Heat, pressure and chemistry. They are three elements that help determine the hardness, shape and definition of castings.

In many ways, heat, pressure and chemistry are also in play in a metalcasting industry that faces a combination of short- and long-term obstacles. There is an ongoing economic slump, a shortage of young, skilled workers, tightening environmental standards, and smarter, more sophisticated global competition.

A generation of future leaders is coming of age in this setting, being shaped by the events and circumstances around them.

Foundry Management & Technology set out to identify some of the emerging leaders in metalcasting, those who have displayed excellence, influence and creativity in their work for foundries, diecasters, investment casters, and industry suppliers.

We were curious to know whom they are, what motivates them, what drew them into the industry, and what gives them hope or pause.

We asked readers for nominations. And we have received many. They include operators, managers, researchers, professors, and executives.

Each had stories to tell. Many came from families with long histories in metalcasting. Others are the children of parents that owned drycleaners, were public school teachers, doctors, or lawyers. All of them, though, described a profound sense of calling to metalcasting.

“You see it over and over again where this industry just gets in your blood and you’re hooked for life,” says Bill Sorensen, executive director of the Foundry Educational Foundation. “We try to keep numbers of FEF students and where they’re at. And even 10 years later, we find 75 percent of them are still in metalcasting.”

All of our subjects spoke of trends that are becoming more visible to them. One of the most common themes they identified is the necessity for operators to be adaptable — to be diverse in skills and able to switch jobs or operations seamlessly.

Others spoke of adaptability in a different light, as more of a mentality. How technology is embraced was a frequent point of focus for many nominees. Some expressed frustration that investments in new technologies aren’t happening quickly enough. Most of them name the uncertain economic climate as the chief obstacle.

“We lose a lot of people because they look around and think there’s nothing technical about a foundry,” says Gary Powers, director of operations at Cast-Fab Technologies. “There’s no glitz, no glamour, no robots. It’s viewed like an old-line industry. The problem though is the technology isn’t being showcased enough to young people. They haven’t seen how computer-oriented this industry is.”

Many of those we interviewed spoke of the untapped opportunities young workers are missing by seeking careers in other industries. Others though see deficiencies that need to be addressed.

“I think there’s been a sense of complacency in North America,” says Greg Skvortsoff, product manager-defense at Cymat Technologies. “It was this feeling that you could just throw money at any problem. You could buy any rival company. But, some people are very strong and they’re smart, and working on impressive things. There’s been years of neglect with this.”

Perhaps one of the most compelling issues we found were the cultural differences between workers just entering into the industry and those closer to leaving it. These are manifested in various ways, from how they respond to leadership and how they interact, to the manner in which they approach change.

“Too often, the foundry industry gets diverted into its roots, which is, making sand, making iron and you put the ingredients together,” says Jay Morrison, maintenance manager at Metal Technologies’ Ravenna Ductile iron plant. “But there’s more to it than that. There are a lot of foundry guys out there that still think of it as an art form. But, we need to advance past the art and get to the science — doing things because they’re more efficient.”

Almost all the interviews somehow touched on the most serious issue impacting metalcasting, which is how to lure young workers into the industry. Many believe the problem lies in a bad image. Others say not enough effort is being made to showcase the industry to kids at younger ages.

But maybe the issue is deeper than that. The FEF’s Sorensen suggests it could more generational.

“What’s interesting to me is, when we’ve visited high schools, the young people have no reference for manufacturing,” he says. “They’re not being encouraged to be engineers. They’re not being shown that you can actually make things — that you don’t have to always buy things. It’s so foreign to them. They don’t have the preconceived notions that previous generations have had of what this industry is.”

Metalcasting as we’ve known it is changing by the day. But it’s also being propelled — and soon guided — by the innovative approaches of a new generation. That generation is shaping the industry’s future.