Special thanks to Roger Bone and Family for starring in this manual on how to present Foundry in a Box to young kids.
Written By Kati Burns, AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe Co.
Children streamed into the lunchroom at Trace Crossings Elementary School in Hoover for the annual Career Day fair on Feb. 27. Vendors from local businesses and organizations manned tables throughout the space, offering fun information on their job fields and handing out goodie bags. The majority of the children, however, congregated around several long tables at the entrance; tables covered with curious metal flasks and grey sand. Many of the red aprons the children were asked to put on while stepping up to the tables were so large they trailed along the floor. The plastic gloves swallowed their tiny hands, but their smiles were excited and genuine.
Volunteers with the American Foundry Society (AFS) Birmingham Chapter presented Foundry in a Box to around 450 elementary school children that day. Foundry in a Box is a program of the AFS and is a table-top demonstration of metal casting, designed to promote an understanding of the industry while encouraging elementary school through college students to pursue a technical education. The AFS Birmingham Chapter Foundry in a Box presentation, led by AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe Company (AMERICAN) Manufacturing Engineer Ken Murphy, has been demonstrated to more than 5,000 students throughout Birmingham since May 2014. But there is something unique about Birmingham’s Foundry in a Box: Volunteers take on the challenging task of presenting the demonstration to children below the fourth grade.
Manufacturers are increasingly looking to high schools and community colleges to fill current staffing needs and gear up for a wave of Baby Boomer retirements, while educators are trying to dispel student’s misconceptions about the industry. Despite high unemployment since the recession, manufacturers still struggle to fill hundreds of thousands of job openings. According to USA Today, since bottoming out in February 2010, employment at U.S. factories has risen by 700,000 to 12.1 million, recouping about 30 percent of the jobs the industry lost in the downturn. In recent years in the U.S., a growing number of high schools have launched or revived manufacturing programs to guide students toward good-paying jobs and help fill a critical shortage of skilled machinists, welders and maintenance technicians. However, education about such careers is normally absent from the elementary level, a time when many students begin to learn what they like or don’t like.
Trace Crossings’ Counselor Angie Smith said that the school’s annual career fair is a “whole school effort” to expose children to different types of college degrees, but to also teach them that there are jobs they can do with their hands. “Children learn better if all of their senses are involved,” Smith said. “This gives them a realistic idea of something they can do as a career later on. The Foundry in a Box demonstration is one of the experiences our children always remember most; it’s a favorite, and the casting they get at the end is like winning a prize to them.”
Foundry in a Box volunteer Lindsay Hamner works as a manufacturing engineer in AMERICAN’S Melting Department. Hamner tailored her studies more towards materials science and engineering at the University of Alabama at Birmingham after becoming interested in a foundry-based career.
“I didn’t hear about the foundry until I was in college,” Hamner said. “The Foundry in a Box demonstration can have a big impact on high school students, so we teach them a little more about the history of metal casting before giving the demonstration. For the smaller children, we have to teach them in more of a fun way; it’s a good introduction for them.”
Johnny Williams with the Alabama Art Casting (AAC) organization from Tannehill Ironworks Historic State Park volunteered his time to help with the demonstration at C.J. Donald Elementary School in Fairfield on March 23, and his thoughts echoed Hamner’s.
“I’m all for using an artistic way to open a gateway to math, science and cultural history,” Williams said. “These experiences get kids thinking about math and science, and what it means to the world. This is a good early level to reach them on; young people with no idea about the foundry can see this and learn about it for the first time. Maybe its influence will drive their ambition later on.”
The AAC is a non-profit arts and education group devoted to educating the public about traditional and modern methods of pattern making, mold making, and iron casting processes.
Leo Baran, director of Membership Services for AFS, traveled from Illinois to Birmingham to show support for AFS Birmingham’s Foundry in a Box demonstration at C.J. Donald Elementary School. He said typically AFS chapters show Foundry in a Box to individual classrooms. “Ken’s group is unique, however, because they’ll do their demonstration for the entire school,” Baran said. “It’s hard enough to make sixth graders understand metal casting, let alone small children. Ken should be wearing a red cape instead of a red apron.”
Baran said the Birmingham AFS Chapter has made a huge impact showing kids in a very basic and easy-to-grasp way what melting and pouring metal is all about. Baran believes AFS Birmingham may be the only AFS group demonstrating the art of metal casting to younger children.
“People don’t talk to students about working with their hands anymore,” Baran said. “These demonstrations are important because by the time most kids are in high school, they already have an idea of what they want to be. But younger children are wide open, and they need to do this so that they can start thinking about careers in manufacturing.”
Ken Murphy runs the Foundry in a Box program for the Birmingham Chapter. If you would like to set up a demonstration, or if you would like to volunteer, please contact Ken at KMurphy@american-usa.com or by phone (mobile 205-965-4225;