What is sand casting?

Sand casting, also known as sand molded casting, is a metal casting process characterized by using sand as the mold material. The term “sand casting” can also refer to an object produced via the sand casting process. Sand castings are produced in specialized factories called foundries. Over 70% of all metal castings are produced via sand casting process.

Sand casting is relatively cheap and sufficiently refractory even for steel foundry use. In addition to the sand, a suitable bonding agent (usually clay) is mixed or occurs with the sand. The mixture is moistened, typically with water, but sometimes with other substances, to develop the strength and plasticity of the clay and to make the aggregate suitable for molding. The sand is typically contained in a system of frames or mold boxes known as a flask. The mold cavities and gate system are created by compacting the sand around models, or patterns, or carved directly into the sand.

Basic process

There are six steps in this process:
1. Place a pattern in sand to create a mold.
2. Incorporate the pattern and sand in a gating system.
3. Remove the pattern.
4. Fill the mold cavity with molten metal.
5. Allow the metal to cool.
6. Break away the sand mold and remove the casting.

History

Clay molds were used in ancient China since Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 to 1046 BC). The famous Houmuwu ding (c. 1300 BC) was made using clay molding.

The Assyrian king Sennacherib (704–681 BC) cast massive bronzes of up to 30 tonnes, and claims to have been the first to have used clay molds rather than the “lost-wax” method:

Whereas in former times the kings my forefathers had created bronze statues imitating real-life forms to put on display inside their temples, but in their method of work they had exhausted all the craftsmen, for lack of skill and failure to understand the principles they needed so much oil, wax and tallow for the work that they caused a shortage in their own countries — I, Sennacherib, leader of all princes, knowledgeable in all kinds of work, took much advice and deep thought over doing that work. Great pillars of bronze, colossal striding lions, such as no previous king had ever constructed before me, with the technical skill that Ninushki brought to perfection in me, and at the prompting of my intelligence and the desire of my heart I invented a technique for bronze and made it skillfully. I created clay moulds as if by divine intelligence….twelve fierce lion-colossi together with twelve mighty bull-colossi which were perfect castings… I poured copper into them over and over again; I made the castings as skillfully as if they had only weighed half a shekel each

Sand casting molding method was recorded by Vannoccio Biringuccio in his book published around 1540.

In 1924, the Ford automobile company set a record by producing 1 million cars, in the process consuming one-third of the total casting production in the U.S. As the automobile industry grew the need for increased casting efficiency grew. The increasing demand for castings in the growing car and machine building industry during and after World War I and World War II, stimulated new inventions in mechanization and later automation of the sand casting process technology.

There was not one bottleneck to faster casting production but rather several. Improvements were made in molding speed, molding sand preparation, sand mixing, core manufacturing processes, and the slow metal melting rate in cupola furnaces. In 1912, the sand slinger was invented by the American company Beardsley & Piper. In 1912, the first sand mixer with individually mounted revolving plows was marketed by the Simpson Company. In 1915, the first experiments started with bentonite clay instead of simple fire clay as the bonding additive to the molding sand. This increased tremendously the green and dry strength of the molds. In 1918, the first fully automated foundry for fabricating hand grenades for the U.S. Army went into production. In the 1930s the first high-frequency coreless electric furnace was installed in the U.S. In 1943, ductile iron was invented by adding magnesium to the widely used grey iron. In 1940, thermal sand reclamation was applied for molding and core sands. In 1952, the “D-process” was developed for making shell molds with fine, pre-coated sand. In 1953, the hotbox core sand process in which the cores are thermally cured was invented. In 1954, a new core binder — water glass (sodium silicate), hardened with CO2 from ambient air, came into use.