Project set to develop aluminium shape casting for aerospace components

A project aimed at developing geometrically complex castings using aluminium shape casting has been awarded £2.07 million of grant funding from the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) programme.

According to Kirkbymoorside, North Yorkshire, UK headquartered Sylatech, aluminium shape casting for aerospace components is under exploited due to concerns over process and product consistency, plus mechanical performance.

Now, Sylatech’s £3.4 million Digital Liquid Metal Manufacturing (DLMM) project will use a metal casting innovation called MeltX to elevate the mechanical properties of post-consumer aluminium to reduce weight and increase the in-service life of each casting.

Described as a world first, MeltX delivers a digitally twinned, automated casting process that removes oxides (bi-films) from aluminium in a continuous process, and delivers super clean aluminium for onward processing.

Rupert Sexton, sales business development, Sylatech, explained that the primary focus of DLMM is to develop a repeatable and reproducible process for casting ultra clean aluminium components, adding that the initial focus will be on geometrically complex castings including fuel pumps, using 3D printed sand moulds.

“Ultimately, the intention is to develop MeltX to a point where it can be used to produce structural castings for aerospace, defence and automotive applications,” he said.

The project is being delivered in collaboration with Alloyed Limited and the Universities of Cranfield and Sheffield. Rolls-Royce and GKN Aerospace have a presence on the project’s industry advisory panel.

Sexton added that simulation and modelling will be employed to better understand factors such as aluminium flow rates, metal cleanliness, metal temperature profiles, alloy chemistry, energy consumption and monitoring, with the AMRC leading on all intrinsic MeltX digitalisation activity.

“The data captured from MeltX will then be fed into Cranfield University’s software to support the optimisation of the process and help develop the framework for a digital twin,” he said. “This will lay the groundwork and develop capability for a full process digital twin to be created once the technology is established.”

Sexton continued: “Process digitalisation is a key requirement for all manufacturing technologies seeking to support the next-generation requirements of the aerospace industry. This is even more relevant in the casting industry where historically the process, and the resultant product, has been viewed as highly variable.”

This ‘Digital Framework Development Activity’ will then identify the key requirements to support short-term (in project) and long-term (post project) process digitalisation capability, said Sexton.

One of MeltX’s targets is to dramatically elevate the elongation figures possible from aluminium.

“Improved ductility should create more light-weighting opportunities and increase the fatigue life of parts,” said Sexton. “Generative design will allow designers to remove weight from castings and AI will also play a role in developing data sets for alloys developed on the MeltX platform.”

The project will run for three years, working initially with A356 and A357 alloys.