An image of an orange, translucent glowing quartz rod. Thermocouples can be seen at intervals along the rod looking in.

Industrial Solar Heat Hits 1000˚C

While electricity generation has been the star of the energy transition show, about half of the world’s energy consumption is to make heat. Many industrial processes rely on fossil fuels to reach high temps right now, but researchers at ETH Zurich have found a new way to crank up the heat with a solar thermal trap. [via SciTechDaily]

Heating water for showers or radiant floor systems in homes is old hat now, but industrial application of solar power has been few and far between. Part of the issue has been achieving high enough temperatures. Opaque absorbers can only ever get as hot as the incident surface where the sun hits them, but some translucent materials, like quartz can form thermal traps.

In a thermal trap, “it is possible to achieve temperatures that are higher in the bulk of the material than at the surface exposed to solar radiation.” In the study, the researchers were able to get a 450˚C surface to produce 1,050˚C interior temperature in the 300 mm long quartz rod. The system does rely on concentrated solar power, 135 suns-worth for this study, but mirror and lens systems for solar concentration already exist due to the aforementioned electrical power generation.

This isn’t the only time we’ve seen someone smelting on sunlight alone, and you can always do it less directly by using a hydrogen intermediary. If you’re wanting a more domestic-level of heat, why not try the wind if the sun doesn’t shine much in your neighborhood?

Lost Foam Casting In Action

Even though not all of us will do it, many of us are interested in the art of casting metal. It remains a process that’s not out of reach, though, especially for metals such as aluminium whose melting points are reachable with a gas flame. The video below the break takes us through the aluminium casting process by showing us the lost-foam casting of a cylinder head for a BSA Bantam motorcycle.

The foam pattern is CNC milled to shape, and the leftover foam swarf is removed with a hot wire. The pattern is coated with a refractory coating of gypsum slurry, and the whole is set up in a tub packed with sand. We get the impression that the escaping gasses make this a tricky pour without an extra sprue, and indeed, they rate it as not perfect. The cooling fins on the final head are a little ragged, so it won’t be the part that goes on a bike, but we can see with a bit of refining, this process could deliver very good results.

For this pour, they use a gas furnace, but we’ve seen it done with a microwave oven. Usually, you are losing wax, not foam, but the idea is the same.

Continue reading “Lost Foam Casting In Action”

The Die Is Cast!

We all know the basics of how metal casting works, a metal is heated up to melting point and the resulting liquid metal is poured into a mold. When the metal sets, it assumes the shape of the mold. It’s a straightforward way to reliably replicate a metal item many times over, and the basics are the same whether the metal is a low-temperature alloy in a silicone mould or a crucible of molten steel poured into a sand mould.

The mould is black sand in a cast iron box, and the pattern piece is half submerged in it
A sand mould being formed around a pattern. Lukas Stavek, CC BY-SA 3.0 .

What we all understood as casting in our conversation was sand casting. Sand is packed around a pattern of the piece to be cast, and then the pattern is removed leaving a cavity in its shape which becomes the mould. There are refinements to this process and the mould is frequently formed in two halves, but it’s something that’s even practical to do in a hackerspace level setting.

A refinement of sand casting is so-called lost-wax casting, in which a hollow wax model of the piece to be cast is packed around with sand, and when the metal is poured onto the top of it the wax melts and the wax is melted out before pouring the metal in to take its place. A variation on this appears here from time to time, so-called lost-PLA casting, where the wax model is replaced with a PLA 3D print.

Injection Molding For Metals

Diagram of a die casting machine
A die casting machine. Ahmed elbhje, Public domain.

Where our confusion crept in was with die casting. We could recognise a die-cast piece, but just what is die-casting, and how is a die-casting made? The answer there lies in mass-production, because a snag with sand casting is that  a sand mould can be labour intensive to produce. Much better to come up with a quick-turnaround process that re-uses the same mould over and over, and save all that time!

Enter the die-casting, to metalwork what injection moulding is to polymers. The die is a mould made out of metal, usually with liquid cooling, and the casting is done not by pouring but by forcing the molten metal into the mould under pressure. The whole process becomes much quicker, meaning that it can become a piece of process machinery spitting out castings rather than a labour-intensive individual task. The metals used for die-casting are the lower temperature ones such as aluminium, zinc, and their alloys, but  you will find die-castings in all conceivable places.

It’s obvious that Hackaday editors are not experienced foundrymen even if some of us grew up around metalwork, but we know that among our readers lie genuine experts in all sorts of fields. If that’s you and you operate a die-casting machine, please take a moment to tell us about it, we really would like to know more!

Header: Constantin Meunier, Public domain.

Smelting Solar Style

If you attended the 2022 Supercon, you might have heard the story about the SMD soldering challenge table nearly catching on fire. A magnifying lamp caught the sun just right and burned a neat trench into another lamp’s plastic base. While disaster was averted, [Jelle Seegers] does this on purpose using a huge 5-meter lens to smelt metal.

The Design Academy Eindhoven student is participating in Dutch Design Week and built the machine which is able to manually track the sun to maximize the amount of solar energy applied to the metal.

Continue reading “Smelting Solar Style”

3D Printed Molds For Casting Rose’s Metal

Have you ever played with Rose’s metal? It’s a fusible alloy of bismuth, lead, and tin with a low melting point of around 100 °C. Historically, it’s been used as a solder for cast iron railings and things, and as a malleable pipe filler material to prevent crimping while a pipe is bent.

[Ben Healey] has been playing around with Rose’s metal and some PETG printed molds, making everything from Star Wars Imperial credits to chess pieces to leather stamping tools. In the video after the break, [Ben] takes us through the process, beginning with mold-making from STLs — something he picked up from another YouTuber.

He recommends adding registration marks to multi-part molds in order to keep everything lined up, and adding a small recess in the seam for easy separation with a flat-head screwdriver. So far, the molds have held up to multiple pours, though [Ben] did print them rather thick and is glad he did.

As far as making liquid metal, [Ben] used a cast iron pot with a convenient pour spout, and a blowtorch. He added graphite powder to the molds in an effort to make them give up the goods more easily. To finish the pieces, [Ben] cut the flashing with tin snips and used sandpaper and a Dremel to smooth the edges. Copper plating didn’t work out, but [Ben] is going to try it again because he thinks he screwed something up in the process. He’s also going to try printing with TPU, which we were just about to recommend for its flexibility.

There are many ways to cast metal on the (relatively) cheap. Have you considered Kinetic Sand?

Continue reading “3D Printed Molds For Casting Rose’s Metal”

A flip-top foundry for metal casting

Flip-Top Foundry Helps Manage The Danger Of Metal Casting

Melting aluminum is actually pretty easy to do, which is why it’s such a popular metal for beginners at metal casting. Building a foundry that can melt aluminum safely is another matter entirely, and one that benefits from some of the thoughtful touches that [Andy] built into his new propane-powered furnace. (Video, embedded below.)

The concern for safety is not at all undue, for while aluminum melts at a temperature that’s reasonable for the home shop, it’s still a liquid metal that will find a way to hurt you if you give it half a chance. [Andy]’s design minimizes this risk primarily through the hands-off design of its lid. While most furnaces have a lid that requires the user to put his or her hands close to the raging inferno inside, or that dangerously changes the center of mass of the whole thing as it opens, this one has a fantastic pedal-operated lid that both lifts and twists. Leaving both hands free to handle tongs is a nice benefit of the design, too.

The furnace follows a lot of the design cues we’ve seen before, starting as it does with an empty party balloon helium tank. The lining is a hydrid of ceramic blanket material and refractory cement; another nice safety feature is the drain channel cast into the floor of the furnace in case of a cracked crucible. The furnace is also quite large, at least compared to [Andy]’s previous DIY unit, and has a sturdy base that aids stability — another plus in the safety column.

Every time we see a new furnace design, we get the itch to start getting into metal casting. And with the barrier to entry as low as a KFC bucket or an old fire extinguisher, why not give it a try? Although it certainly pays to know what can go wrong before diving in.

Continue reading “Flip-Top Foundry Helps Manage The Danger Of Metal Casting”

Making A Bronze Cannon From Scratch

Casting metal at home is somewhat tricky, but there’s no denying the results can be quite rewarding. [FarmCraft101] put his incredible craftsmanship on display, and learned a few new things in the process, by scratch building a scale replica bronze cannon and carriage.

Starting with a sufficient quantity of scrap metal, he first produced bronze ingots. Getting the actual casting right took multiples attempts. First tried a lost foam cast, which failed miserably, but provided a sample metal which was put through tensile strength testing. The second attempt was done using a wood barrel form and a split mold, and was cast horizontally which resulted in shrinkage on top of the barrel. The third attempt, arranged vertically, almost resulted in a high risk game of “the floor is lava”, with molten bronze pouring out across his garage floor after the mold split open during casting.

Attempt number four was finally successful, again using a vertical mold but with more sturdy clamping. This roughcast barrel was then drilled out and finished to a beautiful mirror with the help of a lathe and a lot of elbow grease. He then turned his attention to the carriage, which itself is a real beauty featuring custom wagon wheels with a charred wood finish and linseed oil coating.

You can check out the build video after the break, but we’ll warn you now, [FarmCraft101] never actually fires this gorgeous creation. If you’d like to try your hand at DIY cannoneering and have a 3D printer, you might want to give lost PLA casting a try, or go into mass production with some DIY silicone molds.

Continue reading “Making A Bronze Cannon From Scratch”