Sand castings in just a few hours

Robotic additive manufacturing systems has the potential to disrupt the metal casting industry.

The work that EnvisionTEC has been doing to advance industry using various 3D printing solutions has not gone unnoticed, and another recent development that the company has made looks set to bolster its considerable reputation still further. In collaboration with Viridis 3D, EnvisionTEC has patented an impressive robotic 3D printing solution, specifically designed for metal casting in foundries. The state-of-the-art technology can be used to 3D print sand moulds, mould cores and investment casting patterns, for all kinds of foundry applications.

EnvisionTEC’s 3D printers and printing solutions have been applied successfully in a range of different fields, with the dental industry and jewellery design reaping particularly large rewards from its efforts. This latest innovation is one of the first forays the company has made into the heavier industries, and its partnership with Viridis 3D played a significant role. Viridis 3D was founded back in 2010, and it provides all-inclusive industrial 3D printing systems for metal casting, ceramics, and composites, including the machinery, the software and the required training and guidance. Partnering with EnvisionTEC should expand the reach of their technology, both in terms of the range of distribution and the level to that it can be developed.

The new technology that the collaboration has introduced is essentially an automated 3D printer. It consists of an ABB robotic arm, with a proprietary print head attached that uses exclusive binder jetting technology. The system is capable of printing the moulds and mould cores that foundries use to cast molten metals into solid shapes. Viridis 3D’s Viriprint software is used to control the system, 3D printing from an original CAD model, and the whole production process can take just a few hours to complete.

A range of different sizes are available for different applications, so the system can be modified according to a foundry’s specific needs. Two print heads are available and the system offers four different build envelopes.

The technology has the potential to disrupt the metal casting industry. It offers unprecedented speed in terms of both manufacturing of parts as well as the time it will take to transition from older technology and get the new robotic 3D printing system up and running.

Costs will also be cut drastically, in a number of different ways. The Viridis 3D systems use significantly less sand in their manufacturing process, which means foundries will have to shell out a lot less for materials. Implementation of this new system should also change the way that moulds and casting patterns are made and distributed. Instead of being manufactured on a large scale in a remote location and being shipped out to where they are needed, they can instead be rapidly produced in strategic locations for same-day use, with just the raw materials and the 3D design files being sent out.

The drawbacks
Despite Viridis’s clever design, surviving in their niche market will still be an uphill battle. They will have to contend with the limitations of powder bed inkjet 3D printing in addition to foundry specific complications.

The immediate hurdle is that parts made with many powder bed inkjet printing materials are very delicate. The printing process also requires a fairly clean environment and parts may require a bit of post processing to remove excess powder material before use.

The bigger hurdle is that their target market – foundries – are stereotypically laggards for adopting new technologies. For the most part foundries operate on an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ paradigm. Most of the potential customers for this tech are likely to already own an alternative tool for making moulds and mould cores.

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