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Investment Casting

Investment casting is used to create complex and detailed industrial parts and shapes. Customers choose to request investment cast parts because investment casting yields products with smooth finishes. Also, it allows them to work with nearly any metal.

With investment casting, manufacturers create pretty much any metal product they want. Common examples include door knobs, medical tooling, auto parts, airplane parts, kitchenware, gearbox cases, cylinder heads, cylinder boxes, pipes, machining components and much more.

Investment castings are used for manufacturing in major industries like: automotive, aerospace, agriculture, chemical, defense, electrical, railroad, marine, mechanical, electronic, textile and more.

Products Produced Using Investment Casting

Using investment casting, manufacturers can create a wide variety of products. Examples include: auto parts, aerospace grade airplane engine turbine components, agricultural machinery parts and surgical instruments.

Materials Process

Although many different ferrous and non-ferrous metals can be used in an investment casting, aluminum and aluminum alloys are by far the most common. Alloy steels like stainless steel and carbon steel, and metals like copper and titanium are also popular choices.
Aluminum is an abundant metal element found in the earth’s crust. It is lightweight, conductive, durable, reflective and machinable. Most applications of aluminum investment casting are in packaging, transportation and construction.
Stainless steel is a steel alloy, composed mainly of iron and chromium. Stainless steel strong, durable and (depending on its exact composition) resistant to heat, corrosion, oxidation and certain environment conditions. Stainless steel casting is used primarily for applications where the casting will be exposed to harsh material or elements because of its anti-corrosive properties.
Copper is one of the first metals ever used by man. It is extremely ductile and exceptionally good at conducting heat and electricity. It is also used to make many non-ferrous alloys, such as brass. Because copper castings are light and strong, they are often used for pipe fittings, jewelry, mixing equipment and more.
Steel is an iron alloy. Available in over 3500 different grades, such as carbon steel and mild steel, steel is stronger and more durable than iron alone. For this reason, steel investment castings are usually used to create parts that must withstand heavy loads or impacts.
Titanium castings are very light while still being very strong, so they are often applied to use in things like turbochargers, industrial tools and a whole host of aerospace and defense applications components.

Process Details

Before they do anything else, engineers create a master pattern with which to make the product. This step can take between several hours and several days, depending on the complexity of the product to be produced. The master pattern can be sketched out on paper, but engineers also usually use CAD software and/or rapid prototype technology to help them.
The investment casting process starts with the creation of a wax model that is then attached to a sprue.
Hundreds of wax model molds can be fixed to the same sprue at one time; this is called a tree.
The investment is a ceramic slurry compound. While the investment is being mixed, contaminants like dust particles are removed by fans and blowers to maintain purity.
The tree is dipped into the investment several times before it is sprinkled with an abrasive material resembling sand. Manufacturers repeat this step until the investment around the wax, or shell, is thick enough, usually around .375 in (9.525 mm).
Once the shell is thick enough, it is dewaxed. Manufacturers do this either by placing it in an industrial oven, where temperatures exceed 1000℉, or by subjecting it to autoclaving (pressure and steam). The wax might melt and drip during this time, but the ceramic shell keeps its shape. Note: the wax can be drained and recycled.
Once removed from the tree, the cast metal part(s) are cleaned and finished as needed. Common finishing processes include: machining, blasting, grinding, straightening and heat treating.
Once the mold is ready, manufacturers preheat it between 800℉ and 2000℉, and pour molten metal into the it.
Once the metal has cooled to the point that it is no longer red hot, the shell around it is vibrated and blasted off. Then, the cast metal parts are cut off of the tree.
Note: Chemical-enhancing formulas can be added along the way to improve the material qualities of the casting for added durability.

Machinery Used

Manufacturers use various types of machinery to make wax pattern molds and investment castings. Equipment includes: aluminum dies, a gating system, industrial ovens, fans and blowers and, sometimes, a vacuum.
Split cavity aluminum dies are quite commonly used to produce the right wax mold patterns. For complex, custom wax pattern creations, manufacturers can create special dies with combinations of aluminum, ceramic or soluble cores.
A gating system is the structure manufacturers use to transfer molten metal into the mold. They design gating systems to transfer the metal in an even, uniform fashion.
The industrial ovens that are used for investment casting have very precise temperature controls to create the right burnout. Manufacturers can adjust these controls for custom burnout and to melt the metal alloy they use for your casting at just the right temperature.
Fans and blowers remove contaminants like dust particles from the investment while it is being mixed.
A vacuum can be integrated into the system to prevent air bubbles from forming.

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