Steel Castings

Steel Castings are one of the most common categories of cast materials in the world. Casting involves pouring liquid metal into a mold, which contains a hollow cavity of the desired shape, and then allowing it to cool and solidify. The solidified part is also known as a casting, which is ejected or broken out of the mold to complete the process. Casting is most often used for making complex shapes that would be difficult or uneconomical to make by other methods.

The History Of Steel Castings

Casting processes have been known for thousands of years, and widely used for sculpture, especially in bronze, jewellery in precious metals, and weapons and tools. Traditional techniques include lost-wax casting, plaster mold casting and sand casting.

Steel Casting Methods

The modern steel casting process is subdivided into two main categories: expendable and non-expendable casting. It is further broken down by the mold material, such as sand or metal, and pouring method, such as gravity, vacuum, or low pressure.

Sand Casting

Sand casting is one of the most popular and simplest types of casting, and has been used for centuries. Sand casting allows for smaller batches than permanent mold casting and at a very reasonable cost. Not only does this method allow manufacturers to create products at a low cost, but there are other benefits to sand casting, such as very small-size operations. From castings that fit in the palm of your hand to train beds (one casting can create the entire bed for one rail car), it can all be done with sand casting. Sand casting also allows most metals to be cast depending on the type of sand used for the molds.

Sand casting requires a lead time of days, or even weeks sometimes, for production at high output rates (1–20 pieces/hr-mold) and is unsurpassed for large-part production. Green (moist) sand has almost no part weight limit, whereas dry sand has a practical part mass limit of 12,000 lbs. The sand is bonded together using clays, chemical binders, or polymerized oils (such as motor oil). Sand can be recycled many times in most operations and requires little maintenance.

Investment Casting

Investment casting (known as lost-wax casting in art) is a process that has been practiced for thousands of years, with the lost-wax process being one of the oldest known metal forming techniques. From 5000 years ago, when beeswax formed the pattern, to today’s high technology waxes, refractory materials and specialist alloys, the castings ensure high-quality components are produced with the key benefits of accuracy, repeatability, versatility and integrity.

Investment casting derives its name from the fact that the pattern is invested, or surrounded, with a refractory material. The wax patterns require extreme care for they are not strong enough to withstand forces encountered during the mold making. One advantage of investment casting is that the wax can be reused.

The process is suitable for repeatable production of net shape components from a variety of different metals and high performance alloys. Although generally used for small castings, this process has been used to produce complete aircraft door frames, with steel castings of up to 700 lbs and aluminium castings of up to 70 lbs. Compared to other casting processes such as die casting or sand casting, it can be an expensive process. However, the components that can be produced using investment casting can incorporate intricate contours, and in most cases the components are cast near net shape, so require little or no rework once cast.

Die Casting

The die casting process forces molten metal under high pressure into mold cavities (which are machined into dies). Most die castings are made from nonferrous metals, specifically zinc, copper, and aluminium-based alloys, but ferrous metal die castings are possible. The die casting method is especially suited for applications where many small to medium-sized parts are needed with good detail, a fine surface quality and dimensional consistency.

Centrifugal Casting

In this process, molten metal is poured in the mold and allowed to solidify while the mold is rotating. Metal is poured into the center of the mold at its axis of rotation. Due to centrifugal force the liquid metal is thrown out towards the periphery.

Centrifugal casting is both gravity- and pressure-independent since it creates its own force feed using a temporary sand mold held in a spinning chamber at up to 900 N. Lead time varies with the application. Semi- and true-centrifugal processing permit 30–50 pieces/hr-mold to be produced, with a practical limit for batch processing of approximately 20,000 lbs total mass with a typical per-item limit of 5 to 10 lbs.

Industrially, the centrifugal casting of railway wheels was an early application of the method developed by the German industrial company Krupp and this capability enabled the rapid growth of the enterprise.

Small art pieces such as jewelry are often cast by this method using the lost wax process, as the forces enable the rather viscous liquid metals to flow through very small passages and into fine details such as leaves and petals. This effect is similar to the benefits from vacuum casting, also applied to jewelry casting.