AFS Research Making an Impact
When OSHA issued its new silica regulation, many foundries had to invest significant time and money to ensure they met the new standard. An AFS Research study on the use of existing, powered, non-HEPA floor sweepers helped cut out a significant chunk of that investment—saving the foundry industry millions of dollars, with the cost of replacing each sweeper amounting to $30,000.
Meanwhile, another AFS Research project explored the use of alternative sand molding media to limit exposure to crystalline silica dust. It validated ceramic media could be used effectively in green sand molding systems. Because of the research, dozens of foundries switched to a ceramic media to reduce their silica dust exposure and avoid costly engineering changes.
These AFS-sponsored research projects are just two of the 33 conducted in the last five years. From drastically reducing cost on lost foam tooling to finding ways to improve the weldability of aluminum-copper alloys, their positive impacts are evident throughout the industry. A key facet of the importance of AFS Research has been the level of adoption by the industry, according to Jerry Thiel, professor at the University of Northern Iowa, and a frequent author of AFS Research papers.
“How accepting is the industry of the technology the researchers are doing?” Thiel asked. “Look back at a paper in 2015 on 3D properties of additive manufacturing sand and using regionally available materials because at the time the 3D sand being used was expensive. I would say 90% of foundries [using additive manufacturing] are using those technologies today.”
AFS Research seeks to advance metalcasting technology and propel the entire industry forward. Industry experts identify technical barriers that inhibit the casting process and limit quality, then develop research programs that can help mitigate or eliminate these barriers. The goal is to minimize the current technology gap between where we are today, and where we would like to be in the future.
This unique structure for proposing, accepting, and conducting the research through AFS and its committees holds additional, long-lasting benefits for participating companies and individuals.
“We have been telling foundries to get people involved in the research if they want it to be particularly relevant to their company,” said David Weiss, VP of Engineering Development at AFS Corporate Member Eck Industries (Manitowoc, Wisconsin). “And assign somebody to monitor what is being published out of those programs. Pay attention to what is happening. It is extremely valuable and useful stuff.”
At Eck Industries, a culture of research has been ever present, according to Weiss. The 206 alloy the foundry pours today was developed on the factory floor by Robert Eck, he pointed out. Participating in ongoing research keeps Eck Industries well positioned with its customers.
“We try to do two kinds of things in our research programs,” Weiss said. “One is to try to meet what our customers want. Often, they want a stronger, more ductile alloy or one with less porosity in it. So we try to drive our in-house research in that direction.
“Second, we look at where is there a cost [in production] if you have to do something two times or reject a casting—those things all cost money.”
Eck participates in a variety of research avenues, including completely self-funded, but Weiss sees involvement in the AFS committee structure as a unique advantage.
“It’s not just the funding to do some work but to sit on the steering committee of a number of projects that we have gotten direct benefit from,” Weiss said. “The project on mold distortion run by the AFS Aluminum Division—we have incorporated a lot of practices from that program directly into our operation. It has enabled us to reduce wear and tear in the tooling and maintain better dimensional control across parting lines. While we didn’t do the work, we were able to assimilate the work as it was being developed. That was a hugely valuable project for us. A lot of people here are very interested, including our tooling designers.”
Foundries don’t have to be directly involved in the research or on the committees to benefit, however. Results and recommendations from research projects are communicated to the industry through Metalcasting Congress proceedings, various conference presentations and AFS publications including the International Journal of Metal Casting and Modern Casting magazine. Taking the time to monitor the research projects relevant to your foundry and relaying the information to the appropriate departments can pay dividends.
“There should be an explicit time commitment to review what is the next big thing,” Weiss said. “I firmly believe if you just do what you have done in the past, you become irrelevant.”
AFS partners with outside agencies to leverage additional funding sources for research that will benefit the metalcasting industries. AFS is a member of the American Metalcasting Consortium. The program, funded through the Defense Logistics Agency, U.S. Department of Defense, funds metalcasting research aimed at improving the infrastructure for U.S military and defense needs. AFS has been involved in several significant research programs. A previous project produced statistically validated mechanical properties for aluminum and steel alloys for inclusion in the MMPDS handbook. Including the qualified data in the handbook allows these alloys to be used in military and other aerospace applications, opening up new markets for casting. The current program is investigating the use of intelligent manufacturing tools to improve casting design and process optimization of iron castings, using casting process variables to develop a more rapid and accurate prediction of casting properties. Other AFS sponsored programs include a program (VA Tech) on casting bullet resistant armor panels for military vehicles and a novel method to introduce nano-sized particles into molten aluminum to improve component properties.
AFS is also a member of the Advanced Casting Research Center. Previously housed at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, MA, the institute is being relocated to University of California Irvine.
Through ACRC, AFS participates in several research programs of direct relevance to the foundries, including a project that is looking into innovative heat treatment to improve properties for aluminum castings. Initial research into the use of cryogenics in the thermal treatment process shows some promising potential.
Just as Eck Industries focuses on customer-driven research, AFS seeks input from casting buyers on what they need and want from their foundry suppliers. A recent project studying the capabilities of printing lost foam tooling answers a need for less expensive upfront costs to make the process more attractive to buyers—expanding an under-tapped market.
Marshall Miller, supplier development manager at Flowserve Corp., saw the potential of the lost foam process to make pumps and valves, but the cost of producing the tooling was prohibitively high.
It started with a market analysis.
“Back in 2016, I took the annual AFS forecast and went through and picked out stainless steel, and basically the pump and valve compressor industry in the U.S. was buying $5 billion of castings a year. The lost foam process provides near investment casting tolerancing. Dimensionally, lost foam is close to investment casting, and it is a lot cheapear and faster. So, making valve bodies and components in lost foam is on our radar because we can buy a cheaper product and faster.”
AFS is conducting ongoing research for two lost foam tooling projects to help open the market for lost foam castings. One is looking at 3D printing the tool that creates the foam pattern, and the other is looking at pouring stainless steel via lost foam casting. In the 3D-printed tooling project, aluminum, titanium, and various polymers are being examined.
Initial results from printing aluminum tooling showed a cost reduction of almost half and a 30% reduction in time. On the polymer side, an initial study showed a printed SLA tool is 25% of the cost of a machined aluminum tool. Now the research is looking at how many parts can be produced per tool.
“The target of the polymer tool is to do high mix, low volume components and medium volume castings,” Miller said. “These polymer tools are going to be a lot less expensive and the programming on the 3D printers is a whole lot easier.
“The two hurdles the lost foam process has had are, number one, tool cost, and number two, to be able to make grades like CFM stainless steel,” Miller said. “The point is, the technology is there and it is not expensive or hard to try.”
The AFS Research structure also takes advantage of the skills and resources of metalcasting programs at various universities and colleges. This mutually beneficial relationship helps answer important scientific questions while involving college students and attracting them to the foundry industry.
“The more engagement we can have from our students in the technology of metalcasting, the greater chance they end up staying in the field,” Thiel said. “The benefit of AFS is all the projects we work on are issues that come out of interactions with members. It’s that relationship, that communication, that involvement in the industry association that generates the ideas.
AFS committee members come from all across the metalcasting supply chain—suppliers, foundries, end-users, universities, bringing with them perspectives on the industry from all angles with the common goal of propelling the technology and capabilities forward.
“It’s pure volunteerism, and it always has been,” Thiel said. “It’s part of the strength of AFS. Get together, have those relationships, and openly talk without competition about issues and the possible methods of addressing those issues.”
For more information on how to be involved in AFS Research, contact Steve Robison at email@example.com.
Click here to view in the July 2020 digital edition.