In metalworking, casting means a process, in which liquid metal is poured into a mold, that contains a hollow cavity of the desired shape, and then allowed to cool and solidify. The solidified part is also known as a casting, which is ejected or broken out of the mold to complete the process. Casting is most often used for making complex shapes that would be difficult or uneconomical to make by other methods.
Casting processes have been known for thousands of years, and widely used for sculpture, especially in bronze, jewellery in precious metals, and weapons and tools. Traditional techniques include lost-wax casting, plaster mold casting and sand casting.
The modern casting process is subdivided into two main categories: expendable and non-expendable casting. It is further broken down by the mold material, such as sand or metal, and pouring method, such as gravity, vacuum, or low pressure.
Non-expendable mold casting
Non-expendable mold casting differs from expendable processes in that the mold need not be reformed after each production cycle. This technique includes at least four different methods: permanent, die, centrifugal, and continuous casting. This form of casting also results in improved repeatability in parts produced and delivers Near Net Shape results.
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 aluminum, magnesium, and copper alloys. Other materials include tin, zinc, and lead alloys and iron and steel are also cast in graphite molds. Permanent molds, while lasting more than one casting still have a limited life before wearing out.
The die casting process forces molten metal under high pressure into mold cavities (which are machined into dies). Most die castings are made from nonferrous metals, specifically zinc, copper, and aluminium-based alloys, but ferrous metal die castings are possible. The die casting method is especially suited for applications where many small to medium-sized parts are needed with good detail, a fine surface quality and dimensional consistency.
Semi-solid metal casting
Semi-solid metal (SSM) casting is a modified die casting process that reduces or eliminates the residual porosity present in most die castings. Rather than using liquid metal as the feed material, SSM casting uses a higher viscosity feed material that is partially solid and partially liquid. A modified die casting machine is used to inject the semi-solid slurry into re-usable hardened steel dies. The high viscosity of the semi-solid metal, along with the use of controlled die filling conditions, ensures that the semi-solid metal fills the die in a non-turbulent manner so that harmful porosity can be essentially eliminated.
Used commercially mainly for aluminium and magnesium alloys, SSM castings can be heat treated to the T4, T5 or T6 tempers. The combination of heat treatment, fast cooling rates (from using un-coated steel dies) and minimal porosity provides excellent combinations of strength and ductility. Other advantages of SSM casting include the ability to produce complex shaped parts net shape, pressure tightness, tight dimensional tolerances and the ability to cast thin walls.
In this process molten metal is poured in the mold and allowed to solidify while the mold is rotating. Metal is poured into the center of the mold at its axis of rotation. Due to centrifugal force the liquid metal is thrown out towards the periphery.
Centrifugal casting is both gravity- and pressure-independent since it creates its own force feed using a temporary sand mold held in a spinning chamber at up to 900 N. Lead time varies with the application. Semi- and true-centrifugal processing permit 30–50 pieces/hr-mold to be produced, with a practical limit for batch processing of approximately 9000 kg total mass with a typical per-item limit of 2.3–4.5 kg.
Industrially, the centrifugal casting of railway wheels was an early application of the method developed by the German industrial company Krupp and this capability enabled the rapid growth of the enterprise.
Small art pieces such as jewelry are often cast by this method using the lost wax process, as the forces enable the rather viscous liquid metals to flow through very small passages and into fine details such as leaves and petals. This effect is similar to the benefits from vacuum casting, also applied to jewelry casting.
Continuous casting is a refinement of the casting process for the continuous, high-volume production of metal sections with a constant cross-section. Molten metal is poured into an open-ended, water-cooled mold, which allows a ‘skin’ of solid metal to form over the still-liquid centre, gradually solidifying the metal from the outside in. After solidification, the strand, as it is sometimes called, is continuously withdrawn from the mold. Predetermined lengths of the strand can be cut off by either mechanical shears or traveling oxyacetylene torches and transferred to further forming processes, or to a stockpile. Cast sizes can range from strip (a few millimeters thick by about five meters wide) to billets (90 to 160 mm square) to slabs (1.25 m wide by 230 mm thick). Sometimes, the strand may undergo an initial hot rolling process before being cut.
Continuous casting is used due to the lower costs associated with continuous production of a standard product, and also increased quality of the final product. Metals such as steel, copper, aluminum and lead are continuously cast, with steel being the metal with the greatest tonnages cast using this method.