Die casting is a manufacturing process for producing accurately dimensioned, sharply defined, smooth or textured-surface metal parts. It is accomplished by forcing molten metal under high pressure into reusable metal dies. The process is often described as the shortest distance between raw material and finished product. The term, “die casting,” is also used to describe the finished part.
The term “gravity die casting” refers to castings made in metal molds under a gravity head. It is known as permanent mold casting in the U.S.A. and Canada. What we call “die casting” here is know as “pressure die casting” in Europe.
First, a steel mold capable of producing tens of thousands of castings in rapid succession must be made in at least two sections to permit removal of castings. These sections are mounted securely in a machine and are arranged so that one is stationary (fixed die half) while the other is moveable (injector die half). To begin the casting cycle, the two die halves are clamped tightly together by the die casting machine. Molten metal is injected into the die cavity where it solidifies quickly. The die halves are drawn apart and the casting is ejected. Die casting dies can be simple or complex, having moveable slides, cores, or other sections depending on the complexity of the casting.
The complete cycle of the die casting process is by far the fastest known for producing precise non-ferrous metal parts. This is in marked contrast to sand casting which requires a new sand mold for each casting. While the permanent mold process uses iron or steel molds instead of sand, it is considerably slower, and not as precise as die casting.
There are several ways to tell what type of die casting or molding process is best for your needs, using several criteria. See Premier’s General Die Casting Design Data Sheet for more information.
Regardless of the type of machine used, it is essential that die halves, cores and/or other moveable sections be securely locked in place during the casting cycle. Generally, the clamping force of the machine is governed by (a) the projected surface area of the casting (measured at the die parting line) and (b) the pressure used to inject metal into the die. Most machines use toggle type mechanisms actuated by hydraulic cylinders (sometimes air pressure) to achieve locking. Others use direct acting hydraulic pressure. Safety interlock systems are used to prevent the die from opening during the casting cycles.
Die casting machines, large or small, vary fundamentally only in the method used to inject molten metal into the die. These are classified and described as either hot or cold chamber die casting machines.
Hot chamber machines are used primarily for zinc, and low melting point alloys which do not readily attack and erode metal pots, cylinders and plungers. Advanced technology and development of new, higher temperature materials has extended the use of this equipment for magnesium alloys. Figure 1: Hot Chamber Machine. Diagram illustrates the plunger mechanism which is submerged in molten metal. Modern machines are hydraulically operated and equipped with automatic cycling controls and safety devices.
In the hot chamber machine, the injection mechanism is immersed in molten metal in a furnace attached to the machine. As the plunger is raised, a port opens allowing molten metal to fill the cylinder. As the plunger moves downward sealing the port, it forces molten metal through the gooseneck and nozzle into the die. After the metal has solidified, the plunger is withdrawn, the die opens, and the resulting casting is ejected.
Hot chamber machines are rapid in operation. Cycle times vary from less than one second for small components weighing less than one ounce to thirty seconds for a casting of several pounds. Dies are filled quickly (normally between five and forty milliseconds) and metal is injected at high pressures (1,500 to over 4,500 psi). Nevertheless, modern technology gives close control over these values, thus producing castings with fine detail, close tolerances and high strength.
Cold chamber machines differ from hot chamber machines primarily in one respect; the injection plunger and cylinder are not submerged in molten metal. The molten metal is poured into a “cold chamber” through a port or pouring slot by a hand or automatic ladle. A hydraulically operated plunger, advancing forward, seals the port forcing metal into the locked die at high pressures. Injection pressures range from 3,000 to over 10,000 psi for both aluminum and magnesium alloys, and from 6,000 to over 15,000 psi for copper base alloys.
Figure 2: Cold Chamber Machine. Diagram illustrates die, cold chamber and horizontal ram or plunger (in charging position).
In a cold chamber machine, more molten metal is poured into the chamber than is needed to fill the die cavity. This helps sustain sufficient pressure to pack the cavity solidly with casting alloy. Excess metal is ejected along with the casting and is part of the complete shot.
Operation of a “cold chamber” machine is a little slower than a “hot chamber” machine because of the ladling operation. A cold chamber machine is used for high melting point casting alloys because plunger and cylinder assemblies are less subject to attack since they are not submerged in molten metal.
Die casting dies are made of alloy tool steels in at least two sections called fixed die half and ejector die half. The fixed die half is mounted on the side toward the molten metal injection system. The ejector die half, to which the die casting adheres, and from which it is ejected when the die is opened, is mounted on the moveable platen of the machine.
The fixed die half of the die is designed to contain the sprue hole through which molten metal enters the die. The ejector half usually contains the runners (passage ways) and gates (inlets) which route molten metal to the cavity (or cavities) of the die. The ejector half is also connected to an ejector box which houses the mechanism for ejecting the casting from the die. Ejection occurs when pins connected to the ejector plate move forward to force the casting from the cavity. This usually occurs as part of the opening stroke of the machine. Placement of ejector pins must be carefully arranged so force placed upon the casting during ejection will not cause deformation. Return pins attached to the ejector plate return this plate to its casting position as the die closes.
Fixed and moveable cores are often used in dies. If fixed, the core axis must be parallel to the direction of die opening. If moveable, they are often attached to core slides. Should the side of a die casting design require a depression, the die can be made with one or more slides to obtain the desired result without affecting ejection of the casting from the die cavity. All moveable slides and cores must be carefully fitted, and have the ability to be securely locked into position during the casting cycle. Otherwise, molten metal could be forced into their slideways causing a disruption of operations. Although slides and cores add to the complexity and cost of die construction, they make it possible to produce die castings in a wide variety of configurations, and usually more economically than any other metalworking process.
Dies are classified as: single cavity, multiple cavity, combination and unit dies.
A single cavity die requires no explanation. Multiple cavity dies have several cavities which are all identical. If a die has cavities of different shapes, it’s called a combination or family die. A combination die is used to produce several parts for an assembly. For simple parts, unit dies might be used to effect tooling and production economies. Several parts for an assembly, or for different customers, might be cast at the same time with unit dies. One or more unit dies are assembled in a common holder and connected by runners to a common opening or sprue hole. This permits simultaneous filling of all cavities.