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Avoid the

Methylene
Blue Blues
One of the sand tests vital to your plant’s success is also one
of the most controversial in the industry.

Shea Gibbs, Senior Editor

T
he debate that ensued when meaning the operator can learn little
24 metalcasters and scientists from it. So, prior to the meeting that
got together for a meeting surprised Joyce in 2006, some in the
two years ago surprised Sarah industry had suggested that a new
Joyce, vice president of qual- standard should be applied to the test
ity and technology at Badger Mining to make the results consistent across
Corp., Berlin, Wis., and chairperson of all plants in the industry.
the industry sand committee that was “The methylene blue test was
hosting the discussion. developed in the late 60s, early 70s,
“It was one of the more lively meet- and people have been talking about
ings we’ve ever had,” she said. the variability since then,” said Jerry
The discussion was about a seem- Thiel, director of the Univ. of North-
ingly niche topic that amounts to a ern Iowa’s metalcasting center. “But
few pages in a several hundred page the strength of the test is the sheer
textbook: the methylene blue sand simplicity of the testing procedure. It
test. The procedure is important—it can be done with limited equipment
determines the amount of live clay and personnel.”
in a metalcaster’s sand system, a The metalcasting industry is to
significant number since some of the this day still engaged in debates over
clay in any system becomes dead (it whether the standards for the test
can’t take on any additional moisture) should be changed in an attempt to
after repeated use and sacrifices mold benefit the entire industry. But as long
strength—but it’s only one of six as you follow proper procedures and
tests experts recommend metalcasters avoid a few of the standard pitfalls,
perform on their sand systems on a you can obtain quality results from the
daily basis. methylene blue test and benefit your
Nevertheless, controversy sur- entire facility.
rounds the methylene blue test,
primarily due to the fact that results Performing the Test
vary widely between metalcasting The existing standard for perform-
facilities. Depending on your sand ing the methylene blue test will work
system, molding method and metals for your metalcasting shop. Contro-
poured, a live clay count of 4%-8% versy aside, once you have estab-
might be appropriate. If the test is not lished a consistent pattern of results
administered properly, the results can in your plant, outside results won’t
vary within one metalcasting facility, affect yours.

36 MODERN CASTING / December 2008


According to the American Foundry amount of live clay. The calibration the walls of your business. As long as
Society’s Mold and Core Test Hand- factor is found by dividing the original you avoid errors in the three areas that
book, you should first obtain and amount of methylene blue placed in have launched the discussions about
weigh in a beaker a 5 g sample of the mixture with the known percent the test’s variability, there will be no
dried molding sand from your facility’s clay in your sand mixture, which debating the quality of your results.
sand system. The sample should be includes both live and dead clay. Clay. There is no standard for clay.
representative of your sand system Finally, to find the percent live clay The naturally occurring substance
as a whole, meaning it should have in your system, divide the number of comes in a variety of forms, depending
roughly the same composition as any milliliters of methylene blue that were on where and when it is found on the
batch of sand you might use. Next, add added to the original solution into the face of the earth.
50 mL of 2% sodium pyrophosphate calibration factor. “It is very difficult to provide a stan-
to the sand in the beaker. Once that dard for a mined material,” Thiel said.
solution has been prepared, you can Why All the Fuss? “It was told to me a long time ago by
do one of two things to prepare the The controversy surrounding the a clay company that ‘God made it, we
sample to be mixed with the methylene methylene blue test should never enter just dig it up.’ Sometimes, the sample
blue solution—boil it for 10 minutes
or place it in an ultrasonic unit for
seven minutes.
The mixture is then ready to be
treated. First, add 80-90% of your
system’s estimated methylene blue re-
quirement, where 100% is the amount
of methylene blue that would bring
you to the endpoint of the testing
procedure. This number depends on
the amount of live clay your system
typically contains. A system with 7%
live clay, for example, would require
about 35 mL of methylene blue to reach
the endpoint (5 mL for each percent
live clay is a good general rule). The
starting point for this 7% system would
be about 28 mL. If you are unsure what
your typical percent live clay might be
the first time you perform the test, err
on the low side with about 20 mL of
methylene blue. Record the number of
milliliters used.
Stir the mixture for two minutes
with a mechanical or magnetic stirrer,
keeping the material in suspension
without splashing. Remove some of
the sample with a pipette and place
a drop on a sheet of Whatman #50
filter paper. If a blue-green halo
emerges around the blue dot that The methylene blue test
appears, you have begun with too determines how much
much methylene blue and must start live clay is in your sand
over with a lesser amount. system. Live clay has the
capacity to absorb water
If a halo does not emerge, you can and is the only clay in the
proceed by adding 1 mL of methylene system that contributes to
blue to the sand mixture, stirring for mold strength.
two minutes, and placing another drop
on the filter paper. Repeat this step
until you observe the blue-green halo,
then record the number of milliliters of
methylene blue that were added to the
original solution.
The results of the test are then cal-
culated by first finding a calibration
factor and then plugging that number
into an equation that determines the

MODERN CASTING / December 2008 37


doesn’t happen to be in air-tight amber
pure clay. And being
a sedimentary mate-
The Other Five containers to avoid
any deterioration by
The methylene blue test, while
rial, it is laid down subjective and sometimes contro- sunlight or evapora-
in layers, so clays versial, is only one of six tests that tion of the water
in the same deposit should be conducted on a regular in solution.
aren’t exactly the basis to ensure the quality of your Test Interpretation.
same throughout.” sand system and, ultimately, your Errors also can be
For this reason, castings. The others are: introduced into the
each and every met- 1. Compactibility methylene blue test
alcasting facility per- 2. Moisture Content when the operator
forming the methy- 3. Green Compressive attempts to interpret
lene blue test must do Strength the results.
an accurate calibra- 4. Permeability “The halo you
tion on their existing 5. Specimen Weight get at the endpoint
sample in order to can be subjective,
obtain meaningful depending on when
results. The industry cannot set the the operator thinks the halo occurs,”
standard for you. Zeigler said. “You can get a two or
To avoid errors when testing your three point difference.”
particular clay, be sure to select a Remember that the endpoint has
sample that is representative of the been reached as soon as the green-blue
rest of your sand system. According halo appears around the edge of the
to a paper by Daryl Hoyt, president of methylene blue dot on the filter paper.
Foundry Sand Technology, Marseilles, The operator does not have to wait for
Ill., lumps of clay or large non-clay a large ring; too much solution has been
particles can throw off the results of added to the mixture at this point, and
your test by a significant number of the results will be incorrect.
percentage points. If your test yields “The accuracy is in determining if
radically different results than you are the halo is there at all,” Thiel said.
used to getting, run the test again.
Methylene Blue Solution. The methy- Testing the Waters
lene blue solution itself also can be A group of metalcasters and scien-
difficult to standardize. The solution tists similar to the 24 that got together
can be prepared in-house or purchased that day back in 2006 are still at it
from a supplier, and both solutions can today. Working as a committee, they’re
encounter problems. in the conference room and the lab
Do-it-yourselfers must prepare their trying to perfect the test that has tested
methylene blue consistently to ensure their nerves.
their results point to real trends in their “That’s what our committee is talking
sand system. about, and we have several projects in
Purchased methylene blue can in- place to come up with a resolution,”
troduce unspecified solution strength Zeigler said. “We’re reviewing the total
into the test. Problems developing procedure, that’s on our docket right
from this concern can be avoided now. I’d be guessing what we’re going
with accurate calibration. to come up with.”
“It’s assumed through your cali- For now, metalcasters will have
bration that, even [if your methylene to rely on the existing standard for
blue is] on the weak side, it would have accomplishing the test. And as
still given you valid results if you did long as it’s done correctly, it fits the
the calibration procedure properly,” industry’s needs.
Thiel said. “There’s a lot more variation in the
Whether concocted in-house or test than there should be,” Joyce said.
purchased, methylene blue must be “This test is kind of art and science
handled carefully to ensure it maintains put together. But it’s a good indicator
constant solution strength. of active clay in the system, and it’s all
“[The solution] is dependent on we’ve got right now.” MC
how long you’ve had it,” said Mark
For More Information
Zeigler, director, Unimin Corp., Rock-
ford, Ill. “And if it’s kept in sunlight, “Methylene Blue Clay Test for Molding
Sand, Preblend and Bentonite—Supple-
it will deteriorate.” ment for Primary Calibration Material,”
Store your methylene blue solution B. Loh, 2008 AFS Transactions.

38 MODERN CASTING / December 2008