What do you need out of your prototype?
These days, consumers demand perfection from their products. And to achieve this level of performance, manufacturers have to put their products through rigorous testing to ensure optimal functionality. In many cases, tests happen in several iterations and call for different levels of functionality throughout. And each of these tests require an effective prototype.
Do you need to verify the strength of your component? Does your product require exact tolerances and you need to check the fit of the part? Do you need to revise the wall thickness in sections of the part need to be revised for weight or fit?
The die casting process is not typically well-suited for low-volume prototyping. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t deliver during the prototyping process. We’ve compiled a breakdown of the top three prototyping processes that our customers use to test their die casting components.
Spin casting is a process that forces metal into a rubber mold using centrifugal force. While in the past spin casters were limited to only materials specially formulated for low melting points, over time, the process has evolved to produce components with materials similar to die casting. Even if a spin caster cannot use the exact same material as a die caster, through secondary heating operations, the spin cast part can meet the strength of a die cast component with its exact geometries. The more complex the part, the more beneficial the spin casting process.
Prototyping with spin casting is ideal for low-volume projects with complex geometries that require a fast turnaround. Spin cast parts are able to hold virtually the same geometries as die casting at similar strengths, so its ideally suited for testing the fit of a component during the prototyping process. Spin cast parts have a lead time of roughly 1-3 weeks.
Machine from bar stock
Machining from bar stock is a process that guarantees speed and cost efficiency at low volume. The process itself is fairly simple, a purified metal billet is cut down to part size and shape with a lathe or CNC machine. At a low volume, the process is faster and cheaper than other manufacturing processes because the material is readily available and a tool doesn’t have to be designed or built. The drawback to machining from bar stock is that the part has low ductility and tolerances are limited to the radius of the mill—in other words, the tolerance and geometries cannot be tighter than the curvature of the actual cutting mechanism.
If your prototype needs to pass stringent elongation and tolerance tests, machining from bar stock is not an effective option. However, the process is a good prototyping option for projects operating on a strict budget and time table. Lead times for machining from bar stock are as short as 1 week.
Machining from bar stock is also an effective measure of ultimate strength of die cast components. Generally speaking, parts that are machined from bar stock are about 15% weaker than die cast components in terms of ultimate and yield strength, since machined parts don’t have the “skin” of a die cast component. However, our customers have often used machined prototypes to test the ultimate strength of their component. If the machined prototype passes a stress test, then the die cast component will withstand even greater stress. And if your component will be cast in aluminum in mass production, machining from a zinc and aluminum blend alloy can match the strength of an aluminum die cast component.
Want to know how to match a machined alloy to the strength of a die cast component? Contact one of our engineers to learn about machining prototyping possibilities here.
For projects that require exact replica prototypes, we suggest investment casting. Since so much can be learned from a prototype’s function, the need for a quality prototype is critical. And when designing metal components, an exact replica of your final part is the best prototype you can get. Investment casting enables design engineers to walk away with a prototype that holds the exact geometry, tolerance, strength, and function of the final die cast component. This is especially important for aluminum die castings in applications that go through rigorous safety tests.
The investment casting process as a whole is well-suited for low-volume metal components. But the process can be slightly modified to accommodate prototyping needs at a fraction of the time. Instead of building a hard tool, investment casting engineers can 3D print wax patterns to form part geometries to reduce lead time and cost. Then, the part can be cast normally using any investment casting metals. The resulting prototype is an exact replica of what will be the final die cast part, so any secondary operation that the customer requires can be applied to the part, including assembly, heat treating, welding, plating, and painting.
3D printed wax pattern and prototype produced in-house with our sister company, Signicast.
As with any manufacturing process, the price of a prototype will increase as the dimensional tolerance and inspection criteria become more stringent. Early involvement and input by technical engineers during the design stage empowers customers to overcome traditional casting tolerance issues associated with prototyping. This is accomplished by innovation and industry-leading technology to provide 100% conformance to specifications as-cast, delivered on time, at the lowest total cost. Prototype lead times with investment casting vary depending on part complexity, but generally take between 5 days and 4 weeks.
Not ready for an exact replica just yet? Work with Signicast to create an SLA, or stereolithography resin pattern of your part.
Which prototyping process is right for me?
The best prototyping process for your die cast component depends on many factors. You have to take into consideration your budgetary restrictions, material restrictions, the time table for testing, and the rigor of tests your prototype will be put through. If you’re still unsure which process is right for you, get in touch with one of our Dynacast engineers. We can manage your prototyping needs and ensure that your project has a strong foundation to transition into mass production in die casting.
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