Vaupell Turns to 3D Printing to Create Complex Aerospace Investment Casting Tools

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You’ve probably heard endless sound bites regarding 3D printing and how it is going to revolutionize industry, changing the world as we know it in manufacturing; however, it really helps to have some solid examples. Thanks to a recent case study by Vaupell, we see how 3D printing is transforming casting, a technique which has been in use for over 5,000 years. Historically, the casting process is very slow and very costly, but 3D printing and investment casting are increasingly coming together to great effect.

Vaupell has been making parts and subassemblies for the aerospace industry for 70 years, and they are no stranger to innovation. Now, with the use of QuickCast by 3D Systems, the Vaupell team can create low volume batches of highly complex parts much faster and more affordably; in fact, using QuickCast, a 26-inch diameter part can be made in just a few days and costs $6,000 to $15,000—compared to traditional casting which could take months and cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Quickcast, introduced by 3D Systems more than 20 years ago, was among the first capable applications of 3D printing in a production application. The advances in materials, software, equipment and process know-how have made it a mainstay for low volume production (and prototypes) of selected investment castings,” the Vaupell team tells 3DPrint.com.

3D printing is performed on the 3D Systems ProX 800, offering a larger print envelope at 25.6 x 29.5 x 21.65 inches (650 x 750 x 550 mm) along with great flexibility and speed.

“The large platform is a great advantage over other machines,” says Austin Wong, Rapid Prototyping Manager for Vaupell. “You can do a larger piece in one run that would take two runs on a smaller machine. Not only do you produce more in less time, but larger parts reduce labor costs—the fewer pieces, the fewer welds.”

The ProX 800 also offers accuracy at 0.001-0.002 inch (0.025-0.05 mm) per inch of part dimension.

“The ProX 800 gives us high-quality sidewalls, better tolerances, and that large print bed. We’re saving time on the post-print finishing because the finish of the resins is so good, and we’re also saving time from not having to build parts in two pieces and bond them together,” says Wong.

QuickCast investment casting paves the way for companies like Vaupell to begin fabricating parts that would not be possible otherwise, along with creating complex castings that previously may have taken up to two years to perfect.

“A lot of these parts go into jet turbines, where they have to be perfect,” says Wong. “Getting some of these contours molded with a wax tool would be very expensive with long lead times.”

Vaupell’s rapid prototyping division is headquartered in Hudson, New Hampshire. There, the team creates 3D printed molds, and has also forged a thriving bridgetooling business.

“QuickCast patterns enable our customers to get a part long before a production or prototype tool could be designed, made, tested and brought online,” says Wong.

In one project, the Vaupell team made 20 parts in under three days. According to Wong, they scaled that quickly to 120 parts a month:

“The customer wouldn’t have been able to fulfill the contract if we didn’t use QuickCast to deliver the parts. Sometimes we produce 150 pieces of two or three QuickCast patterns a month over the course of a year while the customer is still developing and building wax tooling.”

So many challenges are overcome in using investment casting and QuickCast, with obstacles in shrinkage calculation being one.

“A big advantage of QuickCast over wax tooling is that you’re only calculating metal shrink. You’re not calculating for the shrinking of the metal and the wax on top of it. QuickCast patterns are much more accurate and can keep a tighter tolerance than any wax tool,” says Wong.

Suitable materials are covered too with 3D Systems’ Accura CastPro Free, which allows for great accuracy, and burns out with low ash content.

“Because CastPro Free is antimony-free, it doesn’t create occlusions and other defects when you final-cast the metal,” says Dave Pellegrino, Advanced Manufacturing Technology Manager for Vaupell.

“If resin is unable to burn out completely, the customer is going to have an issue,” says Wong. “The complete burnout and cleanliness of the burnout provided by CastPro Free are definitely keys to quality.”

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

[Source / Images: 3D Systems]

 

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