Old school machinists, listen up, a newly developed technique for creating ceramic molds to a foundry-ready state for investment casting of intricate metal parts may disrupt the current process in a big way.
We’re confident that our approach can lower costs by at least 25 percent and reduce the number of unusable waste parts by more than 90 percent, while eliminating 100 percent of the tooling. (emphasis added)
Molds for relatively simple pieces can be produced without a problem using methods developed over, literally, thousands of years, but today’s precision parts have pushed the boundaries of the old processes to such a degree that the time necessary to create production ready molds along with a high scrap rate can make some kinds of parts extremely expensive.
The new process, developed at Georgia Tech, called Large Area Maskless Photopolymerization or (LAMP), is a form of 3D printing.
The technique places one 100-micron layer on top of another until the structure is complete. After the mold is formed, the cured resin is removed through binder burnout and the remaining ceramic is sintered in a furnace. The result is a fully ceramic structure into which molten metal – such as nickel-based superalloys or titanium-based alloys – are poured, producing a highly accurate casting.
“The LAMP process lowers the time required to turn a CAD design into a test-worthy part from a year to about a week,” Das said. “We eliminate the scrap and the tooling, and each digitally manufactured mold is identical to the others.”
Although the current work focuses on turbine-engine airfoils, Das believes the LAMP technique will be effective in the production of many types of intricate metal parts. He envisions a scenario in which companies could send out part designs to digital foundries and receive test castings within a short time, much as integrated-circuit designers send CAD plans to chip foundries today.
As demands continue to grow for pieces like these along with ever more complex parts for any number of uses, the old methods which have served so well for so long, may find it difficult to keep pace.
Digital foundries, … cool!
Related: Production ready rapid prototyping