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The Future, Lightweighting and Industry 4.0

Opening the Diecasting Society Technical Conference 2019, DCS president Stuart Gregory welcomed delegates to a day of “eye-opening” presentations in what he described as a period of “challenging times and technical transition for the sector.” He urged attendees to absorb all the information on offer. “There are many factors for us to contend with at the moment,” he said. “Electrification, dieselgate, emerging technologies, new techniques and materials, and global politics to mention just a few. Despite the elements that are impacting our business sector, there are many opportunities if we look to new technology to find solutions.”

The day attracted good support from the industry with around 90 attendees, and the speakers hailing from the UK and overseas.

Dr Heinrich Fuchs, vice president of Martinrea Honsel, Germany, gave a fascinating insight into the high volume production of 14 Ford Maverick petrol engine blocks (approximately 600,000 per annum) using high tech high pressure diecasting technology. Dr Fuchs explained that most customers still opt for high pressure diecasting over low pressure because of the cost efficiency. He said the volume required by the customer highlighted that there was still a “big market for internal combustion engines”. He also explained how the engine blocks have become very complex, with the parts being more akin to a carrier for other parts such as the turbo charger etc.

To fulfil this type of order efficiently, the company relies on a huge amount of data analysis to operate its machines cost effectively. However, he also noted: “We have so much data at the moment that it’s sometimes difficult to drill down into its relevance. The absolute usefulness will be once we have intelligent programmes that don’t just collect but analyse the data.”

The company designs all die concepts in-house prior to approaching suppliers and he explained that as much machining as possible is utilised to add value, improve process control and achieve better quality. “Some things are only visible when machining,” he told delegates. He said a particular need in the future is for everyone is to gain experience on die life: “There is no die displacement simulation so experience teaches you how long a die will last.” He spoke of the micro spray technology used to improve surface quality of castings. “We achieved 30,000 shots with a conventional spray but 120,000 now with a micro spray – this gives us much better looking castings with the added bonus of not having lots of water on the shopfloor so a benefit to the environment.” He claimed a 50 per cent increase in die life using this technique.

Paul Davidson, design manager, and Ciaran Maxwell, process engineer, at Ryobi Aluminium Casting UK covered the topic of ‘Conformal cooling and visual analytics’. Using a series of case studies and various examples they showed how improved cooling capacity had been achieved by the use of new techniques in house. Durability and failure modes such as cracking were significantly improved by use of conformal cooling, where the internal cooling channel in the die closely follows the contour. Leakage and maintenance downtime were also improved. He said design considerations were limitations of material and equipment.

Working with several universities, Ryobi also developed software for visual analytics, which, unlike data analytics, requires human interaction. The technique concerns visually recognising patterns, thus the human becomes the analyst. They elaborated that: “Humans are better at this than computers, which is why visual analytics is so important. Intelligence and unique perception equals humans. This technique allows defensible and traceable decision making. It is thus used as a decision support tool.”

By far one of the largest shift changes currently taking shape is the “new world of transport” but rather than be disastrous for the industry, Steve Norgrove of the Warwick Manufacturing Group urged delegates to react quickly and to take advantage of the vast opportunities being presented for the diecasting sector. He said: “ACES transport – autonomous, connected, electrified and shared – won’t happen overnight but some elements will be fast. You need to decide the impact this will have on your business and products, where you want to be and how to tackle it.” However, he said there was no need to panic as “the volumes or configuration might change but the casting demands will still be there.” He said the industry needed to understand the changes in the world: “Fewer people have driving licences at 17 now compared to the past, needs have changed. Shared mobility is also now becoming an important issue.”

He said nothing would happen quickly but it was developing. “To drive an autonomous car along the high street requires twenty times the amount of data to fly an A380 over the Atlantic, so it’s a long way off.” In terms of concerns regarding the move towards other fuels for cars he said: “We have to do something about energy density so the internal combustion engine is still needed. By 2025 electric cars will cost as much to run as petrol cats. Exemptions will be lifted but don’t forget that consumers love electric cars. Tesla sold more than BMW in USA last year. Two million EVs were sold in 2018, it is growing disproportionately but fast. Over half of that number were sold in China and that country is building a phenomenal supply base. The reason for the uptake there is that China has no real history of building the internal combustion engine so moving straight to electric is a clearer route.

“Battery prices are falling but many more coolers are required. You have to cool the battery on an electric car so there are opportunities for castings.” He explained that there were complications with electrification of vehicles such as an increase in weight, increased tyre wear, increased wiring and sensors, and a massive impact on infrastructure. However, he said these issues would all provide a chance for the castings industry to find solutions. “A conventional powertrain is 25 per cent of the value of the vehicle in EVs its 60 per cent, so there is a lot of added cost. Can you see opportunities for clever casting technology to improve this?”

He listed the three main opportunities for the industry as: batteries, power electronics and motors, where he said a considerable amount of castings will be needed. “OEMs need help to tackle these problems and they are starting to recognise this. They can learn from your industry,” he enthused. “How you produce electric and how you ship it means it is not as green as we would like. People want to fix end problems, we as industrialists have to fix the route problem.”

Phil Drew of Toyota UK enlightened delegates on how the company has adopted 3D printed die parts to improve production. “Soldering can be considered as lost production time,” he said. “At worst, you get a quality defect, leak test fails or loss of material. To tackle the issue we mapped out areas on dies to measure and quantify and undertook micro examination. The surface treatment was breached and aluminium bonded and built up, we were convinced it was not just a mechanical bond but intermetallic bond. Very pure aluminium tends to want to stick to the die more readily.” The company developed several techniques to improve the situation including a 3D printed blade with better cooling, which Drew explained: “you can put cooling close to the surface, you don’t have to think in straight lines, and you can take the heat out wherever you need to.” Despite the printing process exhibiting some limitations such as material choice and residual stress, the idea was replicated to two other problem areas. The benefits witnessed by the company included a 60 per cent reduction in the standard cleaning time.

Three inserts have now been standardised for five years and are achieving 80,000 shots. He explained that the ultimate goal was to develop a full die with 3D printed conformal cooling using direct metal laser sintering. A 21 per cent reduction in soldering is predicted using the new design. He outlined the next stages to be undertaken, including investigating other materials such as nano steel. “Things are changing in the printing industry quickly so options are available. Currently this technology costs about two and a half times what a core would cost. On a small blade we have taken about 30 per cent of the cost out since the prototype, if we can achieve the durability requirements then it’s an option.”

Other presentations were from Fabian Meissner and Dr Dennis Janitza with an overview of the Norican Group and its integrated plant supply using Industry 4.0; information on the digital diecasting cell from Patrick Benz of Buhler and an overview of gasket adhesive properties of diecastings by Dr Tammo Luessenhop of Petrofer, Germany.

The event was held at the St Johns Hotel in Solihull, West Midlands (UK) on 4th October and supported by a table top exhibition and an evening dinner. The Diecasting Society would like to thank the organising committee and ICME head office staff for their support and all participants and sponsors for their valued contributions.