How classic foundriesremain competitive

voxeljet offers 3D printing solutions as a cost-effective, future-oriented alternative for foundries. Aircraft manufacturers, automotive OEMs or designers: when rapid production of small batches of complex parts is required, more and more companies are turning to 3D metal printing. Does this herald the end of the classic foundry industry? Not at all! Foundries have been using 3D printing – the technology of the future – to print casting patterns and moulds for decades, to remain competitive on the long term.

3D printed aircraft doors from voxeljet

Sales of industrial 3D metal printers have increased exponentially in recent years. Automotive OEMs, aircraft manufacturers and designers all recognise the potential of the manufacturing technology, which enables wafer-thin layers of metal powder to be bonded into components by radiation energy from lasers,. The main advantages: Greater design freedom and component densities of more than 99 percent. Designers can print lightweight components with crazy geometries, something that was formerly difficult to produce using traditional metal casting.

But components produced using an industrial 3D printer don’t just have exciting, futuristic designs – they also lead to huge cost savings, because, not only do they optimize the topology, they also enable massive weight reductions and require fewer components and functional enhancements. An example from the aviation industry: if the Airbus A380 aircraft is made just 74.2 kilograms lighter by installing 3D-printed components, such as seat belt buckles with honeycomb cut-outs, over an aircraft life of 30 years, this represents a reduction in fuel costs of around 6.7 million US dollars.

Beat your opponent at its own game

voxeljet is convinced that won’t be the case. Foundries may also be able to manufacture components with complex geometries cost-effectively in small series, thus ensuring their future competitiveness. Provided they can build complex moulds faster and more cost-effectively – without the need for expensive special tools. Which is where 3D printers come into play, as they print using binder jetting to quickly generate sand moulds, toolingless! For example, the voxeljet VX4000, which has a build envelope of 4.000 x 2.000 x 1.000 mm, is the world’s biggest 3D printing system for the production of sand moulds and cores. The system can be used for the rapid automated production of 3D sand casting moulds using the binder-jetting 3D printing procedure, which prints huge volumes economically due to its significantly higher build rates. The industrial platform can produce either many small series or individual, large-volume components.

Binder jetting: here's how it's done

A recoater spreads a 300 micrometre-quartz sand layer on a build platform. The mobile print head then uses commonly used foundry binder to bond the grains of sand in the areas where the sand mould should be created. The construction plan needs to be available in the form of a CAD file. The build platform is then lowered by each layer and the process is repeated until the sand mould is ready. Once the system operators have removed the excess sand from the mould by means of compressed air, it is ready for casting. Without any time-consuming, expensive post-processing, unlike components from 3D metal printers.

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