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Alternatives to Casting

Casting involves forcing molten material into a mold at high pressure. Once in the mold, the material cools and hardens, forming the final product shape. Molten metals such as steel and aluminum are two of the most common casting materials. Non-metallic materials such as plastic, rubber and foam are some other casting materials. Casting is a popular forming technique, but it is not the ideal process for every application.

Advantages of Casting

Casting is versatile and can create complex geometries. Some of the advantages of casting include:

  • Metal liquidity: Solid-state forming alternatives are more time consuming and labor intensive than liquid casting.
  • Reduced post-treatment processes: Single mold casts make further assembly and machine finishing unnecessary.
  • Quick turnaround: Casting can operate with minimal maintenance and downtime, facilitating mass production applications.
  • Size capabilities: Casting is effective in creating both very small components and excessively large products (up to 200 tons). 
  • Price per piece: Casting, with its fast production times, can often be cheaper than many alternatives.
  • Surface textures: The cast design can incorporate smooth, semi-smooth, and other textures.

Other Metal Forming Options

Several metal forming techniques can substitute for casting. Each provides different advantages and disadvantages. Some of the more popular alternatives to casting include:

  • Machining
  • Forging
  • Stamping
  • Rolling
  • Extruding
  • Sintering

Machining

Machining is a loose term for many different metal shaping techniques. Each process utilizes machining tools to cut, bend, drill or otherwise shape the material. Machining processes include:Drilling machinery

  • Drilling: A rotating tool creates round holes in a material.
  • Milling: A rotating tool moves in all three dimensions to create non-circular holes and shapes.
  • Turning: A workpiece rotates while a stationary cutting tool shapes the material.
  • Grinding: An abrasive wheel grinds away material, making fine finishes or very faint cuts.

In general, machining techniques perform simple applications that require minor alterations to stock components. The process is often more labor intensive than casting, but can be cost-effective for small production runs.

Forging

Forging, the classic blacksmith’s technique, is one of the oldest metal forming processes. A blacksmith, automated hammer or a forging press shapes metal with localized compressive force.

There are two main types of forging: hot and cold. Hot forging is when the metal is shaped well above room temperature, which improves malleability. The metal is at room or near-room temperature in cold forging. Forging delivers an end product that is stronger and less porous than cast products. Applications that require a high strength-to-width ratio are ideal for forging.

Stamping

In stamping, a high pressure die punches sheet metal into a desired shape. Several types of stamping perform different kinds of stamps. These include:

  • Piercing: The die punches holes of varying sizes into the metal.
  • Bending: Brake presses form angles in the product; ideal for simple forming applications such as metal boxes.
  • Coining: The die applies high pressure to create an imprint or design on the surface of the product, such as coins.
  • Fine blanking: The metal rests on a guide plate, which secures the piece tightly. The fully-automated stamping machine can perform multiple stamps of varying type to very close precision.

Rolling

Rolling is a technique that reduces thickness of sheet material or other thin materials. Two rolls compress metal as it runs between them. Flat rolling shapes flat materials, in either sheet (thinner than 3mm) or plate (thicker than 3mm) form. Rolling can also create round rods, specially shaped beams and other shapes. When the final product is not flat, the process is called profile rolling.

Extruding

Extrusion creates components with a fixed cross-section. High pressure force draws a base material into a die. Extrusion is perhaps the closest alternative to casting, as molten material and a die are the main shaping features in both. The major benefit of extruding is that it can fabricate complex cross-sections. Because the process reduces stresses on the base material, extrusion can shape cheaper, more brittle work materials.

Sintering

Sintering uses powdered material where casting uses molten material. This powdered material, often bronze or ceramic, fills a mold and heats up until the separate grains fuse together. Sintering can create directional elongation without deforming base material.

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