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Roadmap identifies foundry industry's top research needs.

Three metalcasting societies collaborated to provide a blueprint of the technology milestones necessary to achieve the industry's vision.

In 1995, the Cast Metals Coalition (made up of the American Foundrymen's Society, North American Die Casting Assn., and Steel Founders' Society of America) and the U.S. Dept. of Energy compiled, "Beyond 2000: A Vision for the American Metalcasting Industry." It was developed to provide a framework for the industry to become more competitive, productive and efficient by 2020.

Since then, experts from the metalcasting industry, end-users, academia and national laboratories worked to target the opportunities, technology barriers and research priorities needed to help the industry achieve that vision.

Completed earlier this year, the "Metalcasting Industry Technology Roadmap" links the broadly defined strategic goals and the detailed research portfolio that will be pursued through industry/government partnerships and other mechanisms.

An excerpt of the report, this article examines the trends/drivers, performance targets and technological barriers for four of the report's sections. The full report delves deeper into each of these subjects and provides more far-reaching R&D objectives, as well as the potential government role. In addition, there are chapters on human resources, profitability and industry health, and partnerships and collaborations.

The table on page 53 contains only the highest priority research needs identified in the report. Following is some of the thought process that went into identifying research needs.


The metalcasting industry is in a state of change. Some industry segments are mature or declining, while others are emerging as new industries. The mature ferrous sectors are most susceptible to low-cost foreign producers because their products are less value-added. These sectors are characterized by flagging demand and little or n o new market developments. The emerging sectors, including nonferrous castings, typically use newer processes to manufacture higher-value-added products and are continuing to develop and exploit new markets. These casters are in good position for the future, when castings will have more complex structural requirements, and higher performance castings will replace what were once assemblies.

Factors affecting the demand for specific castings include: shifts in the metals or processes used for a given product; the replacement of castings with noncast components; the shrinking of materials requirements of lighter-weight vehicles; and the continued loss of domestic castings to foreign metalcasters.

The majority of the loss in casting markets is attributed to a drop in the production of gray iron castings, which are losing market share to other metals (such as aluminum) and plastics. The continued loss of gray iron tonnage to aluminum in vehicles is expected to drop the gray iron content per unit from 345 lb to 215 lb in 2005. The market for ductile iron castings has increased significantly since 1983, in part because of their replacement of many steel fabrications and malleable iron and steel castings. Ductile iron also will see reduced automotive demand as suspension and brake parts are converted to aluminum.

Noncast components also caused casting market loss. As mentioned, plastics have replaced gray iron castings in many applications. For example, plastic pipe is now used in many iron-pipe applications. Plastics and wrought copper alloys are also replacing brass and bronze castings in the plumbing market. Another exam pie of casting market loss is the use of composite materials for structural components in special applications.

End-product downsizing also reduced casting demand in some markets. For example, the weight of automobiles has decreased more than 30% since 1983. Diecasters, half of whose business is generated by the auto industry, are greatly influenced by vehicle weight reduction. Vehicle downsizing has resulted in the substitution of magnesium for die-cast zinc trim, reducing production to 33% of previous levels.

Many casting markets also have been penetrated by foreign competition from assembled components that contain castings, especially in the auto, steel and machine tool industries. Specific markets that have been lost to foreign competition include steel and iron valves (China, Taiwan and India), steel construction parts (South Africa), municipal iron (India), aluminum die castings (Korea), gray iron engine/compressors (Brazil), malleable iron fittings (Thailand) and gray iron power transmissions (India).

Performance Targets

As outlined in "Beyond 2000...," metalcasting market development has three challenges: recapture 25-50% of lost markets, improve market share in current markets by 10% and increase the rate of new market development.

Technology Barriers

Design Tools and Processes - Design tools exist, but there are no adequate tools to help functional designers within customer industries such as automotive or aerospace. Also, concurrent engineering processes are not robustly applied across the industry, and the lack of adequate design-for-manufacturing tools that are easy to use and access.

Standards - Property and performance data on materials and castings varies widely, and they are not standardized nor contained in a single source. Newer alloys don't appear on any national standard or construction code. This lack of standards hurts castings' ability to be considered for new applications.

Customer Requirements - Technical and marketing barriers prevent metalcasters from fully communicating to customers the advantages gained from cast products.

Designer/Customer Knowledge - Knowledge barriers prevent acceptance and expansion of casting markets. Conditioned to be risk-averse, many designers lack confidence in castings and are unaccustomed to the time required for tooling and testing.

Infrastructure - Operating as second- or third-tier suppliers presents an organizational barrier to expanded casting applications. Typically, metalcasters turn their product over to a value-added, first-tier supplier, who then processes it further before delivering the final component to the customer.

Education - This is a major culprit behind the lack of understanding of processes and properties. The industry has been unable to attract and educate new employees at the high school and college level, and students often are not exposed to this field of study.


The trends and drivers related to the development, adoption and use of new and improved materials for castings are centered on materials properties and requirements. Increased availability of data on material and design properties has increased the designer's ability to [TABULAR DATA OMITTED] use castings. The development of a solid base of technical knowledge is helping metalcasters improve existing products and develop new applications to compete with alternative materials and techniques, as well as foreign castings. The enhancement of this knowledge with additional performance data, plus its incorporation into design tools and the definition of materials standards, will increase user confidence and help castings penetrate new markets.

In spite of the increases in available data on the mechanical, physical, performance and design properties of materials and castings, many problems remain. As stated, there are wide variations in data, and no single source of information exists. Gaps exist in the knowledge of the performance of standard steel, copper-based and aluminum alloys, as well as casting and heat treating processes.

An increase in casting applications will lead to higher demands for new materials that are stronger, lighter, more reliable and more manufacturable. Stronger and lighter-weight cast metal alloys are needed to better compete with composites in new engineered structural applications. The accelerating demand of technology requires metalcasters to place more emphasis on new materials processing techniques. New composites, ceramics, plastics and other materials also will be used.

Cast aluminum and magnesium with corrosion-inhibiting properties and high-quality ductile iron castings (with tighter tolerances and controlled microstructures/mechanical properties) are predicted to be in increasing demand in the aerospace, electrical machinery and auto markets. High-alloy steel castings that are heat-resistant for use in valve, pump, furnace and turbine applications also will be in higher demand.

Environmental and health concerns have created a need to find substitutes for lead in copper-based alloys. Similarly, a need for extended refractory life has been identified by environmental and health factors.

Metalcasters rely on consumable material suppliers to lead the way in developing materials that will produce higher quality castings with minimal environmental impact. Improved materials for patterns and dies can reduce casting costs while increasing quality. Die life has a major impact on the production cost of die-cast components, with the cost of the die contributing 10% or more to the cost of a die casting.

Performance Targets

Simply, the goal in materials technology is to improve the variety (material flexibility), integrity (porosity and consistency) and performance (product liability and lifetime) of cast metal products.

Technology Barriers

Knowledge of Materials Properties - Designers can't effectively design because of a lack of knowledge on the: fundamental properties as a function of chemistries and casting route; interrelationships of various elements on casting performance; and physical property data, casting design and performance. Further barriers include the inability to predict how inclusions, porosity and morphology influence material properties, as well as the variation and application of tests that may not measure real conditions.

Availability of Processing Techniques - The industry has had difficulty in preparing clean metals in part because undesired elements (such as antimony, phosphorus and sulfur) are introduced from recycled metal. Techniques for assessing and controlling the composition of liquid metal prior to casting are lacking, and metal conveying and pouring operations can adversely affect cleanliness and quality. Another barrier is the lack of information on process-microstructure-chemistry-property interactions, which are key to controlling quality and performance.

Liquid Metal and Cast Product Quality - The lack of accurate, fast, reliable, in-line and nondestructive methods for quantifying casting defects restricts metalcasters' ability to identify and correct operational problems in a timely manner.

Availability of New Materials - Both technical and market/institutional issues affect the availability and adoption of new materials. For example, low-cost composite materials can't substantially penetrate the market until they become cost-competitive. An industry institutional problem is the difficulty in incorporating new materials into existing applications.

Industry and Industry-Customer Communication/Institutional Issues - Designers often don't understand the requirements of making castings and cannot convey to metalcasters what they need, which leads to inadequate assessment of designers' needs. Other barriers include the industry's emphasis on cost containment and the inability to get production intent for new materials from users.


The combination of increased competitiveness and more demanding customers has put more pressure on metalcasters to improve performance.

The lead-time required to deliver the first article to the customer is a critical factor in metalcasting's competitiveness. Traditionally, metalcasters are not always able to respond quickly to changes in the customer's design (and vice versa). The metalcasting industry is continuing its efforts to cost-effectively develop and produce castings faster (or just-in-time) while improving casting quality and consistency.

Lead-times depend on several factors, especially the availability of and use of computer-based tools. Such new technologies are improving capabilities in casting design, prototyping, process development, control and production. Emerging computer technologies in hardware, CAD/CAM, modeling, rapid prototyping and rapid tooling make design and development of cast prototype components easier, faster and more accurate. Foundries employing rapid prototyping have significantly reduced the lead-time required to produce a casting from a concept or CAD design.

Lead-time is affected by the availability of standardized data on specific properties, data that is limited. Designers often use "case histories" of comparative components as their guidelines for new designs. This design method limits the ability to make changes, as months are required to completely redesign a component. The variation in data on casting properties also hurts advanced casting designers who use finite element modeling interfaced with CAD/CAM to develop castings. Predictive software for designing parts and molds can eliminate the high cost of trial-and-error runs or expensive tooling modifications if rules for dimensional control are known.

Casting productivity is crucial to the process' survival. Improvements have been steady, and new automation and computer-based technologies are improving casting control and production. Modern hardware and software tools can greatly streamline and modernize casting production. Robust, reliable sensors can be linked to computers to control a process and its critical parameters in real time. In turn, process control computers can be linked to production flow computers to form a network that controls an entire foundry (although few can afford such technology). Continuing technological advances in greater precision in patterns/tooling and tighter tolerances in production machinery and molding media can yield parts that meet design and performance specifications with minimal secondary operations.

The quality (metal cleanliness, mechanical properties and dimensional accuracy) of castings affects the manufacturing costs of products containing castings. Many new high-alloy and other high value-added castings that were sourced offshore during the 1980s are returning because of improved exchange rates and the inability of those foundries to continually meet the quality and delivery requirements of domestic customers.

Customers are demanding higher quality castings, and zero-defect castings are increasingly becoming a production objective. The pressure on both foundries and customers to more quickly deliver a higher quality product will be exceeded by the foundries' needs to optimize manufacturing processes for lower overall costs and quicker response. Through improved process and quality controls, scrap can be minimized to improve quality and productivity.

Energy efficiency directly impacts the cost of the casting, providing incentives to reduce energy use. Melting has the highest energy requirement in a foundry, and some inefficient cupolas have been replaced with more energy-efficient electric furnaces.

New manufacturing processes are needed to produce the lightweight, high-strength and thin wall components essential to competing in new and emerging markets. For example, the development of lost foam has created new opportunities to expand casting applications. Near net shape cast components will be increasingly common in the future.

Performance Targets

The original goals remain: increase productivity by 15%, reduce average lead time by 50% and reduce energy consumption by 3-5%. However, instead of a 20-year time period to achieve these goals, they have been retargeted for achievement within 5 years.

Technology Barriers

Manufacturing - Achieving higher levels of dimensional accuracy is difficult and costly; using new technologies is costly and funds for capital outlays is scarce; and many of the causes of scrap generation are unknown. Other barriers include a lack of rapid diecasting technologies and poor metal handling capabilities of much of the industry's existing equipment. In addition, not enough is known about newer processes, such as lost foam and Cosworth.

Sensors and Controls-Continuous monitoring of sand in molds is lacking, and existing sensors are unable to detect subtle changes in conditions in molds, gates, runners and risers. While automation could provide dimensional accuracy, productivity and lead-time benefits, current systems are not sophisticated enough to learn from past mistakes nor adequately replace manual controls.

Modeling - Modeling runners and gates is difficult due to complexities, and current systems are unable to model turbulence for proper defect reductions. Other modeling barriers include the lack of consistent data for mold filling and the inability to predict microstructure as a function of composition and processing.

Lead-Time - Too much trial-and-error is involved in tooling development, effective scheduling software is lacking, and there is a need for rapid tooling technologies that can be used to manufacture customized products in smaller lot sizes. The lack of three-dimensional part descriptions and the typical absence of calculations of expected results during design also pose problems. Other barriers include an absence of vertical integration, backlogs that inhibit just-in-time scheduling and employee issues - mainly the scarcity of engineers and gaps in the understanding of process flow relationships.

Productivity - Barriers include excessive labor costs in the cleaning room, lack of robust and sophisticated productivity sensors and the lack of models that adequately describe metalcasting processes. Less than optimal yields and equipment downtime also hurt productivity.

Quality and Consistency - Inclusions are still too high. The lack of defect understanding impedes foundries' ability to control or eliminate them. The lack of real-time techniques to test molten metal quality also increases the occurrence of defects.

Energy Efficiency - A key barrier is the lack of robust sensors and controls suitable for hostile environments. Others include the relatively low cost of energy, relative inefficiency of the melting process, long heat treat times and a lack of understanding of induction hardening, which spurs the use of more energy-inefficient processes.

Cross-Cutting - The overall lack of a knowledgeable workforce inhibits manufacturing advancements. Further, poor equipment choices (as a result of not applying knowledge that exists) contribute to poor performance.


The industry has struggled with environmental regulation and compliance for decades. Foundries indicate that environment, health and safety issues - and the regulations - are their business' top concerns for the future. Environmental compliance costs fall disproportionately on smaller foundries, continuing the shutdown of marginal small operations and the trend toward larger facilities.

Environmental regulations are expected to grow increasingly stringent over the next two decades and will significantly impact metalcasters in terms of cost and economic viability. The EPA is currently involved in rulemaking under the Clean Air Act of 1990 that will directly affect U.S. foundries. Scheduled for enactment in 2000, the new regulations will enforce new standards on iron and steel foundries. Implementation is expected to increase compliance cost by $750 million over the next five years.

Sand casters face major environmental issues related to treatment and disposal of spent sands that may be contaminated with toxic or hazardous waste. RCRA Subtitle D restrictions on nonhazardous wastes is expected to cause a large percentage of existing landfills to close, increasing the cost of treatment and disposal by $13/ton, or 20% of the current life-cycle cost of sand.

Technologies that reduce or eliminate waste and improve performance will greatly enhance the future success and worldwide competitiveness of the industry. In the international market, U.S. foundries compete with foundries in nations with less demanding environmental standards and where cost to comply is much less. To stay competitive and cope with the rising cost of compliance, metalcasters have begun to examine ways to reduce waste generation at the source as well as increase utilization of waste and by-products. In many cases, capital is diverted to compliance with regulations rather than the development of technologies or strategies to reduce, eliminate or utilize waste products.

Some new technologies and materials are being investigated, including nontoxic binders, sand reclamation systems, and air- and water-purification systems-all of which have made important contributions to cleaning up metalcasting processes. In addition, metalcasters developed new alloys with some success that have less environmental impact.

Performance Targets

Objectives are to achieve 100% pre- and post-consumer recycling; reach 75% reuse of foundry byproducts; and eliminate wastestreams entirely.

Technology Barriers

Waste Characterization - Developing effective environmental approaches must be based on a comprehensive characterization of foundry waste streams. Such an analysis could identify missed opportunities for beneficial reuse of waste and help overcome concerns. Further, there is a severe lack of data on foundry emissions and current and best available technology that could allow foundries to optimize the casting process for environmental as well as quality objectives.

Waste Utilization - Knowledge is lacking on the uses of wastestreams and of foundry residuals as substitutes for other raw materials. The large number of alloys used makes post-consumer recycling more difficult, compounded by the lack of a comprehensive materials identification system. In addition, no economical technologies exist to recover usable waste oil or zinc from water. Further, foundries are adversely impacted by provisions that pull inert materials into a hazardous waste regulatory framework and certain RCRA provisions that discourage beneficial reuse. Also, environmental solutions are a "moving target."

Technological - Additional barriers include the lack of technologies for recovering low-temperature waste heat from casting processes and the inability to die-cast aluminum without using lubricants due to sticking problems.

Institutional - Regulatory requirements are often shaped by social, not technical, considerations. An important crosscutting barrier to achieving the industry's long-term goals in the environment as well as other areas is the lack of a technically educated workforce.
COPYRIGHT 1998 American Foundry Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Publication:Modern Casting
Date:May 1, 1998
Previous Article:Making the industry's issues heard.
Next Article:Optimizing your heat treat relationship.

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