Die casting

Die casting is the process of forcing molten metal under high pressure into mold cavities (which are machined into dies). Most die castings are made from nonferrous metals, specifically zinc, copper, and aluminum based alloys, but ferrous metal die castings are possible. The die casting method is especially suited for applications where a large quantity of small to medium sized parts are needed with good detail, a fine surface quality and dimensional consistency.

This level of versatility has placed die castings among the highest volume products made in the metalworking industry.
In recent years, injection-molded plastic parts have replaced some die castings because they are cheaper and lighter.Plastic parts are a practical alternative if hardness is not required and little strength is needed.

There are four major steps in the die casting process. First, the mold is sprayed with lubricant and closed. The lubricant both helps control the temperature of the die and it also assists in the removal of the casting. Molten metal is then shot into the die under high pressure; between 10—175 MPa (1,500—25,000 psi). Once the die is filled the pressure is maintained until the casting has solidified. Finally, the die is opened and the shot (shots are different from castings because there can be multiple cavities in a die, yielding multiple castings per shot) is ejected by the ejector pins. Finally, the scrap, which includes the gate, runners, sprues and flash, must be separated from the casting(s). This is often done using a special trim die in a power press or hydraulic press. An older method is separating by hand or by sawing, which case grinding may be necessary to smooth the scrap marks. A less labor-intensive method is to tumble shots if gates are thin and easily broken; separation of gates from finished parts must follow. This scrap is recycled by remelting it.

The high-pressure injection leads to a quick fill of the die, which is required so the entire cavity fills before any part of the casting solidifies. In this way, discontinuities are avoided even if the shape requires difficult-to-fill thin sections. This creates the problem of air entrapment, because when the mold is filled quickly there is little time for the air to escape. This problem is minimized by including vents along the parting lines, however, even in a highly refined process there will still be some porosity in the center of the casting.

Most die casters perform other secondary operations to produce features not readily castable, such as tapping a hole, polishing, plating, buffing, or painting.

Pore-free casting process
When no porosity is required for a casting then the pore-free casting process is used. It is identical to the standard process except oxygen is injected into the die before each shot. This causes small dispersed oxides to form when the molten metal fills the dies, which virtually eliminates gas porosity. An added advantage to this is greater strength. These castings can still be heat treated and welded. This process can be performed on aluminum, zinc, and lead alloys.

Heated-manifold direct-injection die casting
Heated-manifold direct-injection die casting, also known as direct-injection die casting or runnerless die casting, is a zinc die casting process where molten zinc is forced through a heated manifold and then through heated mini-nozzles, which lead into the molding cavity. This process has the advantages of lower cost per part, through the reduction of scrap (by the elimination of sprues, gates and runners) and energy conservation, and better surface quality through slower cooling cycles.

There are two basic types of die casting machines: hot-chamber machines (a.k.a. gooseneck machines) and cold-chamber machines. These are then rated by how much clamping force they can apply. Typical sizes range from 100 to 4,000 tons. The largest machines are as big as a house.
Hot-chamber machines rely upon a pool of molten metal to feed the die. At the beginning of the cycle the piston of the machine is retracted, which allows the molten metal fill the "gooseneck". The gas or oil powered piston then forces this metal out of the gooseneck into the die. The advantages of this system include fast cycle times (approximately 15 cycles a minute) and the convenience of melting the metal in the casting machine. The disadvantages of this system are that high-melting point metals cannot be utilized and aluminum cannot be used because it it picks up some of the iron while in the molten pool. Due to this hot-chamber machines are primarily used with zinc, tin, and lead based alloys.

Cold-chamber machines are used when the casting alloy cannot be used in hot-chamber machines; these alloys include aluminum, magnesium, copper, and zinc alloys with a large composition of aluminum. This machine works by melting the material, first, in a separate furnace. Then a precise amount of molten metal is transported to the cold-chamber machine where it is fed into an unheated shot chamber (or injection cylinder). This shot is then driven into the die by a hydraulic or mechanical piston. This biggest disadvantage of this system is the slower cycle time due to the need to transfer the molten metal from the furnace to the cold-chamber machine.
The dies used in die casting are usually made out of hardened tool steels because cast iron cannot withstand the high pressures involved. Due to this the dies are very expensive, resulting in a high startup cost. Dies may contain only one mold cavity or multiple cavities of the same or different parts. There must be at least two dies to allow for separation and ejection of the finished workpiece, however its not uncommon for there to be more sections that open and close in different directions. Dies also often contain water-cooling passages, retractable cores, ejector pins, and vents along the parting lines. These vents are usually wide and thin (approximately 0.13 mm or 0.005 in) so that when the molten metal starts filling them the metal quickly solidifies and minimizes scrap. No risers are used because the high pressure ensures a continuous feed of metal from the gate. Recently, there's been a trend to incorporate larger gates in the die and to use lower injection pressures to fill the mold, and then increase the pressure after its filled. This system helps reduce porosity and inclusions.

In addition to the dies there may be cores involved to cast features such as undercuts. Sand cores cannot be used because they disintegrate from the high pressures involved with die casting, therefore metal cores are used. If a retractable core is used then provisions must be made for it to be removed either in a straight line or circular arc. Moreover, these cores must have very little clearance between the die and the core to prevent the molten metal from escaping. Loose cores may also be used to cast more intricate features (such as threaded holes). These loose cores are inserted into the die by hand before each cycle and then ejected with the part at the end of the cycle. The core then must be removed by hand. Loose cores are more expensive due to the extra labor and time involved.

A die's life is most prominently limited by wear or erosion, which is is strongly dependent on the temperature of the molten metal. Aluminum and its alloys typically shorten die life due to the high temperature of the liquid metal resulting in deterioration of the steel mold cavities. Molds for die casting zinc last almost indefinitely due to the lower temperature of the zinc. Molds for die casting brass are the shortest-lived of all.Other failure modes for dies are:
Heat checking: surface cracks occur on the die due to a large temperature change on every cycle
Thermal fatigue: surface cracks occur on the die due to a large number of cycles

Advantages and disadvantages
Excellent dimensional accuracy (dependent on casting material, but typically 0.1 mm for the first 2.5 cm (0.005 in. for the first inch) and 0.02 mm for th each additional centimeter (0.002 in. for each additional inch).
Smooth cast surfaces (1—2.5 μm (40—100 μin.)
Thinner walls can be cast as compared to sand and permanent mold casting (approximately 0.75 mm (0.030 in.).
Inserts can be cast-in (such as threaded inserts, heating elements, and high strength bearing surfaces).
Reduces or eliminates secondary machining operations.
Rapid production rates.
Casting tensile strength as high as 415 MPa (60 ksi).

Casting weight must be between 30 grams (1 oz) and 10 kg (20 lb).
Casting must be smaller than 600 mm (24 in.).
High initial cost.
Limited to high-fluidity metals.
A certain amount of porosity is common.
Thickest section should be less than 13 mm (0.5 in.).
A large production volume is needed to make this an economical alternative to other processes.