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Shaping the future in castings: five important trends for foundries to feature at GIFA 2019

Aluminium is displacing classic steel, the shortage of skilled workers is to be compensated for by progressive automation, and environmental protection is increasingly becoming a priority – this is only a small part of the topics that will dominate the foundry industry this year and in the years to come, writes Mika Baumeister/Jonathan Kemper for GIFA.

Five trends to consider this year:

1: Aluminium instead of steel 

Ever more products are produced with aluminium. There are numerous reasons for this: the automotive industry is just as pleased as the avionics sector when it comes to lighter components, however, the stability of aluminium is also a major factor. In mechanical engineering, this material is also used for mechanically demanding tasks.

In 2017, approximately six per cent more aluminium was produced than in the previous year. The higher price of the material becomes an ever smaller argument against this metal as the price of the finished product decreases due to advanced manufacturing methods and state-of-the-art machinery. Raw material prices have been comparatively high for years, but they are not affected by as many fluctuations as metal.


2: Automation due to lack of skilled workers 

Fewer and fewer people are working in the foundry industry. Harsh working conditions and falling training figures suggest further declines. To remain competitive, companies rely on semi-automated or completely autonomous systems to maintain or even increase their production.

By no means does this lead to further job cuts. Quite the opposite, employees are able to invest more time in designing or testing instead of pressing buttons on machines, transporting raw materials or filling molten metal at high risk. At the same time, this increases the interest of younger generations to get involved in the design or the development of the foundry industry.


3: Digitisation and Industry 4.0

Sensors, linked machines and smart controls have no fear for the foundry either – numerous production sites are already centrally connected. Not only foundries, but also customers and potential clients benefit from the data. Processes can be optimised with big data and possible bottlenecks and errors in the system can be detected at an early stage. Manual adjustments in the operating procedure are less necessary.


4: Environmental protection and eco metals

Foundries are considered to be amongst the most energy-hungry industries in Germany. The plants, which are often fed by coal, use around 16 per cent of the total electricity produced in Germany and 12 per cent throughout Europe. A study by the Federal Environment Agency proves that the majority of foundries could get their energy requirements from renewable energies. For this, however, energy storage devices are necessary that can meet the enormous requirements for continuous day-night operation.

Through the use of more efficient casting moulds, fewer raw materials are required, which also do not need to be transported. The energy requirement can be further reduced by using more efficient furnaces to make the entire production process more environmentally friendly.


5: Additive manufacturing

Particularly for smaller cast products, things could change soon – an increasing number of 3D printers are managing to deal with metals. Selective laser sintering (SLS) applies metal layer by layer to produce small components cost-effectively, quickly and more accurately than with conventional processes. Depending on the individual application, additive manufacturing offers various sizes ranging from half a cubic metre to entire warehouses that can be converted.

The innovative technology is already being used in projects that require only a small quantity of the final product. Structures, which would not be possible in normal casting, pose no problem for additive manufacturing either. For large quantities and parts with larger dimensions, not much will change in the short term.