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Aluminum on Growth Course The Future of Foundries is Aluminum

Editor: Isabell Page

In order to meet the requirements of the growing world market for complex aluminum castings, aluminum-specific systems must interact harmoniously. Italpresse Gauss demonstrates the advantages of high-pressure and sand casting.

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The main drivers to the constantly growing aluminum production are the automotive industry, the aerospace, mechanical engineering and packaging industries.
The main drivers to the constantly growing aluminum production are the automotive industry, the aerospace, mechanical engineering and packaging industries.
(Source: Pixabay / CC0 )

Until recently, aluminum was the most valuable substance in the world. Today, aluminum is the most popular metal after steel, so global consumption is expected to rise to 120 million tonnes by 2025. This demand is changing the face of the world's foundries.

World aluminum production grew by 6 % in 2017. In addition to the automotive industry, the aerospace, mechanical engineering and packaging industries are the main drivers.

As environmental legislation tightens, the pressure is increasing to reduce automotive fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. New greener vehicles must be lighter, so choosing featherweight aluminum instead of heavier steel can make a lot of sense for some components, particularly large structural parts. That’s why, by 2022, the average car will contain almost 100 extra kilos of aluminum in replacement of heavier components. Globally, the use of aluminum in automobiles will double from around 12 % to 25 % of consumption - 30 million tonnes – by 2025.

Increasing Demand for High Quality Aluminum

Foundries are seeing aluminum and other light metals take a more prominent part in their national casting markets. China, the world’s largest aluminum producer and consumer, saw primary production grow by 10 % in 2017 alone.

In the USA, the aluminum casting market size was valued at $ 49.47 billion in 2016 and is expected to grow by 7.8 % annually through to 2025. As the US imports the majority of its aluminum, 2018’s new import tariffs may well hurt those figures, but the outlook overall remains very positive.

India, the world’s third-biggest casting producer and now its fastest-growing large economy, is also pivoting towards aluminum. The same story applies in Europe, with aluminum increasingly used in premium automotive manufacture as well as in other sectors like construction. This rapid shift from steel to aluminum signals a huge opportunity for some foundries. But simply sending out the sales team isn’t enough. But it’s not an easy business to get into.

Complex aluminum automotive structural parts are difficult to both cast accurately and to finish efficiently and consistently. That means die casting is increasingly about quality rather than quantity, demanding sophisticated and specialised equipment. Foundries must invest and innovate to raise their game.

Investing in Aluminum Innovation

Shrewd die-casting foundries are already benefitting from the aluminum boom. In China, the automotive market has grown rapidly over the last twenty years and the die-casting market has expanded alongside it, doubling in size over the last decade.

Companies that invested early to cater for this expansion are prospering, like DGS China. Specialising in aluminum and magnesium high-pressure die casting, the Nansha, Guangzhou-based company has seen its takings soar from RMB 40 million to over RMB 320 million since 2012. Constant plant upgrades help it profitably produce the complex and valuable structural components its auto clients specify.

Reducing costs and increasing productivity were behind substantial aluminum-related upgrades at South Korea’s Neoflam and Ford of Germany. The latter upgraded its Westomat furnaces with the latest digital controllers, improving dosing accuracy, energy consumption and system availability. Suppliers must also play their part in supporting foundry expansion into aluminum. Significant R&D resource is needed to develop products and service solutions tailored to aluminum’s material properties – and suit the often smaller foundries that work with it.

Integrated Aluminum Casting Cells for Process Optimisation

Vital as they are, surface finishing and cleaning are only part of the answer for aluminum component production. Die casting machines, melting and dosing furnaces – all play their part and must work together seamlessly.

Norican Group brands DISA, Italpresse Gauss, StrikoWestofen and Wheelabrator are now collaborating closely to deliver integrated solutions for melting, holding, dosing, casting and finishing of aluminum parts.

The Italpresse Gauss automated cells can integrate the die cast machines and all peripheral devices, from a dosing furnace to automatic deburring. They allow customization to fit each client’s individual process, from sophisticated automotive applications to the most common objects like lighting components or kitchen tools. Working closely with the customer, Italpresse Gauss delivers turnkey solutions for a part or the entire cell and ensures efficient implementation. This in-house approach applies leading edge 3D simulation, supporting feasibility analysis for project evaluation and carefully analysing the process and cell functions to optimise automation and cycle times.

The Building Blocks of High Pressure Casting

To build the most productive and competitive processes, businesses must consider investing in performance-enhancing equipment. Producing consistent castings with excellent mechanical characteristics and low porosity demands high pressure die casting machines with rock-solid rigidity and stability. Auto manufacturers want the highest quality metal to give structural strength plus easy weldability and riveting.

In fact, all aspects of the casting process need to be under review as never before. Energy efficiency, cost reduction per part, sustainability and a clean, safe working environment are growing in importance. A good example is StrikoWestofen’s Westomat dosing furnace.

Sand Casting for Flexible Aluminum Production

Green-sand moulding is another high-performing option for aluminum casting. Offering much lower tooling costs and far quicker tool changes, it can have significant advantages over die casting in certain aluminum applications. It can also deliver incredibly fast production speeds of 300 or more castings per hour.

For safety-critical components with demanding mechanical requirements, low pressure sand casting is the most suitable solution. A pressurised furnace pumps molten metal into the mould, producing laminar flow that minimises the metal’s exposure to air. This reduces aluminum oxide formation, helping give the part excellent mechanical properties.

Easy and efficient cored casting production is another attraction of the green sand process. Well-proven and economic cold box sand core technology makes it simple to produce complex, hollow section and thin walled aluminum components. That gives designers more freedom to create intricate geometries with closed cross sections and precise wall thicknesses, perfect for components like automotive suspension control arms that have rigorous mechanical and tolerance requirements.

This article was first published by Italpresse Gauss.

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