When Quimmco Group, Monterrey, Mexico, purchased Blackhawk de Mexico, Santa Catarina, Mexico, in 2003, the gray and ductile iron casting facility underwent a remarkable turnaround. What once was a green sand facility struggling to turn a profit producing gray iron castings for the electric motor industry grew into one of Mexico’s leading metalcasting operations, earning MODERN CASTING’s 2009 Metalcaster of the Year award.
Blackhawk’s latest transformation was temporarily delayed by the economic unrest of the last decade. Original plans for a new $21-million nobake molding line were approved in late 2008, just as the U.S. and global economy began its precipitous fall. Specializing in ductile iron castings for the heavy truck and farm equipment markets, Blackhawk was forced to table its plans while orders dried up.
“Within a month, it was put on hold,” said Blackhawk CEO Patricio Gil, of the expansion project. “By March 2009, we lost 80% of our volume. We didn’t lose customers, just volume. There was really nothing we could do.”
Blackhawk produced just 6,600 metric tons of castings in 2009, half the total from the previous year. But the metalcaster bounced back in a big way the next two years, producing 10,800 metric tons in 2010 and 15,468 metric tons in 2011, a record total. The facility’s outlook improved so quickly in those two years that Blackhawk broke ground on its new 50,000-sq.-ft. nobake molding line in February 2012, less than three years after weathering the worst economic crisis in its 13-year history.
Blackhawk produces a variety of castings from 4 to 200 lbs. (approx. 2 to 90 kg), including differential cases, carriers, slip yokes and wheel hubs for the heavy truck market and hydraulic components, flywheels, steering arms and retainers for farm applications. When Blackhawk executives began to notice potential demand for larger castings, ranging up to 700 lbs. from existing clients, the company soon realized a new market.
“We identified the niche and started digging a little bit with our agriculture and off highway customers,” Gil said. “We never paid attention to compressors, and at the end, they found us. Now, large compressors are part of this niche.”
Once Blackhawk set its sights on castings from 200 to 700 lbs. (approx. 100 to 300 kg), Gil and his team had two options: expand the current green sand operation or opt for a nobake process to handle the larger castings.
Al Alagarsamy, a metallurgist who had previously worked with Blackhawk before joining the team of experts to help with this expansion, was an advocate for a nobake line, thanks to the process’s lower tooling costs and relatively less complex sand system for heavier section castings.
“You can still make this type and size of castings in a green sand flask,” Alagarsamy said. “But costs can go up with the larger castings. The sand system can be very complex. I think Blackhawk made the right choice with nobake.”