CLOW Valve hosts foundry tour photo

A CLOW Valve foundry worker gives tour participants an up-close view of slag being removed from the liquid metal that’s processed at the plant.

OSKALOOSA — CLOW Valve hosted an open house at their foundry for congressional members and local community leaders on Tuesday.

The event allowed CLOW’s management team to showcase their most recent capital investments, to demonstrate the critical role their products play in the nation’s infrastructure, and give a tour of the foundry.

CLOW Valve is part of the McWane, Inc. family of business operations. McWane is of the world’s largest manufacturers of iron water works and plumbing products and one of America’s largest privately owned companies.

Vice President and General Manager Mark Willett introduced guests to other members of the management team, including Plant Manager John Grahek and Assistant Plant Manager Chris Prendergast.

Willett highlighted two projects CLOW has done over the past three years that have seen an investment of nearly $8 million.

“Our total investment over the past five years has been around $13 million,” Willett said, “and these projects are key to our sustainability.”

Willett emphasized that the ongoing success of CLOW is also dependent on key pieces of legislation that have passed, such as the Buy America Act and the American Iron and Steel provisions.

“It allows our 440 employees to come to work knowing they’re going to have a job tomorrow, because the federal money gets spent in ways that keep materials manufacturing like ours in the U.S.,” said Willett.

Skilled trades are still a top priority for feeding the success of CLOW’s business. Willett noted they offer full scholarships to students attending Indian Hills Community College, and they’ve worked to develop a degreed program that specifically fits them.

Scholarship recipients are required to work at CLOW for 20 hours during the week and then work there for two years after graduation to qualify.

Rochelle Fuller, Regional Director for Senator Charles Grassley, said she gets to talk to high school students frequently, and many of them are not looking to be four year college students, so they might be interested in such scholarship programs.

Plant Manager John Grahek currently serves as the national board president with the Foundry Educational Foundation. He was 19 years old when he got his first scholarship from the FEF through northern Iowa.

“We have about 31 universities that are affiliated or certified schools here in the U.S. that provide that scholarship money, and now it’s not just four-year degreed engineers and technicians that qualify, it’s now students at tech schools and high schools who can master the technology innovations that are now part of our operations,” Grahek said. “That’s where we see our future.”

Tour guests got to see those technology innovations first hand during a walking tour of the foundry led by Grahek and Prendergast. The plant has two independent operating foundries: an iron foundry for gray and ductile iron and a brass foundry. Though the brass operation is very similar to the iron, it’s on a much smaller scale and uses different raw materials.

Each individual department functions in a “hand-off” process flow, where rough castings and are handed off to finishing areas, and then eventually to the assembly plant. Guests got an up-close view of the liquid metals being produced and poured, and also got to see the foundry’s support departments and pattern shops to learn how they are supported by skilled trade employees.

The brass is made of four different copper-based alloys and gets used mainly for internal parts of valves and hydrants, or anything that needs to be corrosion resistant. The mix of raw materials, or metallurgy, for the iron comes from a standard established by the American Water Works Association.

The brass foundry tour also highlighted robotics-controlled molding machines. Tour guests got a glimpse of the entire production from mold casting through finishing, including new line operation equipment that improves efficiency.

“The brass foundry has a single disamatic line that now completes the work of two previous lines, and the iron foundry has a whole new electric melting system that allows them to increase melting of six tons of iron in 90 minutes to ten tons in only 50 minutes. We also went from producing one truckload of hazardous dust per month to only one bag every three months for pollution control,” said Grahek.

CLOW has received significant recognition for those efficiency and safety endeavors. Their foundry has earned the designation as an OSHA VPP Star site. It’s a recognition that goes far above basic compliance. It requires total employee participation and management commitment to the highest standards of training, process improvement and safety.

Out of 2,000 foundries in the U.S., CLOW is among only five that have achieved that designation, and the only ferrous/non-ferrous foundry to achieve it.

Over 52 percent of the energy that CLOW uses in their facility is renewable energy from wind power, through a Green Advantage partnership with Midamerica Energy as their main power supplier.

“Many of the wind farms located north of Oskaloosa supply that wind power,” said Grahek.

Willett said they are very focused on setting these high standards for efficiency and safety, because it all affects the community as a whole.

“We are very focused on the community in most everything we do. Any community opportunities we have we are largely going to participate in,” said Willett.

During some of the Q&A session after the tour, congressional members and community leaders got to offer their support as well. Senator Ken Rozenboom said, “This is a great opportunity for me to hear you share your success and talk to us about your most critical business needs so we can know how to help.”

For more information visit www.clowvalve.com/

Staff writer Richard Rindt can be reached at rrindt@oskyherald.com

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