Lost Foam Casting
Lost-foam casting (LFC) is a type of evaporative-pattern casting process that is similar to investment casting except that the is used for the pattern instead of wax. The LFC process takes advantage of the low boiling point of foam to simplify the investment casting process by removing the need to melt the wax out of the mold.
First, usually a pattern is made from polystyrene foam, which can be done by many different ways. For small volume runs the pattern can be hand cut or machined from a solid block of foam. If the volume is large, then the pattern can be mass-produced by a process similar to injection molding. Pre-expanded beads of polystyrene are injected into a preheated aluminum mold usually at low pressure. Steam is then applied to the polystyrene which causes it to expand more to fill the die. The final pattern is approximately most of air (around 97.5%) air and more or less polystyrene (2.5%). Pre-made pouring basins, runners, and risers can be hot glued to the pattern to finish it.
Next, the foam cluster is coated with ceramic investment, also known as the refractory coating, via dipping, brushing, spraying or flow coating. This coating creates a barrier between the smooth foam surface and the coarse sand surface. Secondly it controls permeability, which allows the gas created by the vaporized foam pattern to escape through the coating and into the sand. Controlling permeability is a crucial step to avoid sand erosion. Finally, it forms a barrier so that molten metal does not penetrate or cause sand erosion during pouring. After the coating dries, the cluster is placed into a flask and backed up with un-bonded sand. The sand is then compacted using a vibration table. Once compacted, the mold is ready to be poured. Automatic pouring is commonly used in LFC, as the pouring process is significantly more critical than in conventional foundry practice.
There is no bake-out phase, as for lost-wax. The melt is poured directly into the foam-filled mold, burning out the foam as it pours. As the foam is of low density, the waste gas produced by this is relatively small and can escape through mold permeability, as for the usual outgassing control.