Printed Casting describes the process of 3D printing and casting highly complex molds. With this hybrid approach, the advantages of 3D printing, means geometric freedom and the cost benefits of conventional manufacturing can be combined.
The way to self-employment and a new age of metal casting
In 2008, Ville Moilanen joined what was then voxeljet technology GmbH in Augsburg as a mechanical engineer. Among other things, he supervised the establishment of the on-demand center at voxeljet and was responsible for sales in the Scandinavian market.
In exchanges with customers, he learned, that the average delivery time for castings in Finland is over three months, and this despite the fact that there are many large industrial companies in Finland operating in sectors such as mechanical engineering, energy supply and shipbuilding etc. Industries that usually have a high demand for castings, especially for prototype parts.
The reason for these long lead times is, that the Finnish foundry industry is mainly designed for the production of serial production with traditional methods, supplemented by the fact that there is also an acute shortage of skilled foundry engineers. In many foundries, engineers are so occupied with serial orders that they simply do not have the time to work on small to medium batch sizes.
These market deficits were taken to heart by Ville Moilanen in 2012, when he decided to move back to Finland to start his own business with Hetitec Oy in the Pirkanmaa region, close to the city of Tampere. In 2013, he finally opened his center for 3D printing of sand molds and cores. Back then he invested in a VX1000 from voxeljet and 3D prints Furan molds and cores for customers on demand.
For several years, Hetitec pursued this business model until 2018, when Hetitec decided to scale up, expand and transform the business model into a highly specialized foundry. Hetitec’s unique idea: let’s build a foundry around the 3D printer and not just include a 3D printer in a foundry. All with a clear focus: fast castings.
New, 40% more powerful VX2000
The first casting equipment was installed at Hetitec in early 2020. This included four melting furnaces for various alloys. Hetitec has the capability to melt steel (incl. duplex), grey Iron, ductile iron (incl. ADI, SiMo etc.) and also some aluminum. In order to avoid casting defects and keep the discharge rate as low as possible Hetitec also invested in CAD software for mold making and casting simulation. In addition to the VX1000, Hetitec supplemented its additive production performance with a VX2000 from voxeljet in 2021. The large-format 3D printing system has a build volume of 2 x 1 x 1 meters and is ideally suited for the production of large individual molds or a variety of smaller components.
The printer recently underwent a process update, making it nearly 40% more productive. "If it were up to our customers, they would prefer to have the castings yesterday, a service we unfortunately cannot offer as of yet. But we can easily print one job box in less than a single day, which makes the VX2000 the most productive 3D printer in the whole of Finland." says Managing Director Moilanen. “Given our equipment, we are able to produce casting sizes ranging from 1 – 600 kg within just a few days with a unique portfolio in terms of material diversity.”
But this is not the end. For machining and quality assurance Hetitec has formed co-operations with nearby companies. By doing so, the freshly casted parts can directly be machined and inspected before shipment. This workflow all in all enables Hetitec to deliver finished parts within just a week. Or in the words of Ville Moilanen: “This makes us the fastest freaking foundry in the whole of Scandinavia”
The Finnish market at a glance
The Scandinavian industry is characterized in particular by shipbuilding, automotive, energy, forest machinery and offshore industries. All these markets can benefit greatly from Hetitec's services and Printed Casting Technology, as well as from his specialized alloy selection.
Current trends such as lightweight design, electromobility and the digitization of tooling and pattern inventories can be best served by 3D printing. Using modern scanning technology, old tool inventories are transformed into CAD files and can be retrieved from a digital warehouse at any time and then printed and cast as needed. This not only saves time but also storage costs. "Adoption of this approach is still not widespread in Finland." explains Moilanen. "In some cases, only a good 10% of all stored spare part patterns and molds for instance are regularly retrieved and used in Finland. The remaining 90% more or less just take up storage space.
This is where the digitization of tool inventories and 3D printing offer considerable advantages, especially with regards to spare parts production. With its creative and successful business model as well as the company’s fast reaction time, Hetitec targets to close this knowledge gap and expand both the business as well as the know how across Europe. But Hetitec does not stop there as the following example showcases.
Anchors aweigh! But in 5 days instead of 5 months
The example of a broken-down icebreaker in Canada is a good example of how quickly and flexibly Hetitec can react. Due to an engine defect, an icebreaker was stuck near the coast of Canada. The usual delivery time for the required component was around 5 months which meant a considerable financial problem for the customer. Thus, a fast availability of a spare part was the top priority for the repair of the ship. With a 2D design plan of the part, shipping line turned to Hetitec. Within just one hour, the 2D drawing was transformed into a 3D-CAD file. The actual production started with 3D printing the sand molds on Monday, and by Friday of the same week, the machined, finished casting was already on its way to Canada. A speed of response that is unparalleled in the casting industry. In Canada, the part was loaded onto a helicopter which brought the part to the ship, which in order to save time, already steered towards its destination using just one engine.
Confidently facing the future
With regard to the increased presence of direct metal-processing 3D technologies (direct metal laser sintering), Hetitec is also confident about its future: For the sizes Hetitec can cast, DMLS processes do not represent an economical alternative. The building volumes of the currently available DMLS systems are still too small and the material prices are comparatively too high. While aluminum alloys for casting lie in a price segment of around €30 per kilogram, the prices of metal powders for sintering vary between 600€ per kilogram for aluminum and 1,300€ for special alloys such as steel. In addition, metal casting simply provides a much larger selection of alloys, so that specific customer requirements can be met individually.
With the addition of the new VX2000 to its additive manufacturing line, Hetitec is pursuing the successive expansion of its business in Europe. The potential is great and the way is paved to usher in the Casting Age 4.0.