As a 40-person job shop, Aristo Cast excels at delivering what others can't, from RP-based innovation to investment casting magnesium.
Aristo Cast has a
challenging casting projects.
The Almont, Mich., job shop's
customers count on quality
ferrous and nonferrous castings with the
added benefit of a supplier relationship
built on collaborative innovation.
Our annual "Metalcaster of the Year" award goes to a firm that exemplifies
the best of North American metalcasting.
Aristo Cast is this year's recipient
for continuously conquering new
challenges on behalf of its customers.
This established job shop often delivers
investment castings thought to be
impossible and works closely with its
clients to achieve their goals.
"You'd be amazed at the ingenuity
of the people we have here," said owner
Jack Ziemba. The company consists of
about 40 empowered problem solvers
who meet daily to discuss the investment
casting work moving through
the facility. Open communication is
strongly encouraged, ideas are actively
sought, and the flexibility to meet fluctuating
customer needs mid-production
is taken as a matter of course.
"Casting quality and turnaround
time are the two major reasons we
go with Aristo Cast," said Micron
Precision Machining's Eric Jacob. The
Saginaw, Mich., customer supplies Tier
One automotive companies as well as
end users in aerospace, defense and the medical market. "We're not a high
volume shop. We do custom one-off
pieces up to two or three hundred," he
said. A recent project involved converting
a sand cast and machined aluminum
steering assist component to an
"We buy various types of castings,
and the quality of the prototype they
provided was heads and shoulders above everybody else. Timing was spot
on and it was very well accepted by our
customer," said Jacob. His team works
directly with Aristo Cast's engineers
through onsite and virtual meetings,
ensuring casting designs that match
both the end use and the optimal manufacturing process.
Ziemba has been involved in investment
casting for more than 50 years. He
credits Gene Malinowski, the late coowner
of Eutectic Engineering, for getting
him started at age 16. At Aristo Cast,
he's cultivated a skilled team of experts. "We want to be more specialized as we
go, and that's exactly where it's opening
up—the higher end, more difficult castings
that require a lot of experience," he
said. "Our crew is people who have done
it, and our turnover is virtually zero."
All Who Enter Here
While investment casting
production has been
the name of the game since
Ziemba bought the company in 1994,
the business has grown into a leader
in investment casting prototypes.
Approximately 45% of revenue currently
comes from the prototyping
business, a notch above last year's 30%.
Aristo Cast was one of the first
metalcasters to purchase a wax
printer in 1998 - it was serial No.
005. Since then, the shop has added
several more, as well as other rapid
prototype machines, such as an
ABS plastic printer used for durable
demonstration prototypes in the
early design stages. A small wax
printer makes patterns for miniature
investment castings such as jewelry,
and another rapid machine produces
patterns made from crushed Plexiglas (PPMA). The workhorse
wax printer in the shop provides
patterns for castings that require a
class "A" surface finish.
"We don't want to do millions
of pieces," said Ziemba. "Our bread
and butter, if it's a quick hitter, will
be between 5 and 2,000 pieces. We
have a business model that lets us
go after unique things with the
attitude that we can do it. There's
no such thing as we can't; it's just a
question of how long it will take to
get it done. We don't bat a thousand,
but we have a very high success
rate on first run through and
we provide a finished product.
"We tackle the difficult jobs, and
that enhances the delivery requirement
and makes it more challenging.
On a normal production job
of 5 to 7,000 pieces, without any
tie-ups from secondary machining
or anything, a five-week turnaround
is standard. That includes building
the tooling in-house."
With no sales representatives, the
company relies on word-of-mouth
marketing primarily from engineering
"We run very thin shells here,
which helps enable intricate detail
on the parts. We all use the same
ingredients, but it's our recipe that
allows our shells to have the strength
we need with less thickness," said Michele Walla, who runs day-to-day
Standard investment casting
best practices are present, but the
Aristo Cast team likes to work out
new angles. The company has a few
special tricks of the trade up its sleeve,
particularly when it comes to working with magnesium.
Breaking Down Barriers
"We take a good deal of pride
in the prototyping, and we also are
one of only two that I know of in
the U.S. and from what I'm told
only seven in the world that are
investment casting magnesium," said Ziemba. "Through research and
development here, we've managed
to overcome the issues with metal
mold reaction when it comes down to casting magnesium."
Aristo Cast has not patented
its magnesium investment casting
process. But, it is in the process of
drawing up a licensing agreement
with a magnesium company in Israel.
Although magnesium has a reputation
for burning, the Elektron 21
magnesium alloy used in aircrafts has
very low flammability, according to
Ziemba. "It has just been approved
for seat brackets in the Airbus," he
said. "And when it comes to aircraft,
on say a 737, for every 500 lbs. of
weight they can take out of that
plane, they save a quarter million
dollars' worth of fuel. Magnesium casting vs. aluminum is going to be more expensive, but the payback is very good." The firm also recently formed a partnership
with Materion, Elmore, Ohio,
to produce shells for its AlBeCast alloy,
which has a high cost. "Our magnesium inhibiting that
we use for our internal product works very well for their alloy, as well," said
Ziemba. "So, we're teaming up."
Bill Schmidt, mechanical engineer,
Elbit Systems of America, Merrimack,
N.H., has been working with Eric
Ziemba (Jack's son) on developing lightweight
parts for a prototype handheld
military system. One of the castings produced
in that project over the past year
received the "Best in Class" award in the
2014 Metal Casting Design & Purchasing
Casting of the Year competition.
"We are using cast magnesium alloy
to help reduce weight, and the investment
casting process allowed us the
most geometric freedom and the ability
to keep the walls thin in noncritical
areas. Aristo Cast provided in-depth
support and design for manufacturing,
and they kept us up to date during the
fabrication of our parts with progress
reports and pictures along the way," said Schmidt. "The team here was
impressed with the fit and finish of all
of the parts and the end customer was
impressed with the light weight of the
Another key to Aristo Cast's success
lies in providing model customer service.
"We track orders so closely that we
know a customer is going to reorder
something before they do, and we'll
start running it," said Walla. "Everybody's
so tight in today's economy,
they want to be able to place the order
and have it next week, so we keep
ahead of the game."
The company recycles its scrap,
and every sprue poured is fitted with a coupon that is removed and sent to
spectrometry for quality assurance.
"For every alloy and for every
part, [production requirements] vary," Walla added. "The number of coats
of ceramic depends on the alloy, for
example." The ceramic shell removal
process varies, as well, and the operators
are skilled at making those determinations
to ensure part quality. "We
talk about each job at the beginning
and the end, to discuss what works and
what could be done to improve the
process next time," she said.
With knowledgeable staff, a solid
base in investment casting, a growing
prototyping business and magnesium
use projected to increase, Aristo Cast
holds great promise for the future. Its
customers know they can depend on
its performance and willingness to
take on the tough jobs.
"Henry Ford said, 'Whether you
think you can or you think you can't,
you're right.' So, if you go into a
project with the attitude that it's too
difficult or it won't succeed, then you
won't succeed. Never let it get that way
with you," said Ziemba. "I've set my
goals and pretty much hit them all, but
it's more fun chasing the goal than it is
once you achieve it, because it's an end. And I don't want anything to end. I'm
having too much fun."
Aristo-Cast provides completed castings with in-house operations from design through finishing.
“You'd be amazed at the ingenuity of the people we have here.”
Signage throughout Aristo Cast's facilities emphasizes the company's can-do approach to challenging
investment casting jobs.
These are just a few of the rapid prototyping machines housed in the Advanced Technology Center building.
Aristo-Cast pours ferrous and nonferrous investment castings in two neighboring facilities.
Igniting sawdust over an investment casting
after pouring burns off oxygen and produces a
better surface finish.
This automotive steering assist
housing was converted from a sand
cast aluminum part weighing 3.5 lbs.
to a 2-lb. investment casting, cutting
machining time in half and reducing
lead time by four weeks.
This 2014 Best in Class winning electronics
housing Aristo-Cast produced for Elbit
Systems of America involved casting not only
the magnesium part but the cavity for the wax
injection necessary to produce it.
The shop will add a new piece of equipment this year to aid the operators in dipping large castings.