Capturing the Casting

Brian Sandalow, Associate Editor

The Onsight Cube camera by Librestream (Winnipeg, Alberta, Canada) has to be tough. This isn’t a camera designed for selfies at Disneyland or pictures at family reunions, but is instead a hand-held device with a built-in thermal cameral intended for rugged industrial environments where durability, weight savings, and heat resistance are primary concerns.

Needing to convert the frame from a machined component, Librestream went hunting for a facility that could provide what they wanted. They found AFS Corporate Member Aristo-Cast (Almont, Michigan), an investment caster with the capability to produce products in aluminum and magnesium.

For both sides, the project was unique and a learning experience. Librestream was dealing with a casting company for the first time for the camera that can be handheld, placed on a hardhat or a monopod.

Aristo-Cast answered all the questions Librestream had about the casting process. Aristo-Cast vice president Paul Leonard said he described his company’s processes, invited them for a tour and made sure all reservations they had were accounted for.

“There’s a lot of things that we can do with a casting that people don’t know is even possible,” Leonard said. “That’s why we like to get them in for a tour to open their eyes to the world they live in.”

It’s a world that was right for this product.

“They’ve all been plastics for camera cases, but this camera is special,” Leonard said. “It needed to be more rigid and be more durable so they could put it into the field. They had to go to a casting.”

Investment casting was the answer.

“A lot of people design the part in subtractive manufacturing, it might be machined from a solid,” Leonard said. “With investment casting we can make it look much more aerodynamic and ergonomic for them using radiuses. That was a learning curve with them. They had some thin walls with some deep pockets and radiuses, so we had to help them create a better casting out of their design.”

As for Aristo-Cast, it received the designed model files and suggested a few minor changes to make it a better casting application. Several castings were created for testing and design review, and after some iterations, Aristo-Cast better understood what the camera has to do. The camera itself has cooling fins around the whole exterior and the frame detail. That allows the electronics inside to stay cool when it’s being in use.

“They needed the camera to be more rigid because of the environments it was going to be in, like hazardous sites,” Leonard said. “If it’s dropped it wouldn’t leak any of the gas into or out of it, depending on where the cameras are being used. They need to be strong and air tight.”

That led Aristo-Cast to suggest magnesium as an alternate material to aluminum, since it has superior thermal and damping properties. And since Aristo-Cast is a rare investment caster capable of doing magnesium, the company was able to pitch multiple versions.

“We were able to provide them prototypes that were both aluminum and magnesium,” Leonard said. “They offer different lines. One that is offering the weight savings with the weight reduction due to using magnesium compared to the 357 aluminum that they’re using.”

Currently, only the A357 aluminum version is in production, even though the magnesium AZ91E was also prototyped. If Aristo-Cast needs to switch over to magnesium, it can.

“The shrink rate between aluminum and magnesium makes it so that we’re able to use the same hard tooling to create castings in either material. All it would require is a change in the process to cast in magnesium instead of aluminum,” Leonard said. “There are some special things that we do through our process to be able to eliminate the metal mold reaction between the magnesium and the shell that we use. That’s proprietary information, but other than that there’s not really a whole lot of difference.”

The prototyping was performed via additive manufacturing. Aristo-Cast has several 3D printers on site. Librestream was looking for a good surface quality, which is why the patterns were printed.

“Additive kicked it off right away,” Leonard said. “We were able to provide prototypes in no time at all, so they could review those before they went into hard tooling. It helped with the different iterations we were able to prototype so they could finalize the design for all of their castings.”

There were plenty of other benefits. For this project, the time from when Aristo-Cast received the solid model file to when Librestream had the first parts was under two weeks.

“Now with these prototype printers where we print from a solid model file, you don’t need a hard tool to get started,” Leonard said. “You can prove out your process and prove out your concept before you invest a ton of money into hard tooling. The way printers are going, it’s a great vehicle for the pattern. If it’s small enough and the quantities aren’t tens of thousands, you can set the whole production in one build-box.

“It helps with the timing because it eliminates the 6-10 weeks or longer that you need to cut the hard tooling. You can have patterns in two days.”

According to Librestream, the camera can survive a 6 ft. drop. It can operate at -4F (-20C) and a maximum of 131F (55C) and survive storage at -22F (-30C) and a maximum of 140F (60C). In short, the camera is as tough as it needed to be.

“In discussions with our industrial customers and partners, we identified a large market opportunity for a multi-purpose wearable that enables remote assistance of complex assets in the field,” Kerry Thacher, CEO, Librestream said when the product was unveiled.

“The Cube is a significant leap forward in hazardous-location collaboration. This new capability now enables use of cases that were previously impossible to implement.”   

Click here to see this story as it appears in the January 2019 issue of Modern Casting