The Lost Foam Casting Process: Part One

Lost foam casting is a small, but important part in the recent acceleration to drive technological improvement in industry.
In the automotive industry consumer demand is at its highest which mean materials technology needs to keep pace and with LFC it allows solid aluminum parts to be created to help drive weight and cost savings.

Vehicle manufacturing has become extremely complex, costly, and competitive during the past 30 years. Global competition, vehicle technology, and consumer demands have brought us owner satisfaction surveys, innovations as complex as electronic stability control and the most efficient, yet most intricate engines ever produced. With advances in product technology come demands for advances in product manufacturing.

A significant portion of most brands’ fleets sold in the U.S. have all-aluminum engines. The use of this lightweight metal reduces vehicle weight, increases fuel efficiency and reduces ownership costs. A popular manufacturing process for these all-aluminum engines is called Evaporative Pattern Casting, more popularly referred to as Lost Foam Casting (LFC). The materials most commonly used in LFC are aluminum and iron. As the process name implies, the castings are made from polystyrene foam patterns that evaporate once the molten metal is introduced into the sand casing.

Lost-foam casting (LFC) is a casting method used to create solid metal parts from molten metal. The cost of production of these castings by the LFC process is much less relative to the conventional processes, such as sand casting. Over the past 20 — 25 years, almost 30% of the die cast components have come to be produced by the LFC process. Major strides in the LFC of cast irons and aluminum alloys are attributed to significant research and development endeavors of the automotive industry. Much of these are in the development of new polymers, bead expansion techniques, selection of favorable alloys and parameters. Thus, scientific data related to superheats, heat transfer, flow length, etc. are available to a reasonable extent for LFC of cast irons and aluminum alloys.

The first step of lost-foam casting is the creation of the foam mold. A block of polystyrene foam is cut into the exact shape of the finished product using hand or power tools. For applications where the dimensions of the finished piece must be exact, power tooling is preferred for a more consistent shaping of the foam. The mold is then dipped in sheetrock mud or plaster and coated thoroughly.

After the foam mold is finished, it is buried in a container; for example, a metal drum; filled with compacted sand. The very ends of the foam shape are left exposed to facilitate the entry of the molten metal into the mold. A homemade tool can be used during this step to help the process along further. This tool, which consists of a hinged cylinder that can be opened and closed along the side by long handles, is placed on the sand so that it surrounds the foam piece. When the metal is poured, the cylinder walls contain it and allow it to build up over the piece, creating more pressure and, therefore, a more thorough casting

 

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Figure 1: Lost Foam Casting
Lost foam casting LFC is used to make outboard engine components (engine block, cylinder head, etc.).

 

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Figure 2: Lost foam casting LFC products

There are various benefits that must be considered in using this process:

  • Additives not required
  • Binders not required
  • Flexibility in design
  • Cores not required
  • Minimum scrap
  • Less machining
  • Reduced finishing
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Reduced energy required
  • Reduced insurance premiums
  • Smaller footprint
  • Reduced manpower

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