Rapid Response Technologies: What process is best for your casting needs?

Tooling methods continue to evolve and provide flexibility for getting the best casting within your desired timeframe. Requirements like size, volume, complexity, budget, and turn-around time all play a role in finding the best techniques for each specific casting project. Any given method might be perfect for one situation but less than ideal for another. The great news is, you have a lot of options.

Exciting improvements in technology are making robotically milled molds an affordable reality, and falling polymer printing prices make 3D-printed pattern equipment a viable option. These rapid manufacturing techniques, coupled with dramatic advancements in scanning capabilities, now arm casting manufacturers with powerful technologies that can be tailored specifically for every project. However, it is important to remember that traditional tooling still plays a key role in the foundry industry.

In general, for short-run, complex castings and/or those that require a prototype, robotically milled molds or 3D-printed molds are likely your best bet from a cost and timing standpoint. These “next generation” methods have evolved to the point where they can achieve design flexibilities and geometries that are not possible even with traditional tooling.

3D-printed sand molds and/or cores are a nice option for smaller castings. While the variable cost to cast may make this option cost-prohibitive for castings that require specialty sands, this can be an ideal method for prototypes and complex designs that need refinement.

A hybrid process, with robotically milled molds and printed cores, is a mid-cost option that can be a good fit for large custom parts that have complex geometries and are needed quickly.

Robotically milled (patternless) molds can be a great choice for custom, low-volume parts or prototypes that require rapid production. A model is required for robotically milled molds, and the set-up and variable cost to cast is relatively low. Most robots have the ability to create molds for large castings with simple cores. The surface finish of castings produced with robotically milled molds may be rougher than with traditional tooling, so if smooth finish is critical to your casting performance, this method would typically not be a good choice.

Polymer-printed patterns are less expensive than printed sand molds, but they have a limited lifespan and require post-processing.

Traditional wood and polyurethane patterns maintain an important role in the world of metal casting. This type of tooling is certainly the most flexible in terms of size and complexity. Traditional patterns tend to be higher cost. However, they are built for long-term use, so they are worth the investment for mid- to high-volume castings. This type of tooling is still likely the soundest investment for higher-volume castings that require multiple reorders over time.

Additive and subtractive manufacturing methods offer many attractive options for castings purchasers. While the impact of 3D and robotic technologies continues to grow in the casting industry, there is still an important place for traditional tooling methods. Having a multitude of options is a positive industry development, but it can also be overwhelming. Our team of dedicated engineers is happy to work with you to help identify whether rapid response technologies can enhance your casting manufacturing experience. To learn more about how Badger Alloys’ robot and 3D technologies can reduce the lead time and capital costs involved with your casting production, please contact Mike Janson at mikej@badgeralloys.com or 414.258.8200.