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As one of the oldest-known metal forming techniques, investment casting remains an effective manufacturing methodology many centuries after its introduction. Investment casting begins with a pattern, around which a ceramic shell is formed through a dipping and firing process. The firing process removes the initial pattern, leaving behind an empty vessel for metal pouring. Also known as a sacrificial pattern, the ceramic shell is broken away once the metal has cooled, leaving behind a final metal part.

The investment casting process works with an incredibly diverse range of metals, and the end results are geometrically precise to the mold that shapes them. When all is said and done, it’s an incredibly useful technique, but traditional methods to acquire the casting pattern are not always the most time- or cost-effective.

As the origin point of the process, the investment casting pattern is of primary importance. Traditionally, this pattern is achieved using wax tooling, which can take several weeks or months and upwards of tens of thousands of dollars to produce. For certain applications this can be a worthwhile trade off if speed-to-market is not critical or if a high quantity of final parts can justify the expense of tooling. If these criteria are not met, however, the logistical barriers to pattern creation have typically ruled out the process until the arrival of compatible 3D printing materials and methodologies.

3D printing now offers a smart option for low volume investment casting, bridge tooling and risk mitigation throughout design. 3D Systems offers both wax and resin materials for investment casting applications that dramatically reduce metal part production costs with overnight delivery speeds. Savvy industrial part manufacturers, jewelers and foundries have been quick to catch on, and many have already acquired stereolithography (SLA) or MultiJet (MJP) Wax printers of their own to deliver high quality 3D printed investment casting patterns faster and more affordably.

In direct comparisons between traditional investment casting patterns and 3D printed ones, customers have saved anywhere from $20,000 to $200,000 per part and shaved substantial time from the process. 3D printed investment casting patterns offer additional benefits such as the ability to make more complex and functionally efficient patterns that cannot be produced using conventional tooling. The high surface quality of 3D Systems’ printing technologies also helps reduce post-processing requirements for increased efficiency downstream.

In a recent case study, 3D Systems’ customer Vaupell significantly altered its investment casting equation with SLA 3D printed casting patterns that helped to dramatically shrink pattern costs and reduce time to casting as much as 90%. Using antimony-free resins, the aerospace parts manufacturer reports only positive changes in its workflow. Read the full case study to learn more about Vaupell’s experience.