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Basic Knowledge 3D-Printing in Foundries: What the Technology Has in Store

Editor: MA Alexander Stark

3D printing is ideally suited for the rapid and cost-effective manufacturing of components and parts. This is not only an advantage in the plastics, automotive and aviation industries. Also foundries can use 3D printing to their advantage.

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With 3D printing technology, even complex molds for sand and investment casting can be accurately produced.
With 3D printing technology, even complex molds for sand and investment casting can be accurately produced.
(Source: gemeinfrei / Pixabay )

What is 3D Printing?

With 3D printing, components are built up layer by layer by depositing material. This process is based on digital 3D design data, which allows a 1:1 replication of the model. The production of 3D-printed forms can be done with various materials such as metals, plastics and composites, which are available in the form of fine powders. This is a significant difference to ablative production processes, in which the mold is cut out from an existing workpiece.

How is 3D Printing Used in Foundries?

With the increasing importance of additive manufacturing, 3D printing has established itself as a continuing trend - foundries have jumped on the bandwagon years ago. Fine and sand-casting companies in particular benefit from this production technology. This is how sand casting can be done without the tedious production of model plates or core boxes. Instead, sand molds and cores are produced with the 3D printer. In investment casting too, classic wax castings, which have been elaborately produced with conventional injection molds, are also replaced by 3D-printed plastic models in. While the production of casting molds or prototypes can take several weeks or months, the printing process only takes 1 to 2 days, depending on the size of the component. Even the production of complex molds is possible, which would otherwise be very time-consuming and costly in conventional metal casting. With the help of CAD data, complex geometries with undercuts can not only be freely designed, but also manufactured extremely accurately. This always ensures a high product quality and reduces rework. 3D printing also eliminates the need for molds, saving foundries production cost and storage space.

This video shows how patterns are printed in metal casting.

3D Printing in Foundries - Advantages at a Glance

Sand casting:

  • Sand casting molds and cores are produced with a 3D printer
  • Reduces tooling costs, particularly for small batch sizes
  • Also suitable for complex geometries with undercuts
  • Shorter production times
  • Less reworking of the unfinished castings
  • With 3D printers, sand molds can be produced rich in detail and precisely in a short period of time using CAD data
  • Parallel 3D printing of sand molds and tools enables fast and cost-effective optimization

Investment casting:

  • 3D-printed plastic models replace traditional wax models, which are produced using injection molding tools
  • Plastic models manufactured in the 3D printer are available faster and cheaper to produce
  • Considerable time saving
  • Cost-effective production without tools
  • Space saving as no tools need to be stored
  • Complex shapes possible

3D Printing in Practice

Grunewald Foundry in Bocholt, which specializes in sand casting, is one of the companies that already benefit from 3D printing. Sales Manager Dr. Joachim Gundlach reports that additive manufacturing is particularly useful in the production of complex castings and when speed matters. In his experience, this production technology pays off if a maximum of 25 castings are required. The use of additive production was cost-effective for up to 32 castings of milled model halves and printed cores.

Franken Guss also relies on 3D-printed components when it comes to the repair of vintage cars. Since the components to be replaced are often no longer manufactured, the restoration of components using 3D printing is an obvious option. The company has been operating reverse engineering since 2017, giving classic car enthusiasts the opportunity to get their cars back on the road. The existing component - whether defective or not - is converted into a digital model using a 3D scanner so that a new component with full functionality can be produced. A nice bonus: 3D printing enables further individual optimizations that make the vehicle unique. For instance, parts can be provided with inscriptions or replaced by lighter variants. Once the components have been digitalized, they can also be reproduced quickly and easily at any time.

The VX2000 3D printing system from voxeljet was specially developed for industrial use. With an installation space of 2 x 1 x 1 meters, the printing system is particularly suitable for the production of large-format sand molds and cores, but small series parts with a construction volume of up to 47 liters per hour can also be produced. The machine is also equipped with an integrated material handling system and foundries have full geometric freedom in the production of molds and cores.

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