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M


arshall Miller, supplier develop- ment manager at Flowserve Corp.


(Rock Spring, Georgia), has a few simple words of advice for metalcast- ers regarding 3-D printing patterns in plastic: “Just try it.” Fused deposition modeling (FDM)—also known as fused filament fabrication (FFF), in which a plastic filament is put down layer by layer according to a 3-D model to create a geometric shape, has been around since the 1990s. It has been adopted most widely by the investment casting sector to create patterns, but the tech- nology can be used to make patterns for sand castings, as well. In the last five years, 3-D printing


equipment and material have become more readily available and lower in cost—low enough for a wide range of companies, groups and individuals to purchase and tinker with on their own. Googling “FDM printer” will yield results for printers ranging from $200-$6,000. It coincides with the maker movement, a culture in which technology and do-it-yourself have intersected. And it opens the door for metalcasters to make an entry into the 3-D printed pattern fray. “FDM machines have become


really popular in the last six years, and there’s a lot of open source commu- nities that do a lot of research,” said Matthew Loerwald, foundry engineer, Martin Foundry (Dallas). “You end up with the ability to put together these machines now because people have been working on it and the software for a long time. You can do it low cost, the material is cheap and widely available, and you are not locked into a proprietary system.” Martin Foundry assembled its


own 3-D printer using information available in the open source environ- ment surrounding FFF and FDM. The casting facility, which produces power transmission products like pulleys and gears, thought it might have a use to make quick patterns for replacement parts. “We knew it would work with a one-off pattern,” Loerwald said.


“There is little investment in it besides time. It wasn’t a direct cost. It has worked well.”


Lessons Learned As a supplier development man-


ager for Flowserve, Miller has been monitoring the progress of 3-D print- ing and how it might help get parts to his company faster. Flowserve makes pumps, valves and seals for the power, oil and gas, chemical and water indus-


tries. Like many companies, Flowserve first used FDM and FFF for develop- ment of its parts made via the invest- ment casting process. But in recent years, it has worked with suppliers that are using it to produce patterns for sand molds. In FDM, a 3-D model is “sliced” in


a software program and the output is loaded into the printer, usually via an SD card, which typically uses the same software as a CNC machine. Different


Metalcasters can save printing cost and time by printing only the portion of the tooling that is needed. For the pattern above, the red area in the model was not necessary to print.


April 2017 MODERN CASTING | 23


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