Foundries produce metal castings for a wide range of products and industries. These include cars, fridges and mobile phones, as well as items for the ICT, medical and aerospace industries. During the process, metal is heated until it becomes liquid and is then poured into moulds to make castings. Foundry patternmakers create full-scale, three-dimensional models as patterns for making the moulds.
The patterns are produced from drawings made by designers, and are made out of a variety of materials, including wood, metal, plastic and wax. Patternmakers use computer-controlled equipment, as well as traditional hand tools such as saws, planes and grinders.
Projects are often complicated and many of the finishing techniques have to be carried out by hand. It is vital that the pattern produced is accurate, as any mistakes will be reproduced in each subsequent casting.
Developments in patternmaking include Wire EDM (electrical discharge machining). This process enables the shape of an object, called a workpiece, to be obtained using electrical discharges (sparks). Wire EDM reduces or eliminates the need for fixtures and tooling when creating individual or low-run production parts. Finishing is also minimised as parts can be used immediately, reducing as far as possible the time between design and delivery. EDM is often included in the 'non-traditional' group of machining methods, together with processes such as electrochemical machining (ECM), water jet cutting (WJ, AWJ) and laser cutting.
As well as working with two-dimensional designs, patternmakers calculate how much the metal will shrink as it cools, and make allowances in their models. In some cases they have to design channels in the model to allow metal to flow into it.
Once the pattern is complete, a prototype or production sample is usually made for the customer to examine.
A foundry patternmaker usually works 37 to 39 hours a week. They may work on a shift system, including evenings and weekends. Overtime may also be available.
Patternmaking is generally carried out on a computer in an office and in highly automated machine shops, although some work may be carried out in a workshop.
Patternmakers are required to wear protective clothing, including overalls and safety boots, when working in a workshop or foundry environment.
The starting salary for a patternmaker may be around £15,000 a year. With more experience, this can rise to around £17,000. The highest salaries may be around £25,000.
The foundry sector employs around 62,000 employees in 500 companies. Foundries tend to be small scale and almost half of them employ fewer than 50 people. The main regions for foundry employment are the West Midlands, followed by Yorkshire, Humberside and the East Midlands.
A move towards using other materials, such as plastic, has created some challenges for the industry. However, foundries producing complex or high-value castings for specialist markets, using highly automated, computer-controlled equipment, continue to be successful. In some companies automation has led to the employment of multiskilled machine operators rather than specialist patternmakers.
Vacancies may be advertised in the local press and Jobcentre Plus offices. They may also be found on the websites of professional bodies such as the Institute of Cast Metal Engineers (ICME).
There are no formal entry requirements. Entrants can join a company as an unskilled foundry operative and progress through a company training scheme to become a skilled patternmaker.
Young people may also be able to start on an Apprenticeship. Entry requirements are usually set by the recruiting company and do vary. Generally, applicants should have at least three to five GCSE's (A*-G) including English, maths and science. GCSE's in engineering and manufacturing may also be available. The Diploma in engineering may be relevant for this area of work.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Applicants with a background in computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), computer numerically controlled (CNC) systems and methoding software may be at an advantage.
Another option is to study for a City & Guilds New Progression Award in patternmaking, or an NVQ in performing engineering operations. Other useful pre-entry qualifications include the BTEC First Diploma in manufacturing engineering.
New entrants usually receive induction training, covering basic work practices and health and safety issues. This is normally followed by on-the-job training, depending on the complexity of the work. Patternmakers may also take short job-related courses run by specialist trainers.
All Apprenticeships involve work-based training combined with block or day release at college. Apprentices usually work towards NVQ's and, in some cases, BTEC National and Higher National Awards and City & Guilds qualifications.
Relevant qualifications include:
The following colleges offer courses that are directly relevant to the castings industry.
The Institute of Cast Metals Engineers (ICME) runs a programme of short courses in many aspects of metallurgy, casting and foundry operations. Courses generally run for one to five days. Details are on their website.
In-company courses are offered by Castings Technology International. Details are on their website.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
Foundry patternmakers need to:
With experience and further training, promotion may be possible to supervisory and managerial roles.
Those who show a particular aptitude during their training may be offered an opportunity to train as a technician and work in cast metals technology, or mechanical or electrical engineering.
There may be opportunities to work abroad.
Castings Technology International,
Advanced Manufacturing Park, Brunel Way,
Rotherham S60 5WG
Tel: 0114 254 1144
Engineering Connections - EEF West Midlands,
Reddings Lane, Tyseley, Birmingham, West Midlands
Tel: 0121 7071414 Freephone 0800 917 1617
Institute of Cast Metals Engineers (ICME),
47 Birmingham Road, West Bromwich,
West Midlands B70 6PY
Tel: 0121 601 6979
SEMTA (the Sector Skills Council for Science,
Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies),
14 Upton Road, Watford, Hertfordshire WD18 0JT
Tel: 01923 238441
Women's Engineering Society
Tel: 01438 765506
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.