Traditional investment casting—creating metal parts from a ceramic mould after a wax pattern has been burned away— has been around for more than 5,000 years. Over the last century, the process has benefited from many innovations, but it’s still slow and costly to create this kind of tooling for complex parts. Production time is typically measured in months and costs can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Vaupell, a supplier of aerospace components and subassemblies, is using QuickCast®. A 3D printing build style that consists of a hollow SLA pattern with an internal hexagonal support structure. The structure adds strength to the pattern, and facilitates in the collapse of the pattern during the investment casting process. It’s also a fraction of the cost of traditional methodologies.
The QuickCast process is ideal for the aerospace market, which often requires low volumes of highly complex parts.
Large, accurate builds
Andy Reeves, a Vaupell sales engineer for new business development, estimates that a specific 66cm diameter part pattern can be produced with QuickCast on a 3D Systems large 3D printing platform in three days for less than $15,000. In comparison, a wax tool for the same part could take several months at a cost of $200,000 plus.
The accuracy of the Quickcast parts (0.025-0.05 mm) enables Vaupell to meet the exacting requirements of its aerospace customers. “We’re saving time on the post-print finishing because the finish of the resins is good.”
Meeting market needs
Reeves says the market for QuickCast investment casting stems from two compelling business needs: creating castings for parts that cannot be tooled in any other way, and creating castings for parts that are so complicated it would take up to a couple of years to deliver a production- worthy mould.
Aerospace companies have discovered that 3D printing can enable complex designs that allow them to reduce the number of parts in an assembly and lower weight while maintaining the same or greater strength and durability.
The need for production-worthy patterns from moulds that would take long periods of time to design and produce in wax has created a substantial bridge- tooling business for Vaupell’s rapid prototyping division. “QuickCast patterns enable our customers to get a part long before a production or prototype tool could be designed, made, tested and brought online,” says Wong.
Wong cites one project where Vaupell used QuickCast to create a complex investment casting pattern and produce 20 parts in a matter of days, scaling quickly to 120 parts a month. “The customer wouldn’t have been able to fulfill the contract if we didn’t use QuickCast to deliver the parts. Sometimes we produce 150 pieces of two or three QuickCast patterns a month over the course of a year while the customer is still developing and building wax tooling.”
A major concern around investment casting in the early days of 3D printing was the quality and properties of available materials. That concern has been eliminated with the release of new materials that burns out with lower ash content. “If resin is unable to burn out completely, the customer is going to have an issue,” says Wong. “The complete burnout and cleanliness of the burnout are definitely keys to quality.”
Reference: 3D Systems Quickcast
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