Casting of metals is an ancient process. Bronze casts poured into beeswax molds—date back a staggering 5,000 years and have been found in ancient ruins. The first two earliest periods of human history are chronologically marked from and named for the emergence of new metal casting technology—the Bronze and Iron Ages. Steels—while commonplace in modern life— have developed only over the last ~ 150 years.
"While the foundation of die-casting has remained largely unchanged, crucial advances supporting this market are evolving to meet the needs of modern product design"
While time has not changed the basic principles of die casting, modernization of the equipment, and process has opened the way to make larger and more advanced parts of quality. Today, die casting of metals is a major and growing manufacturing sector in part due to natural advantages of the process suiting requirements found in modern products.
Applications in the fields of automation and robotics, telecommunication, and automotive for part manufacturers are skyrocketing. These types of products have requirements that give casting processes an edge and are seeing tremendous growth. These modern designs have specialized requirements that drive exciting manufacturing innovations.
Here are a few examples of the design requirements of modern products driving advances in die casting manufacturing technology:
Third only to copper and diamond, aluminum is one of the best thermal conductors of any material. Aluminum die-casts fairly easily, allowing it to be formed into the complex thin shapes of radiators and heat sinks with minimal additional machining for these kinds of parts. Aluminum also serves as a good choice for electronic housings with a balance of strength and low weight, and natural corrosion resistance combined with its electrical and thermal conductivity (conductive cases can also be needed in applications involving wireless and cellular signal transmission).
One of the biggest design challenges developers face when working with products such as electric motors or telecommunication equipment is how to remove the large amounts of thermal energy they produce. As a solution, heat sinks and radiators of all shapes and sizes are often incorporated into electronic and electro-mechanical products such as electric cars, hover boards, and Wi-Fi transmitters. Because the aluminum alloys are typically made of such great thermal conductors, they are not only cheap, but most importantly, effective. When combined with a relatively low melt temperature, aluminum alloys have the ability to be cast into accurate, dense shapes that save process machining. These characteristics make it ideal for producing heat exchanging enclosures for electronics.
Modern product design is almost defined by ever-increasing complexity. All types of products today take advantage of manufacturing advances that have improved the look, feel, and performance of all types of manufactured goods. Shapely design aesthetic is also important to metal part manufacturers and modern 3D design allows designers more tools to express their creativity. Casting provides a low-cost solution to complex shapes.
Automotive and robotic applications are requiring lighter systems in their moving parts, which is leading to the displacement of steel and iron for large cast parts. Not only are these lighter mechanical parts easier to move, but they are essentially required for today’s high-speed dynamic application. Both magnesium and aluminum have about the same strength to weight ratio as steel but are lighter by volume. These light metals have been associated with high-end, lightweight sports equipment for decades. Automotive and robotic parts and cases using frames, chassis, and linkages are more popular than ever. Engineered materials like carbon-fiber and super-performing synthetics also compete in these areas but the economy of die casting over these super-materials gives casting the commercial advantage.
It is important to point out that there are a handful of disadvantages to using large metal casting processes. For example, larger equipment and tools mean high costs of investment and a widening of the gap of cost between high volume and low volume parts. Volumes of parts produced generally need to run into the tens of thousands in order to provide return investment on tooling. Time to develop these processes and equipment equates to increased time to market for new products.
However, the benefits we have discussed greatly outweigh these downsides which will continue to drive designers and manufacturers of a wide range of modern products to invest in the improvement and use of these techniques. In the future, we will see the suppliers who have committed to not only embracing new technology, but in hiring highly skilled employees take a higher position amongst its competition. We are already seeing customers demand more than simply reliability and low cost. The most highly sought-after will be those who can add value by providing more than just metal casting. Additional capabilities providing a well-rounded suite of services, such as design, engineering and distribution, will be most attractive for customers. While the foundation of die-casting has remained largely unchanged, crucial advances supporting this market are evolving to meet the needs of modern product design.