Additive manufacturing, 3D printing and simulation software may be amongst the fastest evolving areas of metalworking and casting technology. Even more impressive are the real changes that these technologies makes possible for foundries. And yes they are forcing companies – foundries and manufacturing operations – to constantly re-evaluate their manufacturing processes, especially in this era where costs, accuracy, quality and on time delivery are more likely to be discussed before the actual manufacturing process.
Foundry and pattern making practice are two of the principle crafts or arts comprising the metal industry. Foundries as we know them have been around since the 1800s. It’s a proven process. Liquid metal is poured into a mould, which is then removed once cooled to leave a cast solid metal shape from the mould cavity. The principle remains the same today but modern casting techniques have evolved to make the process more efficient, cleaner and better quality.
The Atvantz Patterns team – Ruan Mauritz, Oliver and Charles Kanyuchi, Frans Maluleke and Theuns Muller all standing with Duan Mauritz sitting
The art of manufacturing Pattern Equipment – pattern making – has virtually been around for the same amount of time. Foundry patterns, which are mainly wooden shapes designed to be imbedded in the sand, run the gamut from quite simple to amazingly complex. They are a work of art and pattern making has been a skill that the patternmaker is very proud of. It is one of the oldest methods of making metal parts and both pattern making and foundry pouring are arts of their own, with particular terminology and methods.
But like the casting technologies the process and technologies used to manufacture a pattern have moved on. Pattern makers and pattern shops will always be needed in the foundry. The skill has been passed on through generations and individuals and companies have jealously guarded their trade.
Additive manufacturing was briefly heralded as a modern replacement to casting. As the hype has calmed and businesses have come to understand more about the benefits and current limitations of AM, there’s certainly no necessary urgency for foundries to close their doors. On the contrary, in a resilient twist, some facilities have embraced the benefit of those 3D technologies that are playing a pivotal role in this well-established industry.
Likewise the introduction of CNC routers and machining centers that easily make use of the CAD and CAM programmes that are now readily available, need not be the death knoll of the skill of pattern making. Individuals and companies must embrace these technologies and incorporate them into their businesses. After all, who wants to give their business to a company who will take four weeks to manufacture a pattern using conventional equipment as compared to manufacturing the same pattern in 10 days using a CNC machine?
The first capital equipment investment Atvantz Patterns made was in a CNC router
Could this be the reason behind the decline in pattern shops and pattern makers? With a head in the sand attitude most have not adapted to the new technology and tools that are now available. One such company that has not stuck in ‘the old way of thinking’ is Atvantz Patterns.
Atvantz Patterns was established one year ago by Duan Maritz and Philip van Rooyen after recognizing that the pattern making industry in South Africa had in large not adapted or changed to the CNC era.
“Making patterns was, and is, demanding – requiring not only precision but responsiveness. Working with designers on one side and foundries on the other can be a no-win position. The craft takes time to learn especially when matching the cope and drag, which is simply the top and bottom parts, respectively, of a two-part pattern. Patterns include numerous shapes and details that pattern makers regularly execute to convert two-dimensional designs into casting patterns, details like drafts, radii, blends, and fillets. Patterns also include spherical shapes and cylindrical shapes and some are more complicated. Dimensionally and geometrical accurate castings, so as reduce the fettling and machining operations afterwards, are non-negotiable factors in today’s foundry industries in an effort to reduce costs,” said Duan Maritz who spent 32 years in the local foundry Industry and most of that time at Scaw Metals in various manufacturing positions.
“So the man who makes the pattern, or the pattern maker, needs some talent to make the patterns work properly.”
“Traditional pattern makers, using legacy pattern making tools are disappearing. Typically a pattern shop will have saws, sanders, milling and drilling machines, hand tools and other equipment, depending on the individual company’s requirements. All of this equipment is conventional and operated manually. This has been the norm for many years. But to make a pattern or a prototype using this method is time consuming and the accuracy comes into question. In the past this was never an issue but pressure has come from designers for more accurate patterns and faster turnarounds as they realise that there is equipment and technologies available for pattern shops to work smarter.”
Patterns made by Atvantz Patterns
“Cost is always the deciding factor in manufacturing, but linking cost to performance is what keeps technology advancing. Likewise an industry needs to consider performance and quality and link it to costs. These days technology will always benefit you.”
A gap in the market
“As I said CNC has got the traction in the pattern making industry that it should have. We have seen this gap and taken the opportunity. We began trading eight months ago and in this time we have delivered over 100 patterns to clients as well as repaired numerous other patterns.”
“Our first capital equipment investment was in a CNC router. These CNC routers have a bed size of two metres by three metres, which is ample capacity for the type of patterns that we are manufacturing. The biggest size pattern that we have manufactured so far has dimensions of 1 400mm x 900mm x 700mm but as the bed size indicates our capacity is greater than that.”
“Even more important was our investment in the software programme we purchased and subscribe to. This software is a cloud-based 3D CAD, CAM and CAE platform for product development. It combines industrial and mechanical design, simulation, collaboration, and machining in a single package. The integrated tools enable fast and easy exploration of design ideas with an integrated concept-to-production toolset.”
“Our software is natively written for both Mac and PC, allowing you to use your preferred OS or both at no additional cost and designs can now be edited (with limited functionality) through most popular web browsers.”
“Aside from the standard modelling tools, it includes environments for creating surfaces and sheet metal parts. When it comes time for testing, there’s a simulation environment with features such as static stress and thermal analysis. The manufacturing side of things is rounded out by a robust set of aids for computer-aided manufacturing (CAM). A suite of tools for rendering – creating animations, renderings and drawings – rounds out the toolbox, ensuring that nearly every aspect of design is covered.”
“We seamlessly transfer our drawings to 3D models, which we either design ourselves or are supplied with, to the CNC gantry routers and before we know it the router is doing what it should do – making patterns for us. It works the same as a 3D milling machine but here we are shaping wood and tooling board mainly so we don’t need the power and other functions of a CNC mill.”
Atvantz Patterns has two Ruijie 2030 CNC routers that have a bed size of two metres by three metres
“Today there is a need to shorten the training period to become a pattern maker, due to the lack of this skilled people in the profession. As an added advantage, you need to have an understanding of mechanical engineering. Your skill will be in 3D modelling and being able to operate a CNC machine. This is exactly what we are training our two apprentices in.”
Second CNC router
“So successful have we been with the first machine that we had to invest in a second CNC router, which was installed in October last year. We do also offer reverse engineering services and AM with two 3D printers for sampling and prototype products.”
“Going forward the need is to acquire 4-5 axis machines for more complex milling operations. Recent advances show that industrial robots have developed a finer touch, and an array of new possibilities, at the point of contact.”
“Our other mindset changing project that we are investigating is using new age materials to produce patterns. Currently we are using conventional tooling board – supplied by import agents – where layers of wood are kept together with a resin and you subsequently machine your mould/pattern. But we believe the future is in using polyurethanes as the base of the tooling board used for moulds and foundry patterns.”
“We are in the business of manufacturing master and copy moulds and patterns. But we want to work with a consistently uniform material that has excellent chipping whilst machining, low dust emission, pleasant machining properties with ordinary cutters, splitter-free machining, low odour emission and is non-hazardous, contains no abrasive fillers therefore producing low wear on cutting tools and is suitable for high speed machining.”
“More importantly the material must be long-lasting and have a high heat-deflection temperature rating when pouring molten metal.”
“The materials suitable for foundry applications have been developed – we must just source an economical supply. But it will also be a mindset change project.”
“We occupy a 300m² factory space at the moment and will be doubling this space in February. Additionally, we are also currently renovating additional offices space.”
“Having adopted CNC machining, we believe we have developed a niche as a pattern manufacturer that excelled at converting CAD designs into patterns, and that capability opened still another path into rapid prototyping. The successes never came immediately, and there was always room for doubt along the way. But, time proved the move into 3D design and manufacturing is successful for us and we will create more opportunities.”
“Patterns will continue to be needed for sand casting of metals. Whether they are made in a wood base or polyurethane material. For now don’t chuck out your wooden patterns or use them as firewood. But in the future they – the wooden patterns – could become collectors items.”
“Like so many other areas of manufacturing, technology has taken giant leaps forward. There is no reason why the foundry should not.”
For further details contact Atvantz Patterns on 064 777 9023 or at firstname.lastname@example.org