The foundry is certainly the protagonist of the automotive sector. All structural engine, chassis, transmission and braking system components come from foundries. They are made of ferrous alloys (cast iron and steel).
In addition to ferrous ones, non-ferrous alloy are also cast. In particular, aluminum and magnesium are among these. They are used for the construction of the structural car components (engine, gearboxes, steering columns, wheels), but also for the bodywork. Furthermore, numerous accessories (such as the door handles) are made of zamak (zinc, aluminum, copper and magnesium alloy).
Even the motorcycle sector cannot survive without the use of cast parts, mainly made of non-ferrous metal alloys such as aluminum but also of cast iron, which are widely used to make the “heart” of the motorcycle: engine and frame. The use of aluminum and zamak castings is also widespread for numerous accessory components such as, for example, cycling parts, levers, headlights.
All vehicle components have traceability codes. Out of all industrial sectors, the automotive sector is probably the one that has this issue most at heart. Each component is marked with an identification code. This code contains all the relevant information for the manufacturer: lot, date and time of production, place and factory of origin. This is essential for safeguarding quality and for prompt service in the event of faults. The codes we are talking about are usually two-dimensional; they always are in the Foundry. In most cases, they are DataMatrix, due to the advantages that these codes provide and which we will analyze later.
Modern airplanes use powerful propulsion engines whose main components are made of cast steel alloy produced with lost-wax precision casting technology.
Other cast steel, aluminum and magnesium alloys are used for important aircraft and helicopter parts.
Stoves, boilers, bathtubs are indispensable for a cozy home and for relaxing after a long day of work. None of these components would exist without the foundry industry, which, even if indirectly, provides for our domestic well-being.
Even many of the appliances in our homes could not be manufactured without using castings, found in stovetops, refrigerators, washing machines and many small appliances that we use every day.
Electricity cannot be supplied without the use of castings, mainly made with steel or cast iron alloys. Whether it comes from renewable sources (water and wind) or from fossil fuels, the systems cannot be built without cast components.
Water (for hydroelectric plants), steam (for thermoelectric plants) or wind (for wind power plants) propulsion is transmitted to power generators through turbine impellers (steel castings) or drive belts (cast iron).
Now that we know that we can find castings in every part of our daily life, let’s delve into this technology. How are these components made? What are the processes that concern them?
Foundries produce metal products (called casts or castings) of well-defined shapes, sizes and chemical-physical characteristics through a simple and efficient production process.
In a foundry, the molten metal (consisting of ferrous or non-ferrous alloys) is poured directly into sand molds or metal molds (usually steel) which reproduce the geometry of the piece to be made, within which the metal solidifies. The materials used to make the various parts of the mold are always metals with higher melting points than the injected material, such as aluminum. Once cooled, the cast is extracted from the pattern or mold and subjected to finishing operations.
The injection pressure of the molten material may vary depending on the weight of the piece to be obtained, but also the type of melting material used. It is important that the pressure is kept constant throughout the melting process until the part solidifies. In the meantime, hydraulic presses ensure perfect and complete mold closure: once the piece has solidified, the presses allow the two semi-molds to open so that the cast part can be extracte.
The casts can be supplied to the customer raw, as if they have just come out of the foundry process, or machined.
Foundries that also offer mechanical processing deliver customers a cast ready to be mounted on other components, such as a piston on an engine, or a brake disc on a braking system. In some cases, foundries produce standard casts that can be directly sold to the end consumer: this is the case of radiators, grilles, manholes, street furnishings, flue components and cookware.
The casting foundry is also commonly called secondary smelting foundry, because it only re-melts primary metallurgical industry products in its furnaces (cast iron and non-ferrous alloy ingots obtained from the reduction of minerals or produced by scrap recovery) as well as, in the case of ferrous metal foundries, from scraps. Due to the peculiarity of their production process, foundries are a key element to the transition to a circular economy.
The production of cast aluminum components is automated and computerized, and therefore lends itself to high productivity. The constant control of the casting process ensures the best possible quality of cast parts and maximizes the production efficiency of their plants.
Thanks to the high technological and quality standards now achieved by equipment and machinery, cast parts ensure better minimum dimensional tolerances and surface finishes than other foundry processes.
We decided to provide our followers and customers from the foundry sector with a unique laser engraving experience.
In May, we will open the doors of our workshop to make you see how we laser engrave cast components.
This three-day event will be like a virtual one-to-one meeting between you and one of our sales agents and specialized laser technician. This way, you can solve your doubts and learn more about this world.
Plus, you can ask any question about laser engraving cast components or how to obtain permanent engravings. You’ll discover how not to jeopardize laser engraving results after invasive processes, such as sandblasting and shot peening.
The percentage of recycled materials used to replace the virgin raw material has steadily increased in recent years.
In Italy, particular attention has been paid to this topic and to the ecology of the system. Today, 75% of the materials used by the Italian foundry industry is recycled, for all those equipped with an electric furnace.
Production waste is also reused in the process: 95% of the soil used in the foundry is reused as raw material, replacing sand and soil from mining activities. Finally, 95% of the water used for furnace cooling is recovered and reused. A perfectly circular system, which makes foundries ecological businesses.
Laser marking now occurs in the casting process before sandblasting and shot peening. Until recently, this was impossible since these highly invasive processes damaged laser marking results and the code was illegible. The most popular traceability codes are DataMatrix. They are two-dimensional codes that have countless advantages over their one-dimensional equivalents, meaning barcodes.
First of all, DataMatrix codes can contain more than 2000 characters of information. For an equivalent yield, barcode dimensions would be too inconvenient for reading and its creation would be uneconomical.
Writing all this information in the DataMatrix means that a single code can trace: the production lot, the location, the date and time of dispatch, the information in the customer database. The type of datmatrix marked is an ECC 200 according to the AIM DPM standard. This is because laser marked codes are referred to as DPM that stands for Direct Part Marking. Laser marking takes place directly on the cast.
Another advantage of the DataMatrix is its error correction capability. It is readable even if 30% damaged. This characteristic on cast components takes on particular importance as we run this risk with the invasive shot peening and sandblasting processes.
The DataMatrix can be very small in size when made with the laser. Another important fact is that the DataMatrix is readable with a contrast of up to 20%. This is fundamental in the foundry world, where invasive processes such as sandblasting and shot peening could damage it.
At LASIT, we have developed a strategy to overcome this problem. Today, after years of Research and Development, we can mark the 2D code directly on the component that has just come out of the mold. This makes it traceable throughout its journey and the code remains legible even after sandblasting.
We will explore this topic and much more in our event dedicated to foundries: LASIT LIVE – Laser Engraving on Casts, which will be held from May 12th to 14th. We will open the doors of our Laser Test Laboratories to the public for the first time to show our discoveries to the public in meetings dedicated to each individual participant.
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