Investment casting is a process that creates complex featured parts in volumes in competition with precision machining.
Investment casting is also called the lost wax process. A major constraint is the manufacture of the molds needed for this process.
Large Area Maskless Photopolymerization (LAMP), is a new technology being proven by Researchers at Georgia Tech. This high-resolution digital process builds the mold from CAD files, layer by layer, by projecting bitmaps of ultraviolet light onto a mixture of photosensitive resin and ceramic particles, and then selectively curing the mixture to a solid.
A high precision kind of 3-D printing, this technique places one 100-micron layer on top of another until the structure is complete. After the mold is formed, the cured resin is removed through binder burnout and the remaining ceramic is sintered in a furnace. The result is a fully ceramic structure into which molten metal – such as nickel-based superalloys or titanium-based alloys – are poured, producing a highly accurate casting.
This direct digital method eliminates machining of tools and dies to manufacture molds, eliminating weeks of lead time as well as costs.
While it might be easy to shrug this off as mere ‘rapid prototyping’- the fact is that this technology could enable direct design to manufacturing.