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Magical Metal

Shannon Wetzel

I  recently finished the first book of a popular high fantasy fiction series written by a well-known author of that genre, Brandon Sanderson. In the Mistborn trilogy, certain lucky individuals have the ability to glean powers from ingesting certain metals. Pewter gives strength, tin heightens the senses, iron and steel act as magnetic push and pull forces that give the ability to fly, etc. When I describe it for my non-magic-appreciating husband, I say it’s basically Marvel superpowers set in another universe.

After 18 years covering this industry, I enjoy the thought of different metals bestowing superpowers to people. Metals have been lending their “powers” to humans throughout history as tools and parts, and researchers are continuing to discover or develop new and enhanced characteristics.

In this issue, three metal experts talk about what goes into developing casting alloys for specific properties and applications on page 36. The level of metallurgy involved in today’s metals is a far cry from the crude iron pot cast on the banks of the Saugus River, Massachusetts, in the 1600s. Yet even that pot—in its day—was an engineering feat. The skills with which foundries can deliver a recipe of specific properties within an alloy continues to advance.

The same week I’m writing this editorial, I also reviewed the Guide to Metalcasting Congress 2023 that will be available to attendees in Cleveland at the show this month. As I read through the descriptions of the 70+ sessions being planned and the research and real-world case studies on which they are based, I was reminded of how sophisticated metalcasting is. The industry is sparks flying and awesome molten metal pouring, true, but it’s also lab testing, computer modeling, and robotics programming.

Alloy research highlights lined up for Metalcasting Congress 2023 includes sessions on Thursday, April 27 at 8 a.m. and 9:15 a.m. These are:
• Advances in the Production of In-Situ Nanocomposite Castings (23-097)
• Role of Impurities on the Mechanical Behavior and Phase Stability in Al-Ce-Ni Hypoeutectic Systems (23-110)
• Cast Metal-Ceramic Composite Lattice Structures for Lightweight, Energy Absorbing Applications (23-079)  
• Meta-modeling Driven Intelligent Manufacturing of Ductile Iron Sand Castings With Near Real Time Corrective Actions to Eliminate Scrap (23-081)

Sponsored research projects show the amazing results that occur through industry collaboration. Events like Metalcasting Congress and publications like this magazine and the International Journal of Metalcasting fulfill the crucial knowledge transfer part of R&D—putting alloys’ superpowers in the hands of everyday heroes. 

Unlike the Mistborn in Sandersons’ book, I’ll hold off from ingesting any of these alloys to give me super strength … but who knows where metallurgy will be in 500 years?  

Click here to view the column in the April 2023 Modern Casting digital edition.