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Int J Adv Manuf Technol (2005) 25: 308320 DOI 10.



C.M. Cheah C.K. Chua C.W. Lee C. Feng K. Totong

Rapid prototyping and tooling techniques: a review of applications for rapid investment casting

Received: 1 April 2003 / Accepted: 20 June 2003 / Published online: 11 August 2004 Springer-Verlag London Limited 2004 Abstract Investment casting (IC) has beneted numerous industries as an economical means for mass producing quality near net shape metal parts with high geometric complexity and acceptable tolerances. The economic benets of IC are limited to mass production. The high costs and long lead-time associated with the development of hard tooling for wax pattern moulding renders IC uneconomical for low-volume production. The outstanding manufacturing capabilities of rapid prototyping (RP) and rapid tooling (RT) technologies (RP&T) are exploited to provide costeffective solutions for low-volume IC runs. RP parts substitute traditional wax patterns for IC or serve as production moulds for wax injection moulding. This paper reviews the application and potential application of state-of-the-art RP&T techniques in IC. The techniques are examined by introducing their concepts, strengths and weaknesses. Related research carried out worldwide by different organisations and academic institutions are discussed. Keywords Investment casting Low-volume production Moulding Rapid Prototyping Rapid Tooling List of Abbreviations ABS ACES AIM CAM-LEM CMB Acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene Accurate clear epoxy solid ACES injection moulding Computer-aided manufacturing of laminated engineering materials Controlled metal build-up CTE DMD DMLS DSPC FDM IC LENS LG LOM LS MJS MMA MM II PC POM PS RIC RP RP&T RT RSP SDM SGC SL SLS 3D-P Coefcients of thermal expansion Direct metal deposition Direct metal laser sintering Direct shell production casting Fused deposition modelling Investment casting Laser engineered net shaping Laser generating Laminated object manufacturing Laser sintering Multiphase jet solidication Methyl methacrylate Model Maker II Polycarbonate Precision optical manufacturing Polystyrene Rapid investment casting Rapid prototyping Rapid prototyping and tooling Rapid tooling Rapid solidication process Shape deposition modelling Solid ground curing Stereolithography Selective laser sintering 3D printing

C.M. Cheah C.K. Chua (u) C.W. Lee C. Feng Systems and Engineering Management Division, School of Mechanical and Production Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, 50 Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 639798 E-mail: Tel.: +65-67904897 Fax: +65-67911859 K. Totong Mechanical Engineering Division, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore

1 Background on investment casting (IC) and rapid prototyping (RP)

Investment casting (IC), or lost-wax casting, is a precision casting process whereby wax patterns are converted into solid metal parts following a multi-step process [1]. IC enables economical mass-production of near net shaped metal parts containing complex geometries and features [2, 3] from a variety of metals, including difcult-to-machine or non-machinable alloys. To produce precision components, the near net shape of castings can reduce machining time and cost to bring components into specications.


Despite its popularity, traditional IC suffers from high tooling investments for producing wax patterns. As such, IC is prohibitively expensive for low-volume production typical in prototyping, preseries, customised or specialised component productions. Rapid prototyping (RP) techniques are fast becoming standard tools in product design and manufacturing [4]. With revolutionary capabilities to rapidly fabricate three-dimensional parts for design verication or to serve as functional prototypes and production tooling, RP is an indispensable tool for shortening product design and development time cycles [5, 6]. RP, which is a powerful communication tool that bridges design, marketing, process planning and manufacturing, can facilitate the implementation of concurrent engineering [7, 8]. The application of RP in IC is motivated by prospects of reduced tooling costs and production lead-times [9, 10]. This paper aims at presenting a comprehensive review on the applications and potential applications of rapid prototyping and tooling (RP&T) techniques in IC. The paper concludes with a general discussion on the issues faced with the application of RP&T techniques.

Fig. 2. Wax cluster arrangement of dolphin patterns produced from silicone rubber tooling (left); Stainless steel casting of horse gurines (right)

2 The IC process
Traditional IC consists of the block mould and the more common ceramic shell processes. The process chain for the ceramic shell process (Fig. 1) consists of the tooling, shell fabrication and casting stages. In the tooling stage, the mould for wax pattern production is designed and machined from aluminium stocks. For complex patterns, multiple parting lines and loose inserts are incorporated into the mould. The completed mould is coated with release agent, assembled and injected with molten wax. Upon cooling, the mould is stripped to extract the patterns. Individual patterns are attached onto a wax sprue system to form a cluster (Fig. 2) in the shell fabrication stage. The cluster is repeatedly dip coated in investment slurry containing graded suspensions of refractory particles and followed by stucco application to build shell thickness and strength. When dried, the wax pattern is melted out via autoclaving to reveal the internal cavities of the ceramic shell. The shell is red to build strength and remove residual volatiles. In the casting stage, molten metal is poured into the heated shells to form the castings, which are extracted after cooling by cracking the shell during the knockout process. Individual castings are separated, cleansed and subjected to nishing processes. 2.1 Limitations in low-volume IC production In IC, substantial investments are committed to prototype or production tooling development [11]. The committed resources

increase substantially with mould complexity or lower volume production. Tooling costs for wax injection moulding range from several thousands to tens of thousands of dollars depending on size and complexity, while lead-times range between several weeks to months depending on machine shop scheduling and capabilities. As such, a toolmaker has to evaluate different mould designs before committing to manufacturing since design errors or iterations are usually expensive and time-consuming to amend or accommodate [12]. Although most RP&T applications in IC are limited to design, prototyping and tool production, such primary stages are crucial in deciding marketing strategies. Signicant benets of RP&T application are reected by improved mould designs and lead-time savings in the development of production tooling for high-volume production, rapidly changing high-volume production, and, emerging cost-effective solutions for low-volume production. Recent technological advances have enhanced the accuracy, performance and durability of RP&T end products, enabling some to serve as tooling for low-volume production and in some cases, high-volume production [13].

3 RP and RT technologies
RP has its beginnings in the mid-1980s with the debut of 3D Systems Inc.s (Valencia, CA) SLA-1 [8]. There are currently 28 manufacturers worldwide offering a total of more than 56 different RP systems to meet the diverse demands of end-users [14]. Contrary to conventional fabrication techniques, which involve the subtraction of materials from a stock, casting or moulding, all RP techniques are layer additive processes [15], whereby layers

Fig. 1. Process chain for ceramic shell process


of material representing the cross-sections of the part formed by processing solid sheet, liquid or powder feed stocks, are fused together to create the part. The RP process chain is presented in Fig. 3. Detailed descriptions of RP techniques can be found in literature [4]. RT technology, which embodies the creation of prototype or production tooling based on RP parts, complements RP when large quantities of similar parts containing complex features, made economically utilising materials close to or identical to end production materials and with normal production processes are required [16]. This is common in concurrent engineering environments where prototype parts are required simultaneously by different cross-functional design teams or when performance tests has to be conducted on prototypes produced using end production materials and processes. As such, RT not only allows the prototyping of products but also the production processes.

ical pre-series castings can be produced and the high investments for production tooling are deferred. Process optimisation: With pre-series castings, the positioning of parting lines, ejection pins and inserts can be perfected. Optimisation of moulding parameters and evaluation of moulded patterns can be conducted effectively. These result in condence before the production tooling is manufactured. The term rapid investment casting (RIC) represents the employment of RP&T techniques in IC. Figure 4 presents the strategies and techniques introduced to shorten the production cycle for IC. The sections that follow introduce each technique.

4.1 Direct fabrication of IC patterns The application of RP IC patterns stems from the fact that patterns of any material, which can be melted or burnt-out without damaging the ceramic shell can be employed in IC. The rst reported use of RP IC patterns appeared in 1989 [22]. Today, almost all commercialised RP processes (systems), selective laser sintering (SLS) [23], stereolithography (SL), fused deposition modelling (FDM), ink-jet plotting (MM II), 3D printing (3D-P), solid ground curing (SGC), multi-jet modelling (Actua) [24] and laminated object manufacturing (LOM), have been employed to produce IC patterns with varying success. With numerous benets achievable, it is not astonishing to note that RP&T techniques are gaining widespread acceptance among traditional foundries [19, 25]. Some examples include Shellcast Foundries Inc. in Montreal, where the solid model casting (SMC) process is developed to directly convert RP models into castings without the application of hard tooling [26]. The Cercast Group has identied important parameters critical in designing RP patterns, as well as the strengths and limitations of various RP patterns [27]. Nuclear Metals Inc. has evaluated different RP techniques for casting Beralcast alloys [20]. Table 1 presents a list of RP techniques, the building materials utilised and the nal part characteristics. The FDM and MM II systems produce wax patterns that are readily accepted by foundries. For non-wax RP patterns, two signicant advantages are identied. Firstly, the durability and strength of non-wax patterns will allow the casting of thin wall structures, which are previously difcult due to the fragility of wax structures. Secondly, the relatively tough non-wax patterns allow nishing operations to be conducted to improve surface quality, which is then transferred onto the castings. To counter the shrinkage of castings during cooling, RP patterns can be scaled up accordingly. However, with nonwax patterns, many new problems related to ceramic shells

4 Novel techniques using RP&T technologies

Since the inception of RP, parts fabricated by pioneering RP systems have been employed as IC patterns to cut tooling costs and lead times [17]. RP application in IC is one of its more popular tooling related applications [18]. However, the economic benets derivable from RP patterns are limited to small quantity production due to high RP material costs [19, 20]. Current research focus has shifted from RP pattern fabrication to the development of RT for producing IC patterns. For higher quantities of castings, RT can economically and effectively produce from tens to millions of wax patterns. RT benets traditional foundries since they generate wax patterns, unlike non-wax RP patterns, which require changes in the IC process for successful runs [21]. Other tangible benets include: Rapid production: RP systems are not limited by part complexity. The high manufacturing exibility permits parts that are previously difcult or impossible to fabricate via machining to be fabricated at a fraction of the cost and lead-time. Additionally, RP does not require tooling or xtures resulting in simpler set-ups and lower overheads. Prototyping: RP&T techniques provide affordable and fast evaluation of tooling designs and design iterations. RP parts function as design prototypes to iron out aws in casting or tooling design and functional prototypes to address the positioning of gates, vents and runners. Problems due to wax shrinkage or feeding can be rectied before manufacturing the production tooling. With prototypes, optimised designs can be realised quickly and any risk of corrective rework whilst in production is eliminated. Utilising RP&T, econom-

Fig. 3. Typical RP process chain

311 Fig. 4. RP&T techniques for RIC

Table 1. List of RP techniques RP technique Process Build materials Layer thickness (mm) 0.1 0.075 0.05 0.05 0.06 0.1 0.013 0.04 Surface roughness (m) Ra (as processed) 12.5 13 12.5 25 25 N.A. N.A. 5.090 Part accuracy (mm) 0.05 0.25 0.127 0.25 0.1% 0.020 0.03% N.A. Residual ash (%)


Photocuring Sintering of powders Melt extrusion Paper lamination Photocuring Ink-jet printing Ink-jet printing Ink-Jet printing

Epoxy Polystyrene Polycarbonate ABS Wax Paper Epoxy Starch Wax Organic polymer

N.A. < 0.02 N.A. 0.05 0 N.A. N.A. 1-2% 0 N.A.

Sources: [11, 21]

cracking, incomplete pattern burning out and residual ash, surfaced. Despite these earlier setbacks, the benets of RP patterns are too signicant to be snubbed. Since then, extensive worldwide research has conceived a variety of strategies, specialised materials and new processes to counter or eliminate the setbacks. 4.1.1 Ceramic shell cracking For wax patterns, autoclaving is employed to remove the patterns and sprue systems through melting. Remaining wax traces are vaporised in the ring stage. For non-wax RP patterns, stresses induced by pattern expansion during dewaxing and burning-out are major problems resulting in shell cracking. Shell cracking arising from mismatches in coefcients of thermal expansion (CTE) between RP and shell materials is well studied and docu-

mented [28, 29]. Most research to address shell cracking is based on SL fabricated epoxy patterns. The most successful solution arrived at to date is the fabrication of quasi-hollow structures using QuickCast build styles. The concept of QuickCast is based on the fact that hollow structures would soften at lower temperatures and collapse inwards upon itself before critical stress levels are developed [30]. Added advantages will be a drop in material costs and lead time to build the hollow structures. QuickCast capitalises on large hatch spacing to create internal skeletons containing large inter-connected square or triangular cells supporting a dense thin external shell [12]. Small holes created on the external surfaces allow internally trapped resin to be drained after part building. Early QuickCast patterns are reported to be only partially successful in countering shell cracking [31, 32]. Shell cracking is only fully addressed with the introduction of QuickCast 2.0 build style [33], which provides


an internal architecture of hexagonal honeycombs that collapses during autoclaving. For FDM fabricated acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) patterns, the sparse (cross-hatched) build style is employed to create quasi-hollow structures (Fig. 5). FDM fabricated hollow patterns have shell thickness of around 1.5 mm and internal structures of large inter-connected quadrilateral cells with constant wall thickness of 0.254 mm. Detailed evaluations of ABS patterns based on casting issues, ash handling, process parameters, thermal and macroscopic properties, have been carried out [34]. The promising results ascertain the potential of ABS patterns. However, some minor modications to the IC process are necessary to accommodate ABS patterns. For powder-based RP techniques (e.g., SLS and 3D-P), fabrication of hollow internal structures is not possible due to material entrapment. However, to optimise parts for burning-out, a shelling technique can be employed to fabricate only the outer shell of the pattern. The high porosity of the entrapped powders prevents excessive pattern expansion and shell cracking. For SLS, several building materials, namely, wax and polycarbonate [27] have been introduced for IC applications. However, patterns built from these materials are plagued by distortions, poor surface nish and shell cracking due to foaming of PC parts [35] during autoclaving. CastForm PS, a polystyrene-based powder, is the latest material offered by 3D Systems Inc. for building IC patterns. CastForm PS patterns have characteristics similar to wax and can be adapted to standard foundry practices with minimal alterations. Post-processes necessary for CastForm PS include dipping in liqueed wax to seal surface porosity and to increase pattern strength. LOM paper patterns have also been utilised in IC [36]. Completed LOM patterns require a coat of sealant to prevent delamination and swelling due to moisture absorption. LOM patterns have the advantage of low CTE and are relatively cheap to produce [37]. However, LOM pattern intricacy is limited due to difculties encountered in the removal of excess paper entrapped within the recesses of completed parts.

4.1.2 Pattern quality The quality attributes of untreated RP patterns are indicated in Table 1. Many of the different RP patterns are well within the acceptable tolerance range (0.050.254 mm) and surface quality (1620 m Ra ) [38] requirements of most IC applications. In IC, the surface quality of patterns and castings are directly related. The relatively rough surfaces of untreated RP patterns are due to stair stepping caused by layered building, building method (laser scanning, binder spraying, etc.) and feed stock material. Patterns with porous surfaces (SLS, 3D-P, FDM) require the application of sealants (e.g., wax) to prevent slurry penetration during shell production. For most RP patterns, polishing can be conducted to improve surface quality. The surface of ABS patterns can be improved by sealing with wax or by brushing on a thin coat of methyl methacrylate (MMA) followed by light polishing. Measurements conducted by the authors on MMA nished patterns produced surface roughness of 12 m Ra . Similarly, SLS parts impregnated with epoxy followed by light polishing yielded surface roughness of < 1 m Ra . Actua patterns can be nished with a light coat of liquid parafn and polishing [24] to yield improved surface roughness of 0.8 m Ra . The surface of other RP patterns (e.g., LOM paper patterns) can also be improved via polishing with ne abrasive papers. 4.1.3 Combustion properties The use of non-wax RP patterns may lead to casting defects due to incomplete pattern burn-out or residual ash. Residual ash is usually removed by ushing the cooled shell with water or compressed air. However, ash trapped in deep recesses or tight cavities may prove difcult or impossible to remove. The use of QuickCast and sparse build styles will signicantly reduce residual ash content as they eliminate approximately 60-95% of the internal mass of epoxy (SL) and ABS (FDM) parts resulting in small residual ash contents of between 0.02-0.05%. For patterns with dense structures (e.g., LOM), a much longer burning out time is usually required. The large amounts of materials to be burnt-out will result in much higher residual ash contents [20, 27].

4.2 Fabrication of wax injection moulds For mould fabrication, two approaches, namely, direct and indirect RT approaches [39] are followed. Utilising the direct approach, the mould is fabricated by RP systems with no intermediate steps. Completed moulds may require post-processing to improve strength, surface nish and accuracy. Metal or polymer moulds fabricated using direct approaches can usually be employed for medium- to high-volume production. For the indirect approach, RP fabricated masters are employed to create the necessary moulds. Materials utilised in indirect approaches include polymer or metal composites, polymers and silicone rubber. As such, the indirect approaches will result in moulds that are mechanically weaker and mostly suitable for low volume-production.

Fig. 5. Comparison of QuickCast (left) and sparse build used in SL and FDM, respectively (right)


4.2.1 Direct RT approaches for mould fabrication Direct metal mould fabrication. Direct metal mould production is a new area in RP that has attracted substantial amounts of attention. To date, more than six commercialised systems are available that allow metal mould production. Although pioneering processes such as RapidTool (3D Systems, Inc.) and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) (EOS GmbH, Munich), are intended for producing prototype tooling, continued research have enhanced the performance of RapidTool or DMLS tooling, thereby, narrowing the performance gap between RT and conventional hard tooling. Direct metal tooling processes have proven to signicantly impact the cost and lead-time required for producing prototype or production moulds. RP mould fabrication allows the incorporation of conformal cooling channels [40, 41] which can reduce injection cycle times, thereby, directly affecting part cost and production rates. Although RP moulds are mechanically weaker than conventional moulds due to porosity (510%), their performance is expected to match conventional moulds when employed for wax injection moulding. The less vigorous wax injection process involves temperatures and pressures of around 5560 C and 13 MPa as opposed to 200 C and 100 MPa for plastic injection allowing the preservation of tool life. Table 2 presents a list of commercialised RT solutions applicable for wax injection moulding. Laser sintering (LS) of metals LS is the pioneer and perhaps the most extensively work-on RP technique for fabricating structurally sound metal tooling. To date, two different metallic materials, namely, polymer coated and multi-phase metal powders have been commercialised under the RapidTool and DirectTool processes respectively. For RapidTool, LS is carried out on steel-based powders coated with a thin layer of polymeric binder material. The preheated binder melts upon exposure to CO2 laser resulting in coagulation of powders to form the required part. The completed green part is red inside a furnace for debinding and sintering. The sintered part is strengthened and densied by bronze inltration via capillaric action. To improve part quality, nishing operations can be conducted. LaserForm ST-100 (420 stain-

less steel-based powder), is the latest tooling material system offered to replace RapidSteel 2.0 and Copper Polyamide powders. LaserForm ST-100 tooling is reported to be fully dense after LS with surface roughness of 5 m Ra . RapidTool moulds have been successfully employed in both plastic [40, 42] and wax injection moulding. Reports claim that complex moulds are produced under 2 weeks and are capable of producing 50,000 to 100,000 parts [43]. Other RapidTool related works include Pham et al. [44] who investigated factors inuencing part accuracy and proposed an approach to optimise process parameters and investigations on the strengths of RapidTool parts and tooling [45, 47, 56]. A cost analysis by Dalgarno [48] based on RapidSteel tooling ascertained that signicant cost savings can be derived using RT over conventional tooling for injection moulding. The DirectTool process (EOS GmbH) employs the DMLS technique to sinter multiphase metal powder mixtures containing nickel, bronze and a copper-phosphate (Cu-P) uxing/deoxidation agent. A 200 W CO2 laser selectively delivers heat energy to induce liquid phase sintering via the melting of Cu-P particles [49]. Molten Cu-P occupies inter-particle voids and wets the bronze/nickel powders causing them to bind. With optimised process parameters, part shrinkage during sintering is minimised resulting in high dimensional accuracy of 0.05% plus 0.05 mm [14]. Surface roughness of untreated parts range between 1216 m Ra [50]. However, surface quality can improve signicantly (< 1 m Ra [51]) by shot peening (EOSs Micro Shot Peening), epoxy inltration and polishing. To increase part density, inltration with high temperature epoxy, tin, silver, etc. is conducted. Epoxy inltration is preferred as it has minimal effects on nal part accuracy unlike metal inltration, which may induce thermal strains. DirectSteel 50V 1, a steelbased powder mixture with no organic components, is the latest material offered by EOS in addition to DirectMetal (bronzebased) powder. With DirectSteel, inltration is unnecessary as parts produced are 95% dense, exhibit negligible shrinkage and are highly accurate. However, sintering of steel-based powders has to be conducted in a nitrogen atmosphere to inhibit oxidation. The DirectTool process is limited by the small build volume (250 250 150 mm3 ) of the EOSINT M RP system which limits part size. DirectTool has mainly been applied in fabricating

Table 2. List of commercialised direct RT techniques Process Layer thickness (mm) 0.75 N.A. N.A. N.A. 0.1 0.2 N.A. Surface roughness (m) Ra 5.0 (raw) 1 (treated) 1216 (raw) N.A. 12 (raw) 12.5 3050 m Rz Dimensional accuracy (mm) 0.1 0.05% + 0.05 0.1 0.13 0.05 0.020 Final part density (treated) 100% 95 100 100% N.A. N.A. Tool life (approx.)

RapidTool (steel) DirectTool (steel) ProMetal (3DP) LENS Direct AIM (polymer) Direct shell Production casting (DSPC)

100,000* 100,000* 100,000* 100,000* N.A. 1 (due to production of expendable shell)

Results based on gures obtained for plastic injection molding; wax injection molding should produce much higher gures. Sources: [14, 39, 44, 50]


complex mould inserts that are usually produced via conventional machining. DirectSteel moulds are capable of producing 100,000 injection moulded components. The immense potential of DMLS has increased research on a wide variety of metals [52] and metal compositions [5355]. These include steels, Ni-base superalloys, Ti and its alloys, refractory metals, bronze-Ni and cermets [56]. Other related works include Khaing et al. [50] and Agarwala et al. [57] who investigated the inuence of process parameters on physical and mechanical properties of bronze-Ni parts, Karapatis et al. [58] who demonstrated improvements in powder layer density using multimodel powders, and, Hauser et al. [59, 60] who investigated the inuence of scanning parameters and sintering atmosphere on part distortion and quality for single metal alloy powders. Another LS process developed is rapid mould (RM) [42]. RM is similar to RapidTool and uses the same powder stocks. However, unlike RapidTool, RM utilises epoxy inltration instead of bronze. Although RM production is cheaper and faster than RapidTool, RM moulds possess longer injection cycle times and are much weaker due to epoxy inltration and metal oxidation arising from the use of a simple air oven for debinding and sintering. 3D Printing of metals 3D Printing of metal components is pioneered by Sachs et al. [41, 61]. The ProMetal process (Extrude Hone Corp., PA) is based on 3D Printing whereby an electrostatic inkjet head selectively deposits minute droplets of binder onto successive thin layers of steel powders to form the required object. The porous green part is red inside a furnace for debinding and sintering. The resulting steel skeleton (60% dense) is fully densied via bronze inltration. The simplicity of inkjet printing results in relatively fast fabrication times and adaptability with a wide variety of metals including tool steel. Although inkjet printing has an accuracy of 0.025 mm, post-processing reduces part accuracy to 0.1 mm [16]. Laser generating (LG) LG is based on laser cladding technology [62], originally developed as a surface treatment process. LG produces metal parts by injecting a stream of metal powder into a molten metal pool at the focal zone of a high power Nd:YAG laser. Laser scanning is followed by solidication of molten metal to form fully dense structures that require no secondary post-processes. Accuracy and surface nish of untreated built parts are about 0.13 mm and 12 m Ra respectively. The use of an inert gas environment and powder delivery system prevents oxide formation. A variety of metals including tool steel and Ni-based super alloys can be used in LG. However, LG is limited to parts containing low geometric complexity (straight and simple features) due to the absence of a support system. Commercialised LG processes include laser engineered net shaping (LENS) process (Optomec Inc., NM). LENS produced tooling were reported to be capable of producing above 100,000 injection moulded components. Other LG-based processes developed include shape deposition modelling (SDM) [63], direct metal deposition (DMD) (Preci-

sion Optical Manufacturing (POM), Michigan), direct laser fabrication [64] and controlled metal build-up (CMB) [65]. Both SDM and CMB employ a milling cutter to shape each deposited layer to ensure atness for the deposition of successive layers. In addition, SDM incorporates a sacricial material support system to stabilise the part during building. CMB moulds are reported to have surface roughness between 35 m Rz and are estimated to be capable of producing up to 200,000 injection moulded components [66]. Others Other direct metal tooling processes being developed include Solidica (Solidica, Michigan), laminated tooling, FDM of semisolid metals [67] and multiphase jet solidication (MJS) [68]. The Solidica process produces metal parts by fusing and processing 0.1mm thick aluminium alloy tape using a hybrid approach that combines layered building and high-speed milling. Reported building accuracy is about 0.075 mm. For laminated tooling, metal tools are built by stacking laser or water-jet cut metal laminates together. Fusion between adjacent laminates is achieved via spot welding, bolts and nuts, adhesives, etc. Finishing via CNC and EDM machining is conducted to improve part quality. Examples of laminate tooling processes include computer-aided manufacturing of Laminated Engineering Materials (CAM-LEM) and Stratoconception. CAM-LEM (CAM-LEM Inc., OH) is capable of fabricating metal or ceramic tooling using pre-formed stainless steel or ceramic sheet material made from steel or ceramic powders that are held together using a binder. The green parts are red in a furnace to achieve full density. In the CAM-LEM process, shrinkage values of 1218% are typical. As such, scaling up of part designs is necessary for shrinkage compensation. For Stratoconception (CIRTES, France), highspeed micro-milling or laser machining is used to produce a set of elementary layers which are assembled by the insertion of stiffeners and plugs to form the required part. Stratoconception parts possess good surface nish and dimensional accuracy since stair stepping is eliminated by cutting sloped edges on each layer to conform to the shape of the required part and no shrinkage is encountered during processing. Other than these, the Stratoconception process is fast and requires no secondary processes. Direct fabrication of polymer/wood moulds . To date, extensive amounts of research have been conducted to study and evaluate polymer and wood tooling produced by commercialised RP systems. Wax injection moulds fabricated from SLA, FDM and LOM systems have been employed with varying degrees of success. FDM produced ABS moulds have to be inltrated with epoxy or aluminium lled epoxy before being utilised. The inltrant seals the porous surfaces and strengthens the ABS moulds, allowing successful employment for wax injection moulding at pressures and temperatures of 1.38 MPa and 66 C respectively [69]. For LOM paper or wood moulds, surface coating with a sealant is essential to improve wear and moisture resistance. A successful case study [70] reported the use of LOM moulds with injection pressures of 0.20.4 MPa and at a tem-


perature of 70 C to produce a series of wax patterns of an automotive axle bracket under a 2 1 2 week time frame. SL is perhaps the most extensively researched RP technique for producing injection moulds. The desire for increased mould accuracy drove the creation of the direct AIM (ACES injection moulding) process. Direct AIM uses the ACES (accurate clear epoxy solid) build style for fabricating polymer moulds on a SLA system. The process is straightforward and produces relatively accurate moulds. Polymer moulds have the advantage of the 80 C glass transition temperature which is much higher than the melting temperature of 5055 C for IC waxes, thereby, preserving mould rigidity during moulding. Other processes being developed to produce direct polymer tooling include the OptoForm process [71], which is capable of fabricating wax injection moulds from low cost acrylate lled resin. For purely non-metal tooling (epoxy, epoxy inltrated ABS, paper, etc.), their injection cycle times are much longer compared to conventional tooling due to the poorer thermal conductivity of non-metals. Although moulds with conformal cooling channels can be fabricated, improvements in cycle times are generally limited [37]. Non-metal tooling are weaker, less wear resistant and possess much shorter tool lives compared to their metal counterparts. As such, non-metal tooling containing ne features can be easily damaged by excessive injection pressures and mishandling. A caution to heed while using non-metal moulds is the application of release agents. Aerosol-based release agents containing carboxylic, ketones and aldheydes will attack the surfaces of RP parts [69] resulting in degradation of surface quality. As such, only silicone or talc-based release agents are recommended. Direct fabrication of ceramic IC shell . Direct fabrication of ceramic shells carries a greater advantage in terms of lead-time and cost savings due to the elimination of pattern production. Some added advantages [11] include the fact that the process involves minimal shell transfers thereby reducing the risk of damage while preserving dimensional tolerances. Also, for casting geometrically complex parts that require core inserts, any risk of core shift is eliminated as the shell and core are fabricated as a single structure. The exibility to adjust the ceramic shell thickness during RP fabrication allows some changes and degrees of control over the rate of heat transfer from the casting. RT processes capable of directly producing ceramic tooling are listed below. Direct shell production casting (DSPC) DSPC (Soligen Inc., CA) capitalise on the 3D printing technique for fabricating ceramic shells. In DSPC, alumina powders are held together through the spraying of colloidal silica binder. The completed shell is red prior to casting. Typical build accuracy is within 0.02 mm. DSPC allows the fast turn around of small quantities of fully functional castings produced from a wide selection of metals. Success achieved in using 3D-P ceramic shells is reported by Sachs et al. [11] where they are utilised for casting nickel superalloys at 1660 C. Shell shrinkage during ring is reported to be minimal.

Direct sintering of ceramics Fraunhofer-IPT is developing a direct ceramic shell production process via direct sintering of zirconium silicate powder [66] in an EOSINT M 160 RP system. The process selectively melts ceramic powder layers to form the shell. The completed shell can be directly utilised for casting upon cleaning and pre-heating. Surface quality is reported to be 3050 m Rz with accuracy well below 0.6%. Analyses carried out on successful castings indicate lead-time reductions of up to 95% from conventional IC. 4.2.2 Indirect RT approaches for mould fabrication All indirect RT approaches start with the fabrication of a RP pattern of the nal desired casting. The nished pattern is used to cast the required mould. As such, mould quality depends greatly on the quality of the RP patterns. Similar to conventional moulds, factors such as shrinkage of injected wax and casting requires compensation during the design and production of the RP patterns. These compensation factors are transferred to the mould during mould production. Table 3 presents the list of commercialised RT techniques utilising the indirect approach. Silicone rubber tooling In this process, a degassed liquid silicone and hardener mixture is cast around a RP pattern contained in a mould box. Runner and gating channels are incorporated by embedding ABS or perspex rods into the liquid silicone or by cutting the channels in the cured silicone block. Upon curing, the rods are removed to form through channels and the pattern is subsequently removed to form the mould cavity by cutting along the parting line. Silicone rubber tooling allows quick production of inexpensive multiple moulds for small and large parts with good part cosmetics. The process has been applied successfully for moulding wax patterns [20]. A typical silicone mould can produce between 100-300 patterns. IMI Rapid Prototyping, UK, has successfully produced in excess of 1000 wax patterns from a single silicone mould [19]. In an interesting piece of work conducted by Zhang et al. [72], ice sculptures produced using the Rapid Freezing process developed at Tsinghua University, China, are utilised as patterns to cast silicone moulds for wax pattern production. The ice sculptures can also be employed as IC patterns [73] with advantages of easy removal via melting and zero residual ash content.

Table 3. List of indirect RT approaches Process Dimensional accuracy (mm) Not applicable 0.02% N.A. 0.10.3% N.A. Tool life (approx.) 100 to 300 500,000 to 1,000,000* 10,000 to 100,000* > 200, 000 > 1, 000, 000

Silicone rubber tooling Epoxy resin tooling (PolySteel) Spray metal tooling Cast metal tooling Keltool tooling

Results based on plastic injection molding Sources: [14, 39, 50]


Epoxy resin tooling To produce epoxy resin moulds, the RP pattern is embedded in clay up to the pre-determined parting line. Runner and gating channels are formed by attaching ABS rods onto the pattern. The assembly is spray coated with release agent before liquid resin or a resin/aluminium powder mixture is cast around the pattern. Upon curing, the pattern is separated from the hardened mould half, cleaned and re-coated with release agent in preparation for casting the second mould half. Holes forming the alignment and locking features for the mould set are milled onto the surface of the existing mould half. Matching pegs will form on the second mould half by resin occupying the empty volume of these holes during casting. The prepared pattern is replaced onto the existing mould half and the procedures for casting are repeated. The formation of residual stresses between the two mould halves during curing will require the mould set to be heat treated before the halves are separated. Epoxy resin moulds have been successfully utilised for both plastic and wax injection moulding [36, 74]. The use of metal lled epoxy tooling material increases the durability and heat transfer characteristics of the mould. Additional cooling channels can be added by embedding copper coils into the resin body during casting. Commercially available tooling resins include EP250 tooling resin (MCP HEK-GmbH, Germany) and PolySteel (Dynamic Tooling, CA) which contain aluminium and steel llings respectively. PolySteel moulds are reported to be much stronger than aluminium resin tooling with a composition of approximately 90% steel by weight and dimensional accuracy of 0.02%. The surface nish of epoxy resin moulds is dependent on the quality of the RP pattern. PolySteel moulds have been successfully employed for wax injection moulding. Moulds cast from PolySteel II+, an improved version of PolySteel with zero shrinkage, are capable of producing 500,0001,000,000 plastic injected components. EcoTool is a process being developed by Danish Technological Institute (DTI) and TNO Institute of Industrial Technology, which can produce cast metal tooling for injection moulding using a tool steel powder/binder system [75]. The difference between EcoTool and metal lled epoxy resin tooling lies in the incorporation of a sintering and copper-based alloy inltration furnace cycle. Overall shrinkage encountered by EcoTool parts after the furnace cycle is around 0.10.3% depending on the metal powder and binder system used. Spray metal tooling To create a spray metal mould, minute droplets of molten metal such as tin-zinc, or steel are sprayed onto a RP pattern using an arc spray process [76]. The thin shell of deposited metal constitutes the mould surface. To strengthen the shell, a solid backing is cast around the shell using pure epoxy, metal-lled epoxy or low-melt alloy backll materials. With a proper choice of backll material and the incorporation of cooling channels, a spray metal mould exhibits good injection cycle times. Other advantages include the ability to cater for large moulds at relatively low costs, high tolerances due to minimal shrinkage encountered during and after the spraying process, and good

tooling life of approximately 10,000-100,000 injections [3]. Developed spray metal tooling processes include Fords SprayForm [77] and Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratorys (INEEL) rapid solidication process (RSP) tooling [78]. Cast metal tooling In this approach, expendable RP mould patterns are used to investment cast the production moulds in aluminium or steel. All benets derivable as mentioned in Section 4.1 can be realised with this approach. Its main disadvantages compared to other indirect RT processes are the relatively longer lead-times and lower levels of accuracy achievable due to additional steps taken in investment casting the mould. However, tight tolerances for critical features on the cast metal mould can be brought into specications with secondary machining operations or local inserts [79]. Depending on the metal used, cast metal tooling were estimated to be capable of producing several thousands to beyond 200,000 plastic components. Leyshon Miller Industries has utilised FDM fabricated wax patterns to successfully investment cast aluminium mould inserts. Using the process described, the company has reported turnaround times of 12 weeks for moulds with moderate size and complexity [80]. 3D Keltool tooling The 3D Keltool process (3D Systems Inc.) starts with an impression of the RP pattern created using silicone rubber tooling. The silicone mould is used to cast the required mould inserts from a tool steel powder and binder mixture. The cured green parts are red in a furnace to debind and sinter the steel powders. Sintered parts are inltrated with copper to produce fully dense structures with compositions of 70% steel and 30% copper. 3D Keltool mould inserts are limited to small product sizes and have an estimated life exceeding 1,000,000 shots in plastic injection moulding.

5 Discussion
The RP&T techniques discussed have been employed or are potentially benecial to the IC process. As such, this paper does not constitute an exhaustive list of developed or commercialised techniques. The immense demands for lower production costs and lead-time, higher part accuracy and performance have driven the impressive numbers of new techniques introduced annually. The Rapid Prototyping & Tooling Industrial Applications (RAPTIA) Newsletter indexed a staggering number of 30 techniques for producing injection moulds in 1999 [81]. Known and proven techniques are improved and enhanced for penetration into new application areas. With the current pace of developments, it is not outlandish to consider a closure in the gap and distinction between conventional and rapid tooling in future. IC is continually being revolutionised by RP&T technological breakthroughs. To date, RP&T has been applied to many IC applications ranging from the casting of jewellery (Fig. 6), sporting equipment and medical implants to high performance


parts utilised in injection moulding, die casting or the automotive and aerospace industries (Fig. 7). Figure 8 presents the process chains of conventional IC and the RP&T techniques. Most RP&T techniques described are still under development or have just been recently commercialised. As such, the success of tool production utilising any of the techniques relies heavily on training runs, accumulated experience, and the understanding and familiarisation of the toolmaker with the technique, its limitations and critical parameters. In most cases, in-depth eld verication has to be accomplished before long term condence in the techniques is realised. Despite the immense benets that can be achieved through RP&T techniques, rapid tools are still behind conventional tooling in terms of quality and performance. Issues pertaining to dimensional accuracy, surface quality and part durability need to be further addressed and improved.

5.1 Dimensional accuracy As RP techniques rely on CAD data for input, the accuracy of digital models created by the toolmaker can directly affect the outcome of the fabrication process. To create accurate patterns and tooling, a high level of prociency in shrinkage compensation factors, post-machining allowances and foundry requirements are pre-requisites to consider during the modelling process. Besides human factors, the CAD system used can sometimes be the limiting factor in the production of accurate digital representations of the required design and the conversion of native CAD data to data acceptable by RP systems (i.e., STL format). In STL format, the surfaces of modelled geometries are approximated by arrays of triangles (tessellation) whose sizes (chord length) are determined by the user. The setting of the chord length is often a compromise between the le size or the required amounts of computing resources necessary and the nal accuracy of the converted data. Besides this, STL les are prone to problems related to missing or reversed surfaces. To date, much research has been conducted by the authors [8285] and other researchers to address issues related to STL le repair and data interfacing. Alternative data formats to replace STL such as CLI [86] and SLC [87], which circumvent the tessellation process by directly slicing a CAD model to improve data accuracy have also been worked on. 5.2 Direct IC pattern production via RP For RP fabricated IC patterns, the surface nish of powder-based patterns (SLS, 3D-P) and residual ash content need to be improved. One possible solution may lie in the use of ner powders, which will allow thinner layers to be deposited, thereby, improving surface quality and stair stepping effects. However, a compromise between build time and part quality has to be achieved in order not to complicate the powder deposition process nor lengthen the build time. Alternatively, inltrants can be used to improve the properties of powder-based patterns. For patterns produced from liquid- and solid-based feed stock materials, the introduction of new build styles (QuickCast and sparse build) and building materials (waxes and organic thermoplastics) have led to casting success rate of close to 100% [27]. 5.3 Direct RT approaches for metal tooling production Most RP&T processes available for fabricating metal tooling require additional post-processing stages (debinding, sintering and inltration) to bring the metal tool to its fully dense state. To produce precise metal castings, nishing stages (machining and polishing stages) have to be added to processes in order to yield tooling that comply with specications. The nishing stage contributes signicantly to the nal accuracy and quality of the mould and as such, requires some amount of planning to achieve optimum results. All added processes increase the lead-time required for mould production. However, continued advances in laser generating (LG) and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS)

Fig. 6. Jewellery produced by IC (back) gold and platinum castings (front, LR) Al castings in cluster arrangement, MM II fabricated wax patterns. (Image courtesy of Ngee Ann Polytechnic)

Fig. 7. Aerospace component (left) QuickCast pattern (right) stainless steel casting. (Image courtesy of Ngee Ann Polytechnic)


Fig. 8. Comparison of conventional IC and RP&T process chains

techniques coupled with the introduction of low shrinkage powder compositions will allow the creation of fully dense metal moulds that require no post-processes. 5.4 Indirect RT approaches for non-metal tooling production Non-metal tooling produced by indirect RT processes are faster and much cheaper to fabricate compared to RP metal tooling. The indirect approaches are also generally much simpler and less stringent than direct approaches. As such, indirect RT approaches can be adopted with fewer efforts. However, non-metal tooling possess longer injection cycle times due to their high heat insulation properties, and exhibit poorer tool performance.

6 Conclusion
This review is aimed at presenting the various commercialised RP&T techniques and the research and development conducted to improve technologies that will directly benet the IC process. From the manufacturing perspective, RP, RT and IC are highly advanced manufacturing processes that can be applied in unison to provide product manufacturers with a competitive edge in the modern consumer market. Although RP&T technologies are developed with the hope of replacing conventional fabrication techniques, further improvements in current technologies are required before such hope can be realised. From the discussion, it


is obvious that each RP&T approach possesses its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Coupled with the fact that most of the techniques described are still in their infancy stages, there is no clear evidence as to which RP&T technique is the most benecial in terms of cost and lead-time required to produce a unit of the nal metal casting. As such, the user should evaluate his/her requirements and the capabilities of the various methods before deciding on the process.

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