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Your Position: Home - Minerals & Metallurgy - Permanent mold casting

Permanent mold casting

Author: Marina

Mar. 07, 2024

Metal casting process that employs reusable molds

Permanent mold casting

Permanent mold casting is a metal casting process that employs reusable molds ("permanent molds"), usually made from metal. The most common process uses gravity to fill the mold, however gas pressure or a vacuum are also used. A variation on the typical gravity casting process, called slush casting, produces hollow castings. Common casting metals are aluminium, magnesium, and copper alloys. Other materials include tin, zinc, and lead alloys and iron and steel are also cast in graphite molds.[1][2]

Typical products are components such as gears, splines, wheels, gear housings, pipe fittings, fuel injection housings, and automotive engine pistons.[1]

Process

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There are four main types of permanent mold casting: gravity, slush, low-pressure, and vacuum.

Gravity process

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The gravity process begins by preheating the mold to 150–200 °C (300–400 °F). to ease the flow and reduce thermal damage to the casting. The mold cavity is then coated with a refractory material or a mold wash, which prevents the casting from sticking to the mold and prolongs the mold life. Any sand or metal cores are then installed and the mold is clamped shut. Molten metal is then poured into the mold. Soon after solidification the mold is opened and the casting removed to reduce chances of hot tears. The process is then started all over again, but preheating is not required because the heat from the previous casting is adequate and the refractory coating should last several castings. Because this process is usually carried out on large production run work-pieces automated equipment is used to coat the mold, pour the metal, and remove the casting.[3][4][5]

The metal is poured at the lowest practical temperature in order to minimize cracks and porosity.[4] The pouring temperature can range greatly depending on the casting material; for instance zinc alloys are poured at approximately 370 °C (698 °F), while Gray iron is poured at approximately 1,370 °C (2,500 °F).[1]

Mold

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Molds for the casting process consist of two halves. Casting molds are usually formed from gray cast iron because it has about the best thermal fatigue resistance, but other materials include steel, bronze, and graphite. These metals are chosen because of their resistance to erosion and thermal fatigue. They are usually not very complex because the mold offers no collapsibility to compensate for shrinkage. Instead the mold is opened as soon as the casting is solidified, which prevents hot tears. Cores can be used and are usually made from sand or metal.[4][5]

As stated above, the mold is heated prior to the first casting cycle and then used continuously in order to maintain as uniform a temperature as possible during the cycles. This decreases thermal fatigue, facilitates metal flow, and helps control the cooling rate of the casting metal.[5]

Venting usually occurs through the slight crack between the two mold halves, but if this is not enough then very small vent holes are used. They are small enough to let the air escape but not the molten metal. A riser must also be included to compensate for shrinkage. This usually limits the yield to less than 60%.[5]

Mechanical ejectors in the form of pins are used when coatings are not enough to remove casts from the molds. These pins are placed throughout the mold and usually leave small round impressions on the casting.[citation needed]

Slush

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Slush casting is a variant of permanent molding casting to create a hollow casting or hollow cast. In the process the material is poured into the mold and allowed to cool until a shell of material forms in the mold. The remaining liquid is then poured out to leave a hollow shell. The resulting casting has good surface detail but the wall thickness can vary. The process is usually used to cast ornamental products, such as candlesticks, lamp bases, and statuary, from low-melting-point materials.[2] A similar technique is used to make hollow chocolate figures for Easter and Christmas.[6]

The method was developed by William Britain in 1893 for the production of lead toy soldiers. It uses less material than solid casting, and results in a lighter and less expensive product. Hollow cast figures generally have a small hole where the excess liquid was poured out.[citation needed]

Similarly, a process called slush molding is used in automotive dashboard manufacture, for soft-panel interiors with artificial leather, where a free-flowing (which behave like a liquid) powder plastic compound, either PVC or TPU, is poured into a hot, hollow mold and a viscous skin forms. Excess slush is then drained off, the mold is cooled, and the molded product is stripped out.[7]

Schematic of the low-pressure permanent mold casting process

Low-pressure permanent mold (LPPM) casting uses a gas at low pressure, usually between 3 and 15 psi (20 to 100 kPa) to push the molten metal into the mold cavity. The pressure is applied to the top of the pool of liquid, which forces the molten metal up a refractory pouring tube and finally into the bottom of the mold. The pouring tube extends to the bottom of the ladle so that the material being pushed into the mold is exceptionally clean. No risers are required because the applied pressure forces molten metal in to compensate for shrinkage. Yields are usually greater than 85% because there is no riser and any metal in the pouring tube just falls back into the ladle for reuse.[2][8]

The vast majority of LPPM casting are from aluminum and magnesium, but some are copper alloys. Advantages include very little turbulence when filling the mold because of the constant pressure, which minimizes gas porosity and dross formation. Mechanical properties are about 5% better than gravity permanent mold castings. The disadvantage is that cycles times are longer than gravity permanent mold castings.[8]

Vacuum

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Vacuum permanent mold casting retains all of the advantages of LPPM casting, plus the dissolved gases in the molten metal are minimized and molten metal cleanliness is even better. The process can handle thin-walled profiles and gives an excellent surface finish. Mechanical properties are usually 10 to 15% better than gravity permanent mold castings. The process is limited in weight to 0.2 to 5 kg (0.44 to 11.02 lb).[8]

Advantages and disadvantages

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The main advantages are the reusable mold, good surface finish, good dimensional accuracy, and high production rates. Typical tolerances are 0.4 mm for the first 25 mm (0.015 in for the first inch) and 0.02 mm for each additional centimeter (0.002 in per in); if the dimension crosses the parting line add an additional 0.25 mm (0.0098 in). Typical surface finishes are 2.5 to 7.5 μm (100–250 μin) RMS. A draft of 2 to 3° is required. Wall thicknesses are limited to 3 to 50 mm (0.12 to 1.97 in). Typical part sizes range from 100 g to 75 kg (several ounces to 150 lb). Other advantages include the ease of inducing directional solidification by changing the mold wall thickness or by heating or cooling portions of the mold. The fast cooling rates created by using a metal mold results in a finer grain structure than sand casting. Retractable metal cores can be used to create undercuts while maintaining a quick action mold.[2][3]

There are three main disadvantages: high tooling cost, limited to low-melting-point metals, and short mold life. The high tooling costs make this process uneconomical for small production runs. When the process is used to cast steel or iron the mold life is extremely short. For lower melting point metals the mold life is longer but thermal fatigue and erosion usually limit the life to 10,000 to 120,000 cycles. The mold life is dependent on four factors: the mold material, the pouring temperature, the mold temperature, and the mold configuration. Molds made from gray cast iron can be more economical to produce but have short mold lives. On the other hand, molds made from H13 tool steel may have a mold life several times greater. The pouring temperature is dependent on the casting metal, but the higher the pouring temperature the shorter the mold life. A high pouring temperature can also induce shrinkage problems and create longer cycle times. If the mold temperature is too low misruns are produced, but if the mold temperature is too high then the cycle time is prolonged and mold erosion is increased. Large differences in section thickness in the mold or casting can decrease mold life as well.[5]

References

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Bibliography

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What is metal casting?

Metal casting is a 7,000-year-old process used in both manufacturing and fine art. During metal casting, molten metal is transferred from a crucible into a mold to create a positive metal cast object. The metal and mold are cooled, and the metal object is removed and finished. Traditional metal casting techniques include lost-wax casting, plaster mold casting, die casting, and sand casting, to name a few. These metal casting processes may be completed in a foundry or a jewelry studio.

Metal casting processes have been known for thousands of years, and have been widely used for creating sculptures, jewelry, transportation, weapons, and tools. The first known cast object is a copper frog that dates back to 3200 BCE, found in present-day Iraq. During the Bronze Age, metal casting exploded in popularity. Bronze was a much easier and stronger alloy to work with, compared to gold and was cast into tools and weapons using stone molds. During the Shang Dynasty in China, single-use sand molds were first utilized for casting metals. Around 1000 BCE, India was among the first ancient civilizations to cast silver and copper coins for currency. Later, around 500 BCE, the Zhou Dynasty introduced iron casting. Throughout history, the Middle East and West Africa both commonly utilized lost wax casting. Many years later, metal casting technology boomed in the 20th century, developing processes that most modern methods are based on.

What is metal casting used for?

Throughout history, metal casting has been used to make tools, weapons, and religious objects. Casting is an inexpensive way to create complex shapes and designs and to easily create multiples of the same object. The metal casting process has broad uses across manufacturing, especially in the development of technology and transportation industries. Castings can range in size from a few grams, like a cast ring, to thousands of pounds, like a diesel engine. Cast shapes vary in complexity from something quite simple to incredibly intricate.

While transportation and heavy equipment make up the majority of castings produced worldwide, metal casting is an incredibly versatile process. You will likely find components of metal casting in the following objects:

  • Household appliances

  • Construction equipment

  • Electrical components

  • Farming equipment

  • Defense weapons, tools, and equipment

  • Transportation: automobile, aerospace, railways, and shipping

  • Machining tools

  • Artistic and sculptural objects

Different types of metal casting

Metal casting comes in two main categories: processes with reusable molds and processes with expendable molds. In both processes, the caster melts the metal material in a crucible, pours it into a mold, then removes the mold material or the casting once the metal has cooled and solidified.

Expendable mold casting

Expendable mold casting is a method that utilizes single-use or temporary molds. These molds are typically made from resin-bonded sand, ceramic shell, plaster investments, or foam. Making your own expendable mold is an inexpensive and relatively fast process. It works best for small-volume manufacturing.

Non-expendable mold casting

Non-expendable molds are reusable and permanent molds for metal casting. They are stronger and better suited to withstand the hot temperatures of molten metal than others. Permanent molds are often made of metals like steel or cast iron because of their high strength, low porosity, and resistance to heat. Non-expendable molds are ideal for creating multiples of the same cast metal object.

The basic metal casting process

The basic metal casting process involves creating a pattern and a mold, then pouring molten metal into the mold. You will then extract the solid metal casting and finish your piece. This process is customizable for different types of metal casting, along with shapes, sizes, and more.

Step 1: Create the pattern

Before you make your mold, you must create a pattern to determine the mold’s shape. The pattern can be a 3-dimensional model of your final cast. It may be shaped in wax, sand, plastic, or even wood. Some casters use molds made of plaster or silicone, which are materials that could not withstand a molten metal cast, but allow the caster to mass create wax multiples to use in expendable mold casting. When you are shaping your pattern, make sure you account for any anticipated shrinkage when the metal cools. Patterns may also be gated with sprues to allow the molten metal to flow into the mold.

Step 2: Make the mold

After you have created a pattern, it is time to make your mold. As we mentioned above, you may choose to make a reusable mold, which is typically made from metal, or a single-use mold, which may be made from sand, plaster, or ceramic shell. Each of these methods for making molds are optimized for different casting metals and various levels of pattern complexity. If you are working with a wax or plastic pattern, you can burn out the pattern inside of a kiln.

Step 3: Choose the metallic alloy

All metal castings are produced from either ferrous or non-ferrous alloys. Alloys are a mixture of elements that provide the best mechanical properties for the final cast’s use. Ferrous alloys include steel, malleable iron, and gray iron. Non-ferrous alloys that are most commonly used in casting are aluminum, bronze, and copper. If you are working with precious metals in a jewelry studio, you may work with silver, copper, gold, and platinum.

Step 4: Melt the alloy

Melting processes vary between alloys because each alloy will have a different melting temperature. Essentially, melting consists of placing the solid alloy in a crucible and heating it over an open flame or inside of a furnace.

Step 5: Pour into the mold

Pour the molten metal into the mold cavity. If it is a small casting, you may simply pour from the crucible where the metal was heated directly into the mold. A larger casting may require a small team to support heating the metal inside of a furnace, and transferring the metal into a larger crucible or ladle before being poured into the mold.

Make sure to follow all recommended safety guidance when pouring molten metal. Make sure you wear protective clothing, including natural fiber clothing, long pants and sleeves, insulated gloves, and safety goggles. Work in a well-ventilated space to avoid any risks from dangerous fumes. Make sure you have a chemical fire extinguisher nearby and keep your walkway between the furnace and the mold clear. Allow the mold to solidify before moving onto the next step.

Step 6: Remove the casting from the mold.

When the metal has cooled and solidified, you can remove it from the mold. If you cast into a single-use mold, you can break away the mold from the casting. If you used a plaster investment, you will want to quench the plaster in water after the metal has solidified. The water will help break away the mold. For reusable molds, you may use ejector pins to extract your casting.

Step 7: Finishing

File and polish your solid metal cast! This may involve cleaning your cast metal object, like scrubbing away excess mold material in water, breaking off the casting gates with clippers for small objects, or even an angle grinder for large pieces.

Learning how to cast metal

Whether you want to cast a small ring or a complex piece of metal for a car engine, the possibilities in metal casting are endless. The type of metal casting you choose to pursue will depend on your vision for the final product. If you are interested in pursuing jewelry, you will want to work with precious metals such as gold, silver, and platinum. If more industrial projects pique your interest, your casting may range from smaller aluminum tiles to a cast-iron skillet. Once you nail down your goals, you can explore options to educate yourself. A local metal arts guild provides members with community, educational resources, and more. We always recommend beginners start in an in-person class to cover safety requirements, gain access to a studio, and learn metal casting from a professional.

Learn metal casting at The Crucible

The Crucible offers metal casting classes in both our Foundry and Jewelry Departments. Our Foundry offers students an opportunity to create their own sand molds and ceramic shell molds. We offer a fully-equipped wax room where you can shape and detail your patterns for lost wax casting. You can pour aluminum, bronze, and even iron in our foundry classes. In our Jewelry classes, you can make your own unique small pendants, rings, and more to be cast in silver and bronze. Our jewelry classes allow you to learn the full metal casting process from creating a wax pattern to pouring molten metal, then finishing your piece.

Metal casting FAQs

Can I cast metal at home?

You can set up your own home foundry and casting station, with safety at the foremost importance. Make sure you wear protective clothing, including natural fiber clothing, long pants and sleeves, insulated gloves, and safety goggles. Work in a well-ventilated space to avoid any risks from dangerous fumes. Make sure you have a chemical fire extinguisher nearby and keep your walkway between the furnace and the mold clear.

What are the different types of metal casting?

The main types of metal casting utilize either expendable or non-expendable molds. Expendable mold casting utilizes a single-use mold made from resin-bonded sand, ceramic shell, plaster investment, or foam. Common types of metal casting that utilize expendable molds are lost wax casting, investment casting, and sand casting. Non-expendable molds are reusable and permanent molds and made from cast iron or steel. Non-expendable molds are used in die casting and slush casting.

What tools do you need to cast metal?

To cast metal, you will need your safety equipment, a well-ventilated workspace, a mold, a crucible, tongs, and a furnace, a torch, or a kiln.

What metals are easiest to cast?

Aluminum is an easy material for metal casting because it is inexpensive, widely available, and melts quickly with a propane torch or in an electric kiln.

How do you make a mold for casting metal?

These are different types of molds for different projects. First, determine if you will make an expendable or non-expendable mold. Ceramic shell molds are made from dipping a wax model in multiple layers of ceramic shell slurry before burning out the wax and casting the metal inside. Sand cast molds are built inside of a wooden frame and are shaped using an impression or a model or the design is carved directly into the sand. Plaster investment molds also use some sort of frame, made from either wood or metal. The wax model is placed inside of the frame, investment is poured over the model, and the mold is left to set.

Permanent mold casting

Metal Casting 101: Learn To Cast Metal [Types & Processes]

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