’ plants and their future development,” Mr. Shen stated.
The Importance of a Quality Management System
The casting industry is indeed a traditional industry, said Mr. Lo. “Simply changing the production mode cannot drive the entire industry forward. Only by upgrading our management philosophy and applied technology systems at the same time, can we keep the casting industry energized and on the move. This is where the real challenge is.”
In order to accomplish this progressive movement, Tycon diligently maintains process controls. “We need to find out exactly where a potential problem is for any product in any process, then we will know how to improve it. At Tycon we therefore have monitors and engineers allocated to take care of each production section. I think that quality control depends largely upon strict process control, because the data and feedback provided from the back-end process and customer side is important to ensure traceability from the front-end,” Mr. Lo explaind. “Only by improving the process can our engineers and employees give full play to their knowledge.”
Mr. Shen added, “From the customer’s point of view, strict process control is a vital part of a stable quality system because the quality of the sample product and that of volume production are of equal importance. Volume production requires a strong quality system and it cannot be achieved just by one particular person or a few people.”
As Mr. Lo went on to point out, the casting industry is not a one-way deal or simply a case of selling a product. “From raw materials, to suppliers, to customers, we are all linked in a supply chain from a macro perspective. The supplier of each product is just one segment in the entire supply chain, no matter how closely every segment is connected with each other, communication between segments is highly significant.”
In the past, pump factories had their own casting workshops. Although casting workshop and the pump factory have been separated over the last 20 years, there is still a need for them to be in close communication with one another. Therefore, Tycon always tries to understand the difficulties that its customers encounter in their production process, and works to fuse together to provide a highly interactive service. “For new customers, we are willing to keep products in storage according to their needs, and will promptly provide these products to them upon request.” In Mr. Lo’s opinion, the purpose of building a bridge between a foundry and its customers is to obtain a clear understanding of customer needs, as their needs are just as important as the product itself.
Business in the Pandemic
At present, Tycon has adopted a relatively balanced market strategy. “Personally, I think that Europe, the United States, and China are the three major regions for future industrial development. While Covid-19 is indeed an unfavorable factor for the global market, we still hope to achieve more in coming years, especially in the European and American markets. We intend to invest more resources in China because it has become a mature power in the industrial marketplace and many of its factories have grown into research centers,” said Mr. Lo.
While continuing to make sustained efforts in traditional industry sectors, Tycon will also expand its footprint in the food and pharmaceutical sectors. “These are very promising industries and ones that have continued to grow at a rapid rate, despite the present circumstances of the pandemic.” By cooperating with colleges and universities Tycon is able to use its resources and equipment to experiment further with product development. It is perhaps a surprising fact that more new products have been developed by Tycon in the first half of 2020 than the same period last year. “One of the reasons for this is that our team have close communication ties with our customers. Although our colleagues cannot go on business trips to foreign countries at present, they never stop their conversations with customers. Apart from this, we are now looking for new communication methods through Internet technology. For example, through showing product simulations in software directly to our customers they are able to fully understand how we are going to solve their problems. Overall, Tycon is confident that it will find its own direction in the current, fluctuating global marketplace,” stated Mr. Lo.
For Mr. Lo, casting is not a ‘sunset’ industry, for without casting no product can be assembled. “Casting is an industry with on-going demand. The poignant question however, is, what is the value of casting enterprises nowadays if they remain a traditional industry? If a foundry merely produces an array of products but overlooks: environmental issues, the motivation of employees, and shortcomings in management, then it is bound to close.” Ensuring that talented individuals are given the right opportunity, however, can lead to fresh ideas and higher work efficiencies. “Talented people are a key element in a good enterprise because everyone can show their own creativity and enthusiasm. However, a lot of foundries nowadays are short of talent because young people are unwilling to work there.” To solve this problem, Tycon organizes student training classes almost every year. Mr. Lo loves to hear the sparkling ideas of students because they are not restricted to a fixed mindset. “Tycon benefits from young people. Each year I talk to our newly graduated colleagues and let them know how we value them. Attracting fresh blood and teaching them that working in a foundry is exciting is something we insist on.”
During his 20 years in Tycon, Mr. Lo has explored the development and future of the casting industry. “The most important thing is to push this traditional industry forward by improving management’s philosophy and outdated production systems. Whether working with colleagues or customers, Tycon values team spirit and I hope to make a contribution to the whole supply chain. The project cannot be completed until every segment exceeds expectation,” he concluded.