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Casting directly from a computer model

A patternless casting technique, originally conceived at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and further developed at its spin-off company, Simtech Systems, offers up to 40% savings in product development costs, and up to two months shorter development times compared to conventional techniques. Savings of this order can be very valuable on today's highly competitive markets.
Simtech Systems Inc. Oy

Simtech's patternless casting technique allows developers to completely by-pass one of the main stages in traditional casting: the making of casting patterns. The advantages of this 'shortcut' are best appreciated where several prototypes are required for a short production run, or where products vary slightly in detail from each other.

Audi and BMW have both adopted Simtech's technology to make deep drawing tools for prototype cars and engines. ConiferRob® software optimises machining paths automatically.

The system is based on using a robot to prepare the mould directly from a CAD model, or from an existing spare part or artist's model. Using the relevant control data, the operator directs the robot to machine the shape into a mould made of hardened sand, which is then cast in the normal way. When the test casting is satisfactory, the robot can be used for making the casting tools needed for mass production.

Tangible savings

Using Simtech's technique, prototypes and products can be cast quickly from the right materials and submitted to designers for approval and subsequent testing. This can trim up to two months off the normal time required for design and manufacture, and cut the development costs of cast products by anything from 10% to 40%.

Simtech has achieved even greater savings in time and money under laboratory conditions, as confirmed by a recent trial that compared the benefits of patternless casting against those of conventional casting when producing cast components for a prototype hydraulic hammer.

This showed that the total cost of bringing the prototypes to market was close to €40,000 using conventional methods, and the process from start to finish took 17 weeks. The Simtech system, in comparison cost only €4,000 in total and took just five weeks ­ – equivalent to around a two-thirds savings in both time and money.

No restrictions

The benefits of the new system are not limited to time and money, however, as it also imposes no restrictions on the shape of objects to be cast, as conventional techniques do. This allows customers to test and experiment with product prototypes much more freely. It also opens up the possibility of applying the method to other areas of manufacturing that work with complicated shapes and extreme dimensions, such as plastic injection moulding.

A further benefit is also provided in the area of occupational safety, as producing the casting mould takes place in a closed robot cell, which prevents the migration of carcinogenic particles into employees' respiratory tracts. Overall foundry emissions can also be reduced considerably, as dust particles no longer find their way into the indoor atmosphere.

> Matti Sirviö
(Published in High Technology Finland )