September 3, 2008

Slow Dip in 2008 Leads to Small Bump in 2009

By Kirgin, Ken

Casting shipments continue to decline this year, leading to a slight uptick next year. A preliminary analysis of the use of metal castings in the U.S. indicates that the slowdown forecast for 2008 continues, and a loss of 3.8% in casting shipments is to follow the drop in tonnage in 2007. The slowdown experienced in the first six months of this year in most casting market sectors is expected to continue into 2009; however, shipments should increase 2.8% over this year's totals.

Sales of passenger cars and light trucks have continued to drop in 2008, high inventories have resulted, and some car makers have plans to idle metalcasting plants in the second half of the year. A 6.9% loss in production of light vehicles is likely over the course of this year, following the 3% loss in 2007 and the 7.9% drop in 2006.

Housing starts also have declined in the first half of the year, reinforcing the forecast of a 5% decline in 2008, which followed the 10% loss in 2007 and the 13% drop in 2006.

Imports of castings from Asian nations and countries involved in the North American Free Trade Agreement continue to increase and are affecting shipments from U.S. metalcasting facilities despite increased demand in some market sectors.

Following is a breakdown of the 2009 forecast of casting demand by metal, as well as the resulting forecast for shipments.

Casting Demand

Interviews of casting consumers in specific market sectors have generated a distribution of casting demand forecasts by weight ranges and processes. The demand forecast is the predicted tons of castings consumed. A shipment forecast is calculated using this data. Investment castings are not included in the forecast.

Gray Iron Engineered Castings

The predicted demand for gray iron engineered castings in 2009, excluding municipal, soil pipe and ingot mold castings, is 4,142,000 tons (Table 1). Approximately 40% of the total is in the 0-50-lb. (O23-kg) weight range, where most of the castings are produced in vertically and horizontally-parted flaskless molding machines. In 2009, 26% of the total (1,056,000 tons) is forecast to be in the 50- 150-lb. (23-68-kg) range. This percentage is to gradually increase to near 27%, as iron blocks and heads are converted to aluminum. The forecast of 649,000 tons of gray iron consumed in light vehicles is expected to be cut in half in four years.

Heavy gray iron castings (greater than 700 lbs. [318 kg]) are predominantly used in diesel engines, pumps and compressors, and machines for the machine tool and special industry groups. The castings are predominantly made in nobake or green sand floor molds.

Approximately 82% of the castings in the refrigeration and air conditioning category are made in vertically parted machines, shell molds or lost foam.

Ductile Iron Engineered Castings

The predicted demand for ductile iron engineered castings in 2009, exclusive of ductile iron pipe, is 2,419,000 tons, with 63% of the total in the 0-50-lb. weight range (Table 2). The larger portion of this weight range is contained in suspension, brake, bracket, yokes and housings for automotive applications made in vertically parted molding machines. Most of the castings in the 50-300-lb. (23- 136-kg) weight range are made for construction machinery, valves, pumps and special industry machinery.

Carbon Steel Castings

The forecast demand for carbon and low alloy steel castings in 2009 is 547,000 tons, exclusive of railroad castings (Table 3). Approximately 34% of the demand is included in the 0-100Ib. (0-45- kg) weight range. The greater than 10,000-lb. (4,535-kg) castings produced in these alloys are primarily consumed in the turbine, steel mill, gears and special industry machinery categories, as well as in fluid handling equipment not included in the valve and pump categories.

Approximately 264,000 tons of carbon and low alloy steel castings are in the 101-1,000-lb. (46-454-kg) range. These generally are cope and drag castings used primarily in mining and construction machinery.

Corrosion Resistant Steel Castings

Approximately one-third of the corrosion resistant steel castings are in the valve market sector, with 77% in the 0-500-lb. (0-227- kg) weight range (Table 4).

Aluminum Castings

It is forecast that 1.28 million tons of aluminum die castings are to be in demand in the U.S. in 2009. Another 1.24 million tons of aluminum are expected to be made by the permanent mold or sand cast processes, including low pressure and gravity systems, lost foam molding and special sand processes (Table 5).

Other Nonferrous Castings

The estimated distribution of shipments of other nonferrous castings (not including investment castings) also varies by weight range and process. Brass and bronze valves and fittings from 0-700 lbs. (0-318 kg) will account for 144,000 tons of the metal's 314,000 tons of total shipments. The remaining 170,000 tons will go to other markets.

Of the 307,000 tons of zinc die castings that are forecast to ship in 2009, 60,000 will feed the automotive industry, and out of 129,000 total tons of magnesium castings shipped, 88,000 tons will be automotive.

The current forecast indicates that 61,000 tons of other nonferrous sand castings will be shipped in 2009.

Casting Shipments

The forecast shipments for 2009 are calculated by taking casting demand, adding the export tonnage and subtracting the imported casting tonnage. Investment castings are not included. The following is a breakdown of the casting shipment forecast for 2009 by metal and end-use industry (Table 6).


Shipments of gray iron castings are forecast to decline 3.8% from 4,287,000 tons in 2007 to 4,125,000 tons in 2008, before rising to 4,234,000 tons in 2009.

Motor Vehicles

Gray iron casting shipments for use in light vehicles are expected to drop to 778,000 tons in 2008, as the casting weight per light vehicle declines to 190 lbs. (86 kg) due to consumption of fewer iron blocks and heads. Light truck production is again expected to reach 59% of the total light vehicle production, keeping the casting weight per vehicle relatively high. Based on the increased conversion to aluminum in the next five years, the weight per vehicle is expected to drop to 150 lbs. (68 kg).

The forecast reduction in medium to heavy truck production in 2008 should reduce casting shipments in this market sector to 134,000 tons, a 100,000 reduction from the peak production in 2006. A 30,000-ton increase in 2009 is forecast.

Diesel Engines

Though engine production has remained high in the construction machinery sector, diesel engine demand has been reduced because of the decline in truck and tractor production. Gray iron casting shipments should decline in 2008 by 106,000 tons from the 2006 high of 486,000 tons, as elevated imports continue.

Construction Machinery & Equipment

Based on a forecast increase in exports in 2009, the production of construction machinery is expected to increase 1%, despite a slight decrease in construction activity. Iron casting production for consumption in heavy off-road equipment is expected to rise again in 2009 to 260,000 tons, after experiencing a down year in 2008.

Machine Tools

Though the first six months of 2009 is expected to yield a slight rebound in machine tool shipments in the U.S., gray iron metalcasters supplying this market sector continue to experience a slowdown in sales. The rebound is expected to continue into 2009. However, a loss of 0.9% per year in demand for iron castings is forecast by 2018.

Special Industry Machinery

A second straight year of decline is expected for most market sectors in the special industry machinery classification. Casting production in 2008 is expected to decline another 2%, followed by a rise in 2009.

Pumps & Compressors

A 3-4% loss in cast iron shipments is expected in 2008, though the closing of some captive facilities should aid some compressor producing jobbing facilities.


Shipments of ductile iron castings are expected to decline 2% in 2008 from a high of 4,671,000 tons in 2005 to 4,084000 tons in 2008 and then rise to 4,236,000 tons in 2009.

Motor Vehicles

Spurred by the high production of light trucks and vans, the ductile iron average weight per vehicle has dropped to 178 lbs. (81 kg). That number is expected to begin falling back to the 155-lb. (70-kg) level due to loss of some crankshaft applications to steel forgings in aluminum engines and losses to aluminum conversions for suspension parts. A 2% drop in ductile iron consumption in light vehicles is forecast for 2008, decreasing to a 764,000-ton low, as light vehicle production in the U.S. decreases 7% in 2008. Consumption in medium to heavy trucks also is expected to decline in 2008 to 176,000 tons as truck production drops. A subsequent rise to 218,000 tons in 2009 is forecast.


Shipments of ductile iron pressure pipe are again expected to drop to 1.92 million tons in 2008, though a slight 4.1% increase is expected by 2010. An increase in exports is expected to keep plant utilization at relatively high levels.

Valves and Fittings

Aided by the pressure from increased imports in this market sector, which are growing at a rate of near 4% annually, shipments of ductile iron castings are expected to decline 8.8% in 2008 to 198,000 tons from the 2005 peak.

Farm Machinery

Shipments of farm machinery increased for the fourth consecutive year, rising more than 5% in 2008 and approximately 1% in 2009. The growth was caused by an increase in domestic demand, as well as a gain in exports to Asian countries. Ductile iron casting shipments rose from 139,000 tons in 2006 to 155,000 tons in 2008 and are expected to rise to 157,000 tons in 2009. Construction & oil Field Equipment

An increase in the demand for construction machinery and oilfield drilling equipment has spurred ductile iron growth in both of these market sectors. Despite a forecast decline in construction activity in 2008, ductile iron applications in these markets are expected to grow 1% per year in construction machinery and 0.6% per year in oil field equipment.


Excluding investment castings, shipments of steel castings are forecast to decline 3% from 1,376,000 tons in 2007 to 1,336,000 tons in 2008 and 1,334,000 tons in 2009.


A forecast drop of 8,000 freight car deliveries in 2008, which follows a 16% drop in 2007 from the 75,000 peak in 2006 and two consecutive years of peak shipments, is expected to result in a decline in steel casting consumption in the railroad industry of 138,000 tons from the high of 758,000 tons in 2006. A further decline of 3% is forecast for 2010.

Mining Machinery & Equipment

After declining 1% in 2007, the mining industry is expected to decline again at a rate of 1% in 2008 but grow 2% in 2009. Growth is expected to continue and lead to steel casting shipments of 69,000 tons per year by 2010.


Steel casting shipments are forecast to decline to 53,000 tons in 2008 as production of medium to heavy trucks decreases from peak levels and drops to 26,000 tons by 2018.


Shipments of aluminum castings reached a peak level in 2005 of 2.3 million tons and are expected to top 2.3 million again in 2013. Aluminum die casting shipments also reached a record level in 2005 of 1.3 million tons and are expected to equal that tonnage again in 2013.

Motor Vehicle

Aluminum casting weight per vehicle has passed 250 lbs. (13 kg) in 2008 and is expected to grow to 280 lbs. (127 kg) within the next five years.

Ken Kirgin, Stratecasts Inc., Fort Myers, Florida

About the Author

A 50-year metalcasting industry veteran, Ken Kirgin founded Stratecasts Inc. in the early 1980s to provide domestic and international forecasting and trends analysis and strategic planning.

For More Inforamtion

"Industrial Production to Spur Casting Demand," MODERN CASTING, January 2008, p. 26-31.

Copyright American Foundrymen's Society Aug 2008

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