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3D Printing Is for Cast Parts, Too

Shannon Wetzel, Managing Editor

In the larger additive world, a lot of attention is given to intricate 3D printed pieces in plastic or metal. They are meant to showcase the amazing geometries achievable by printing a part directly and skipping traditional manufacturing steps.

It’s a shame this can overshadow metalcasting, which has been creating complex shapes for centuries. And it’s a shame I’ve had conversations with individuals outside of the metalcasting industry who assume additive manufacturing is going to put the industry out of business.

So when I talked with Andreas Bastian, an engineer and research scientist, who is involved in both direct metal printing and 3D printing patterns for metalcasting, one of his statements was music to my ears:

“Metal printing likes to show all these exotic shapes that can be produced, but we want to demonstrate casting is a technology that is quite well suited to those shapes, particularly when you are making something larger than a bread box,” he said. “Metalcasting offers hundreds of materials to choose from compared to metal printing, and the manufacturing base is mature.”


Additive manufacturing is having an impact on metalcasting and it’s not the death blow some were imagining. Our article on page 26 explores a study that looked at the cost to produce five different geometries at different quantities in both investment casting and direct metal printing. The results showed that for castable geometries, all but the most complex, less-than-10 piece orders were most cost effectively produced via investment casting compared to printing metal.   

Combining the opportunities of 3D printing with traditional casting methods dovetails into a great new way of bringing parts to market. Foundries are learning how to use this technology to improve their traditional part development while still giving customers castings that meet rigid, often safety-critical, requirements.

While some would argue the adoption of 3D printing in metalcasting has been too slow, it is occurring—and at a growing pace. Investments are being made across the industry in 3D printing sand molds and wax and plastic patterns and last year, AFS created an official additive manufacturing division with specific committees for all three opportunities. The committee has been active, and a conference on the topic will be held Sept. 10-13 in Louisville, Kentucky. (If you are interested in attending, visit www.afsinc.org/conferences.)    

Additive can help low volume and prototype metalcasters work faster and enable customers to wield more design muscle for stronger, lighter parts that are easier to manufacture.

Click here to see this story as it appears in the July/August issue of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing