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Sand Casting Processes
Qingdao Shengmei Machinery Co.,Ltd | Updated: Sep 19, 2017


In general, we can distinguish between two methods of sand casting; the first one using green sand and the second being the air set method.

Green sand[edit]

These castings are made using sand molds formed from "wet" sand which contains water and organic bonding compounds, typically referred to as clay.[3] The name "Green Sand" comes from the fact that the sand mold is not "set", it is still in the "green" or uncured state even when the metal is poured in the mould. Green sand is not green in color, but "green" in the sense that it is used in a wet state (akin to green wood). Unlike the name suggests, "green sand" is not a type of sand on its own (that is, not greensand in the geologic sense), but is rather a mixture of:

There are many recipes for the proportion of clay, but they all strike different balances between moldability, surface finish, and ability of the hot molten metal to degas. Coal, typically referred to in foundries as sea-coal, which is present at a ratio of less than 5%, partially combusts in the presence of the molten metal, leading to offgassing of organic vapors. Green sand casting for non-ferrous metals does not use coal additives, since the CO created does not prevent oxidation. Green sand for aluminum typically uses olivine sand (a mixture of the minerals forsterite and fayalite, which is made by crushing dunite rock).

The choice of sand has a lot to do with the temperature at which the metal is poured. At the temperatures that copper and iron are poured, the clay gets inactivated by the heat, in that the montmorillonite is converted to illite, which is a non-expanding clay. Most foundries do not have the very expensive equipment to remove the burned out clay and substitute new clay, so instead, those that pour iron typically work with silica sand that is inexpensive compared to the other sands. As the clay is burned out, newly mixed sand is added and some of the old sand is discarded or recycled into other uses. Silica is the least desirable of the sands, since metamorphic grains of silica sand have a tendency to explode to form sub-micron sized particles when thermally shocked during pouring of the molds. These particles enter the air of the work area and can lead to silicosis in the workers. Iron foundries spend a considerable effort on aggressive dust collection to capture this fine silica. The sand also has the dimensional instability associated with the conversion of quartz from alpha quartz to beta quartz at 680 °C (1250 °F). Often, combustible additives such as wood flour are added to create spaces for the grains to expand without deforming the mold. Olivinechromite, etc. are therefore used because they do not have a phase transition that causes rapid expansion of the grains, as well as offering greater density, which cools the metal faster, producing finer grain structures in the metal. Since they are not metamorphic minerals, they do not have the polycrystals found in silica, and subsequently do not form hazardous sub-micron sized particles.

"Air set" method[edit]

The air set method uses dry sand bonded with materials other than clay, using a fast curing adhesive. The latter may also be referred to as no bake mold casting. When these are used, they are collectively called "air set" sand castings to distinguish them from "green sand" castings. Two types of molding sand are natural bonded (bank sand) and synthetic (lake sand); the latter is generally preferred due to its more consistent composition.

With both methods, the sand mixture is packed around a pattern, forming a mold cavity. If necessary, a temporary plug is placed in the sand and touching the pattern in order to later form a channel into which the casting fluid can be poured. Air-set molds are often formed with the help of a casting flask having a top and bottom part, termed the cope and drag. The sand mixture is tamped down as it is added around the pattern, and the final mold assembly is sometimes vibrated to compact the sand and fill any unwanted voids in the mold. Then the pattern is removed along with the channel plug, leaving the mold cavity. The casting liquid (typically molten metal) is then poured into the mold cavity. After the metal has solidified and cooled, the casting is separated from the sand mold. There is typically no mold release agent, and the mold is generally destroyed in the removal process.[4]

The accuracy of the casting is limited by the type of sand and the molding process. Sand castings made from coarse green sand impart a rough texture to the surface, and this makes them easy to identify. Castings made from fine green sand can shine as cast but are limited by the depth to width ratio of pockets in the pattern. Air-set molds can produce castings with smoother surfaces than coarse green sand but this method is primarily chosen when deep narrow pockets in the pattern are necessary, due to the expense of the plastic used in the process. Air-set castings can typically be easily identified by the burnt color on the surface. The castings are typically shot blasted to remove that burnt color. Surfaces can also be later ground and polished, for example when making a large bell. After molding, the casting is covered with a residue of oxides, silicates and other compounds. This residue can be removed by various means, such as grinding, or shot blasting.

During casting, some of the components of the sand mixture are lost in the thermal casting process. Green sand can be reused after adjusting its composition to replenish the lost moisture and additives. The pattern itself can be reused indefinitely to produce new sand molds. The sand molding process has been used for many centuries to produce castings manually. Since 1950, partially automated casting processes have been developed for production lines.

Cold box[edit]

Uses organic and inorganic binders that strengthen the mold by chemically adhering to the sand. This type of mold gets its name from not being baked in an oven like other sand mold types. This type of mold is more accurate dimensionally than green-sand molds but is more expensive. Thus it is used only in applications that necessitate it.

No-bake molds[edit]

No-bake molds are expendable sand molds, similar to typical sand molds, except they also contain a quick-setting liquid resin and catalyst. Rather than being rammed, the molding sand is poured into the flask and held until the resin solidifies, which occurs at room temperature. This type of molding also produces a better surface finish than other types of sand molds.[5] Because no heat is involved it is called a cold-setting process. Common flask materials that are used are wood, metal, and plastic. Common metals cast into no-bake molds are brass, iron (ferrous), and aluminum alloys.

Vacuum molding[edit]

A schematic of vacuum molding

Vacuum molding (V-process) is a variation of the sand casting process for most ferrous and non-ferrous metals,[6] in which unbonded sand is held in the flask with a vacuum. The pattern is specially vented so that a vacuum can be pulled through it. A heat-softened thin sheet (0.003 to 0.008 in (0.076 to 0.203 mm)) of plastic film is draped over the pattern and a vacuum is drawn (200 to 400 mmHg (27 to 53 kPa)). A special vacuum forming flask is placed over the plastic pattern and is filled with a free-flowing sand. The sand is vibrated to compact the sand and a sprue and pouring cup are formed in the cope. Another sheet of plastic is placed over the top of the sand in the flask and a vacuum is drawn through the special flask; this hardens and strengthens the unbonded sand. The vacuum is then released on the pattern and the cope is removed. The drag is made in the same way (without the sprue and pouring cup). Any cores are set in place and the mold is closed. The molten metal is poured while the cope and drag are still under a vacuum, because the plastic vaporizes but the vacuum keeps the shape of the sand while the metal solidifies. When the metal has solidified, the vacuum is turned off and the sand runs out freely, releasing the casting.[7][8]

The V-process is known for not requiring a draft because the plastic film has a certain degree of lubricity and it expands slightly when the vacuum is drawn in the flask. The process has high dimensional accuracy, with a tolerance of ±0.010 in for the first inch and ±0.002 in/in thereafter. Cross-sections as small as 0.090 in (2.3 mm) are possible. The surface finish is very good, usually between 150 and 125 rms. Other advantages include no moisture related defects, no cost for binders, excellent sand permeability, and no toxic fumes from burning the binders. Finally, the pattern does not wear out because the sand does not touch it. The main disadvantage is that the process is slower than traditional sand casting so it is only suitable for low to medium production volumes; approximately 10 to 15,000 pieces a year. However, this makes it perfect for prototype work, because the pattern can be easily modified as it is made from plastic.[7][8][9]

Fast mold making processes[edit]

With the fast development of the car and machine building industry the casting consuming areas called for steady higher productivity. The basic process stages of the mechanical molding and casting process are similar to those described under the manual sand casting process. The technical and mental development however was so rapid and profound that the character of the sand casting process changed radically.

Mechanized sand molding[edit]

The first mechanized molding lines consisted of sand slingers and/or jolt-squeeze devices that compacted the sand in the flasks. Subsequent mold handling was mechanical using cranes, hoists and straps. After core setting the copes and drags were coupled using guide pins and clamped for closer accuracy. The molds were manually pushed off on a roller conveyor for casting and cooling.

Automatic high pressure sand molding lines[edit]

Increasing quality requirements made it necessary to increase the mold stability by applying steadily higher squeeze pressure and modern compaction methods for the sand in the flasks. In early fifties the high pressure molding was developed and applied in mechanical and later automatic flask lines. The first lines were using jolting and vibrations to pre-compact the sand in the flasks and compressed air powered pistons to compact the molds.

Horizontal sand flask molding[edit]

In the first automatic horizontal flask lines the sand was shot or slung down on the pattern in a flask and squeezed with hydraulic pressure of up to 140 bars. The subsequent mold handling including turn-over, assembling, pushing-out on a conveyor were accomplished either manually or automatically. In the late fifties hydraulically powered pistons or multi-piston systems were used for the sand compaction in the flasks. This method produced much more stable and accurate molds than it was possible manually or pneumatically. In the late sixties mold compaction by fast air pressure or gas pressure drop over the pre-compacted sand mold was developed (sand-impulse and gas-impact). The general working principle for most of the horizontal flask line systems is shown on the sketch below.

Today there are many manufacturers of the automatic horizontal flask molding lines. The major disadvantages of these systems is high spare parts consumption due to multitude of movable parts, need of storing, transporting and maintaining the flasks and productivity limited to approximately 90–120 molds per hour.

Vertical sand flaskless molding[edit]

In 1962, Dansk Industri Syndikat A/S (DISA-DISAMATIC) invented a flask-less molding process by using vertically parted and poured molds. The first line could produce up to 240 complete sand molds per hour. Today molding lines can achieve a molding rate of 550 sand molds per hour and requires only one monitoring operator. Maximum mismatch of two mold halves is 0.1 mm (0.0039 in). Although very fast, vertically parted molds are not typically used by jobbing foundries due to the specialized tooling needed to run on these machines. Cores need to be set with a core mask as opposed to by hand and must hang in the mold as opposed to being set on parting surface.

Matchplate sand molding[edit]

The principle of the matchplate, meaning pattern plates with two patterns on each side of the same plate, was developed and patented in 1910, fostering the perspectives for future sand molding improvements. However, first in the early sixties the American company Hunter Automated Machinery Corporation launched its first automatic flaskless, horizontal molding line applying the matchplate technology.

The method alike to the DISA's (DISAMATIC) vertical molding is flaskless, however horizontal. The matchplate molding technology is today used widely. Its great advantage is inexpensive pattern tooling, easiness of changing the molding tooling, thus suitability for manufacturing castings in short series so typical for the jobbing foundries. Modern matchplate molding machine is capable of high molding quality, less casting shift due to machine-mold mismatch (in some cases less than 0.15 mm (0.0059 in)), consistently stable molds for less grinding and improved parting line definition. In addition, the machines are enclosed for a cleaner, quieter working environment with reduced operator exposure to safety risks or service-related problems.


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