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Casting Cost Estimating

Estimating the cost of an engineered cast metal component can seem like trying to solve an advanced algorithm. Its a complex process with a wide range of numbers to factor in and just as many variables to account forand there are no shortcuts. Similar to solving the advanced mathematical equation, if you dont do your homework, it shows. But a failing grade in the process of costing a casting can be more serious and drastically affect your bottom line. Similar to most other products, the more that goes into a cast component and the more that is expected from it, the more costly it will be. Its no longer possible to determine the price per pound of a particular alloy and accurately estimate the casting cost based on that figure. While that is one aspect of the estimation formula, there is much more to factor into the equation. There is more to the price of a casting than just the components or raw materials coming in, said Robert Creese, who is a professor of industrial and management systems in engineering at West Virginia Univ., Morgantown, W. Va., and has authored a book on cost estimation for the manufacturing industry. What you have to remember is that costs go up for the processing of the materials and for overheads. It is not only labor costs and material costs, but the overhead costs and those tend to be the major cost component. This article details the factors affecting the cost of a casting and provides tips for designing the best casting at the lowest cost.
In the Beginning

The process of costing a casting involves a number of different factors, but many of them are intertwined. Often, once one decision is made, another falls into place. The starting point of the complex estimation process boils down to a simple question: what does the casting need to do? The functionality of the component will drive many of the other factors in the estimating process. Before making a decision on alloy, casting process or post-casting treatment, ask the question, how will the casting be used in the final application?

Metal type plays a significant role in the cost of a casting. But there are not always options when selecting an alloy. The type of metal used is directly related to the desired properties and characteristics of the casting. Sometimes, certain materials can match engineering characteristics of other materials at a reduced cost. But many times, only one alloy meets those requirements. Generally speaking, casting cost is directly linked to process and production requirements. Figure 1 compares the tolerances offered by a variety of molding processes. The processes offer varying capabilities and constraints, with certain processes better suited to specific designs and applications. Within a given process, different methods may exist that lend themselves to greater efficiencies at different production levels. Processes utilized for tight dimensional tolerances, thin sections and casting complexity tend to be more costly. Design complexity and the components end use have a direct impact on selecting the appropriate molding method. Understanding the functionality of the component is crucial at this stage because different molding processes can offer different benefits, such as tight dimensional tolerances, excellent surface finish and ease of casting complex shapes. Each process has its limitations, said Bill Marlatt, Grede Foundries Inc.Vassar Foundry, Vassar, Mich., who has cost estimating experience as an industrial engineer and production controller. He also has held positions in purchasing and sales. There are processes that are phenomenal at obtaining high strength and high pressure with no shrinkage and minor microporosity, he said. But there is a price to be paid for that type of technology. If you are making aerospace-quality components, you have to select a process that will give you that nearperfect, defect-free casting. But in a lot of applications, as long as a defect, such as porosity, dont open up during machining, it wont affect structural integrity.

To avoid needless expenses, it is important to determine what is necessary and then decide what you are willing to pay for features, such as good surface finish, tight dimensional tolerances, complex shapes and internal passageways. This requires design engineers to resist the temptation to over-engineer the component. Often, by thinking, if a little is good, then more must be better, costs will needlessly increase. Consider all possible design and process tradeoffs for your requirements, said Rex Weinbender, Fluor Global Services, Greenville, S.C. , who has authored several articles on industrial engineering and costing topics. When it comes down to it, you could make the perfect part by lost foam or investment casting, but do you need to? You can cast a near-net-shape component with excellent surface finish and minimal machining required, but is this necessary if the casting will be used as a heavy truck suspension component? Quantity also will drive the molding process selection. Evaluate the life cycle of the part. If it is a high-volume component with specific requirements, you may naturally gravitate toward a particular processes. Also, because of the high tooling costs incurred in certain processes, highvolume components with a long life cycle become more economically justifiable. Once a molding process has been selected, total costs of ownership must be evaluated.
Total Cost of Ownership

Within each molding process lies another set of factors that can affect the cost of a casting. These total costs of ownership can add up over time, but they also can be controlled when designing a casting. The key is to remember that the more that goes into it, the more it will cost in the end. You should look beyond piece price; you have to consider tooling costs, which include not only patterns but also coreboxes and other items, such as fixtures, Weinbender said. The cost of these items should be factored on a per-unit basis, based on estimated tooling life and life cycle demand for the part. Thus, quantative analysis of casting price should include piece price plus costs for any peripheral costs relative to it. Its not just the casting price, its anything upstream or downstream relative to the component. Tooling is arguably the biggest cost in this area. It also provides many options that affect casting cost. Variables that affect casting cost include: pattern material, pattern design, type of molding machine and cored versus non-cored. Pattern MaterialWood and plastic are suitable for many applications, but high-volume jobs that require the pattern to hold up over long periods of time may need the added strength of machined aluminum, iron or steel. Also, aluminum, iron and steel patterns tend to hold tighter tolerances because they are less susceptible to breakage than wood. But keep in mind that the durability of a robust pattern material will increase the total cost of the component. If you are looking at a low-volume part that is going to run 5,000 pieces/yr., then you may want to consider a mounted polyurethane pattern, Weinbender said. But, if you are producing 1 million

parts a year, then you are going to want to use a machined steel pattern because you will need that durability. Tooling specifications should be matched to the anticipated production requirements. Pattern DesignOptions for patterns include plate-mounted impressions versus pressure cast impressions and separate cope and drag patterns versus a matchplate design. The size and number of impressions also play a role in tooling cost. A cost-effective option is a rider, which occurs when additional, smaller castings can be produced when patterns are mounted onto existing tooling. This can be a cost-effective option because the only cost of the rider is the additonal metal. Pattern and corebox commonality is a possibility, too, Weinbender said. If you are looking at a family of parts, engineering the tooling to incorporate changeable inserts may allow you to produce multiple part numbers form common tooling, which can help reduce the overall cost. Type of Molding MachineThe type of molding machine used is typically dictated by the volume of castings to be produced. Larger automatic molding machines can allow for the inclusion of several castings on a single pattern. Typical order quantities over the life of the casting will determine the types of molding centers that are most cost-effective, Weinbender said. Try to match the production requirements to the metalcasting facilitys capabilities and align them as closely as possible. Cored vs. Non-CoredCores are used in metalcasting processes to help form the complex geometries of cast metal components, such as internal passageways. They are beneficial because they have the ability to minimize some secondary operations, such as machining. If cores are needed, there will be an additional expense to build coreboxes and produce cores. Similar to patterns, coreboxes can be made from a variety of materials that offer different benefits and costs. The cores themselves can be produced in a variety of methods (shell, coldbox, nobake, etc.) that offer different benefits and costs. Its also important to remember that the use of cores can help bring down the price of the casting because they have the potential to eliminate expensive machining operations. Try and combine things, such as cores, Creese said. If you can get one core instead of two, its one piece going in instead of two. Improving productivity not only decreases unit labor costs, it also reduces the unit overhead costs.
Cleaning, Finishing & Machining

Finishing and machining operations can have a significant impact on the overall cost of a casting. The labor involved, time spent and equipment needed to remove excess metal or machine features can drive up the cost, which encompasses more than simply the materials needed to make the casting. Total cost also includes, labor, energy, tooling, etc. Although there are several fixed costs, the casting processes offer several ways to reduce costs in other areas. By exploiting the ability of casting processes to produce complex shapes and internal passageways, machining can be minimized significantly. And by producing near-net-shape components, cleaning and finishing costs can be drastically reduced.

Now more than ever we are working with our customers to reduce weight, take out stock and reduce machining because it can be more expensive than the casting, Marlatt said. In most metalcasting facilities, the cleaning room is the biggest cost driver because there are so many operations that are still being manually performed. Cleaning and finishing equipment is selfdestructive; the less pressure required, the greater the opportunity to reduce costs. That opportunity comes from the casting design. Features, such as holes and passageways, can be cast-in to save money. These require cores, which add cost but may be more cost-effective than machining or cleaning and finishing operations. Determine if there are features you can design that will save money in the cleaning room, Marlatt said. You have to understand your customers cleanliness criteria. If a parting line of 0.79 in. (20.7 mm) is acceptable and the process is capable of holding that, grinding will not be necessary. And, if the gating system can be designed so it breaks off cleanly (and the metalcasting facility can keep the process within those limits), you might be able to eliminate or limit the amount of gate grinding. {mospagebreak}
Cost Variables

Figure 2 shows a 90-lb. (41 kg) manifold that was modeled as both a ductile and gray iron casting. Both castings have an 18-lb. (8.2 kg) coldbox core that required dipping. With an annual volume of 5,000 pieces, the 60-40-18 ductile iron component would require heat treating, snag grinding, bench grinding and 100% leak testing. The total cost of the component is $67.44. The heat treatment that is necessary with this particular grade of ductile iron accounts for 26% of the total cost. If the casting were produced in a slightly higher grade of ductile iron (65-45-12), no heat treatment is required, and the price falls to $48.29. Depending on the end-use and the specific properties needed in the component, the manifold could be produced as a Class 40 gray iron casting. Here, the yield (65%) and molding rate (135 molds/hr.) are higher, helping to reduce cost to $47.50/casting.

The breakdown of costs for the three components is shown in Table 1. Please note that costs differ from facility to facility and part to part. Table 1. Comparison of Costs for Iron Manifold Metal 60-40-18 $10.08 65-45-12 $9.20 Gray Iron $10.77 Melting $8.87 $8.87 $6.97 Molding $0.81 $0.81 $1.14 Coremaking $1.85 $1.85 $1.85 Finishing $6.65 $6.65 $6.65 Heat Treating $12.60 N/A N/A Total Cost $67.44 $48.29 $47.50

Figure 3 shows a 356 aluminum one-way flow valve. A cost-estimating model was used to show the differences between producing the casting via green sand molding on a 20 x 24 in. (508 x 610 mm) automatic molding machine and a 16 x 20 in. (406 x 508 mm) automatic molding machine as well as producing the casting via the permanent mold process.

This model is intended to be used as an estimate and may not reflect actual costs that are specific to a metalcasting facility, such as labor costs, material cost costs, sales commission and markup. For the purposes of the model, labor rates and material costs were held constant while markup was set at 20%, and sales commission was not accounted for. The model shows the effect certain factors have on the cost of a casting, including the price differential from producing the casting in different processes. The casting is 4.18 lbs. (1.8 kg) and requires one 9-in. (228-mm) long shell core (Fig. 4) that weighs 3.8 lbs. (1.7 kg). With an annual volume of 30,000, if the component were sand cast on a 20 x 24 in. automatic molding machine, it would cost $11.35/casting. This type of molding

machine would allow for the production of 70 molds/hr. in a four-on configuration with a 55% yield. The estimate also accounts for belt grinding 180 castings/hr. and heat treatment.

If the same component were to be produced on a smaller molding machine with a higher mold rate in a two-on configuration, the cost drops to $11.28/casting. The smaller molding machine has a molding rate of 90 castings/hr. with a yield of 50%. The same post-casting operations were performed in both scenarios. Also, both automatic molding machines were running well within their capabilities. The example assumes a 5% scrap rate, but that could grow as the limits of the molding machine are tested more. If you are pushing the limits of the process controls, the costs go up exponentially, Creese said. Once you start reaching the upper limits of the process, there is going to be more scrap because it is harder to controland the costs start taking off from there. To show the difference in tooling cost, the same aluminum component was modeled as a semipermanent mold casting with the same shell core. Using the same production rates, scrap rate and post-casting operations, the price to produce the semi-permanent mold component in a two-on configuration is $10.73/casting. The permanent mold process is the least expensive in this case because the volume is high enough to justify the investment in the metal tooling. The yield is greater than in sand casting (in this case 8% higher), which reduces the melt cost per casting due to the fact that melt labor is predicated on a per pound basis as opposed to an hourly basis. That drops the labor rate significantly. Also, because the molding process is automatic, there is no need for operators, and the costs are less. The cost breakdown for the three aluminum components is shown in Table 2. Table 2. Comparison of Costs for Aluminum One-Way Flow Valve

Metal Melting Molding Coremaking Finishing 20 x 24-in. automatic molding machine 16 x 20-in. automatic molding machine Permanent mold
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Heat Treating $0.46 $0.46 $0.46

Total Cost $11.35 $11.28 $10.73

$4.53 $0.73 $4.53 $0.40 $4.53 $0.34

$0.55 $0.82 N/A

$1.59 $1.59 $1.59

$0.28 $0.28 $0.28

The bottom line in cost estimating is to know what the casting needs to do. From there, it can be determined which features are necessary and which ones can be eliminated. Several aspects of the metalcasting process, such as labor costs and raw material costs cannot be controlled. This means that more consideration needs to be given to design facors that affect casting price. An important concern is to determine the design parameters of the component, Weinbender said. For example, if the casting is a bracket that is not highly visible, or if it is a part of an assembly, then surface finish may not be a big deal. Fully understanding the functionality of the part is critical. You need to ask, what is the component supposed to do? Beyond knowing the requirements of the casting, it is important to objectively assess your expectations. What are you willing to pay for surface finish, tight dimensional tolerances and time to market? If you are just going to focus on the bottom line price, you get what you pay for, Weinbender said. If you have a knowledgeable metalcasting facility that has technology, there is a cost that comes with that. If the metalcaster comes in on the ground floor and helps design the component to come up with the most cost-effective part, you may end up paying slightly more, but that may have saved you untold dollars in the long run and possibly shortened your time to market.