Revolutionizing the Industry with Additive Manufacturing

Earlier this spring, we had the chance to attend the CastExpo hosted by the American Foundry Society. As heat treaters, we’re always striving to stay up to date with what’s going on in our related industries, and CastExpo provides some great learning opportunities.

By far the most impressive take-away from this year’s expo was the increased knowledge and learnings surrounding additive manufacturing, aka AM. Sometimes called rapid prototyping, AM refers to the technologies that build 3D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material. You may have heard of 3D printing of plastic, which is essentially the same thing — though obviously in the foundry industry, we’re talking about adding layer upon layer of sand, to make molds into which molten metal is poured to make castings.

Like an inkjet printer full of sand

Think of an ordinary inkjet printer, spraying pixels of ink each time it sweeps back and forth across a piece of paper. Now, imagine you’re spraying binder onto a thin layer of sand, building up a mold layer by layer. You don’t even need to have a part or pattern that makes an initial, physical impression in the sand. You can make the sand mold directly, based on is the geometry or shape required for your project. By creating a sand mold via rapid prototyping, you’re essentially cutting out the pattern-making step, which can easily save companies 6 to 8 weeks of tooling build time, dramatically reducing the time to produce a prototype part. In turn, the customer spends far less R&D time on the project, since they are reducing the amount of time and money spent to develop prototype parts to. Finally, together we’re reducing the uncertainty of a part working — and increasing the speed of innovation.

Drastically cutting down time — and budget

We were in awe about the speed at which this technology is being adopted by customers. In the world of engineering, rapid prototyping sand molds is starting to do for metals manufacturing what computers did for the world in the late 1980s and early ’90s, and what cell phones have done during the past ten years. Using this process to make prototype molds, you’re talking about going from months to days. What’s more, imagine the budget savings. Historically, it’s always been a huge cost investment to create prototypes, since it takes months to produce a single tool, costing upward of $8,000. Now, you can get a prototype in days, and version out options with multiple designs, rather than waiting months to create new prototypes. Pretty soon, you’re going to be able to make parts faster than ever before. And that’s revolutionary.