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Cast Your Line For Missed Business Opportunities
By Clarence Clark
As I travel around the country visiting with machine shops, I notice missed opportunities. One that is particularly noticeable is in the area of casting repair. I’m amazed by how many shops I visit that don’t do any at all. My thinking is, you want to look for things in business that 1) separate you from the rest of your competitors, and 2) give you the chance to make additional money. Casting repair fits both real nicely.
A customer brings an engine to you that upon teardown has a 4˝-long crack in the lifter valley. You tell the customer it’s junk, and he needs to bring you another engine to work on. Odds are you’ll never get any work on that engine. The customer will buy a rebuilt, a used engine or find someone else to fix it. To make matters worse, you’ll be lucky to get paid for the labor you’ve got in it so far!
Compare this to offering the customer a guaranteed fix for $125 or so. Not bad pay for the hour you’ll need to fix the crack, especially considering you get the rest of the rebuild job too. You should never send a customer away from your business if you can help it. You’re just creating the opportunity for someone else to take all that customer’s business away from you.
There’s opportunity to make money in this casting repair business. Here’s a true story from the farm belt: a farmer had a grain truck with an L-10 Cummins in it. The Cummins engine had developed an L-shaped crack along side and under the oil filter-mounting boss. This farmer had been checking around and had a price of $1,800 to pull the engine and switch to another used block. Another farmer had offered to stick weld the crack shut, but of course, no guarantee. It was successfully repaired, in-frame, using the pinning method in about six hours with no leaks. Charge $1,200 for this job and you’re a hero!
The basic rule of thumb is to charge one-half to two-thirds of what a new casting costs or in this case, the best alternative fix.
I’ve been working with Lock-N-Stitch for several years now. I carry their casting repair center around in my trailer and do the basic casting repair instruction during my seminar. You can learn the basics pretty quickly but if you’re serious about this part of the business – and I think you should be – you need more in-depth training.
Lock-N-Stitch offers a weekend school that is tops. If you’ll take that class and go back to your shop and start fixing castings, you’ll never look back. I learned not only how to fix castings using their tools and fixtures, I learned metallurgy and valuable theory about castings, and how they behave when subjected to heat and stress.
The last day of class, Gary Reed showed us how he furnace brazes large castings weighing more than a ton. It took hours to pre-heat the piece before he could even start brazing. In this case I learned that I never wanted to get in the furnace brazing business!
I talked to John Konecny, instructor at the Dana-Clevite School, and he says he’s been turning lots of folks on to spray welding cast iron. This technique is used primarily for external repairs to castings with external damage like broken bolt bosses and mounting tabs.
He told me how he’d fixed a casting used in a fancy Swedish machine used by the grounds-keeping department at Dana’s headquarters. They’d broken this casting right at the peak spring season and had a three-week wait for a new casting. Konecny had them on the road in less than an hour.
In another recent case, Konecny had been to a production engine rebuilder in the Midwest who had not been spray welding at all. Since his visit, they think they’ve saved $10,000 in cores in their first month of welding. They even fixed one the other day without taking it out of the boring bar! Konecny uses equipment from California’s Maintenance Welding Technology to teach spray welding in the five-day casting repair school he teaches at Dana. I also know that Randy Neal, Cast Welding Technology, has a school in Norcross, GA, that teaches, obviously, cast welding technology.
You’re probably starting to see I’m sold on the casting repair business. For a lot of shops, big and small, it makes sense. It’ll help you keep the customers you’ve got and at the same time bring new ones to you.
In our business, knowledge is power, and skill is king. Those smart enough to know what to do and skilled enough to do it have a bright future as long as they charge well for what they do! In one of last year’s articles, I talked about the need for us to get our prices up; nothing has changed. Adding new services that aren’t very price competitive is the ideal time to make a price adjustment. Remember our Cummins example: you can make good money and still provide the customer a needed, cost efficient, quality service.
Products mentioned by the author do not constitute an endorsement by Engine Builder magazine.
Clarence Clark goes on location across the U.S. and Canada to share his 35 years of experience in engine rebuilding in a series of seminars conducted at machine shops. You may e-mail Clarence at email@example.com