Situational Analysis: When Traditional Vibe-casting with Large Mixers Beats Pump Casting
Recently, we were asked to attend a pre-bid meeting for a secondary aluminum facility to discuss a project – a rebuild of the hearth, ramp and sill of an aluminum melt furnace.
The purchasing department was leading the meeting, and they had already selected the refractory materials, defined the scope of work and listed all of the specifics of the project. We were told that the refractory would be installed via pump-casting and that installation time was very important.
So far, nothing seemed unusual. Since we were expecting a fairly large-volume placement, we anticipated that job logistics, such as obstacles, plant operations or environmental factors, would dictate that pump-casting was the best refractory installation choice for this job.
Free and Clear Furnace Access Dictated Vibe-casting
After a walk-through and some discussions with the maintenance engineer and production folks, we learned the plant was going to be offline during this project, and there would be free and clear access to the furnace. There would be no lengthy distances to travel, no need to set-up in another area, or no real delivery issues to contend with.
In other words, we could set up directly in front of the furnace with no obstacles, encumbrances or plant production issues to work around. There were also no related environmental or safety issues.
As we continued discussing the scope of work with the plant’s engineers and managers, we brought to their attention that — since the plant was going to be down and there was very good access to the furnace — we could set up large-capacity mixers, and place the material directly in the desired area without the need for an expensive pump (and all of its related equipment).
This setup, using vibe-casting, also provided the best physical properties for their selected refractory materials, and still allowed us to meet their time schedule.
By the conclusion of the meeting, the plant’s team was convinced of the benefits provided by vibe-casting and decided to select this alternate method.
Experience is Key
The takeaways from this meeting are two-fold:
- Pump-casting is not necessarily the wrong installation approach. However, it should be considered in the overall scope of the project and the customer’s project expectations. This is why it is important to work with an experienced contractor who can provide feedback on your project setup. An inexperienced contractor may just say yes to your plans, rather than being able to add new insight to your project. In fact, some contractors are only comfortable with one installation method – such as pump-casting – so they are incapable of suggesting other options.
- Industrial purchasing departments serve a valuable function for their company, but they typically lack the depth of knowledge needed to select, organize and determine all of the variables for a refractory project on their own. In this case, the purchasing department focused on the general concept of time (and thus cost) savings that pump-casting would provide. The purchasing department’s choice of an experienced contractor – and their willingness to explore other options – led to a successful outcome.
As we always say, refractories are not a commodity. Always talk to the people who have deep experience in all types of refractory installation projects before determining your materials, installation method and scope of work.