What is Die Casting?

The process whereby molten metal is injected into a steel mold under high pressure (1,450-30,500psi) allowed to solidify in the shape inside the mold, and then removed producing a fabricated object, part, or casing. This results in a more uniform part, generally good surface finish and good dimensional accuracy. Casting is often used for creating one or more copies of an original piece.

Die Casting History

The earliest examples of die casting by pressure injection – as opposed to casting by gravity pressure – occurred in the mid-1800s. A patent was awarded to Sturges in 1849 for the first manually operated machine for casting printing type. The process was limited to printer’s type for the next 20 years, but development of other shapes began to increase toward the end of the century. By 1892, commercial applications included parts for phonographs and cash registers, and mass production of many types of parts began in the early 1900s.

The first die casting alloys were various compositions of tin and lead, but their use declined with the introduction of zinc and aluminum alloys in 1914. Magnesium and copper alloys quickly followed, and by the 1930s, many of the modern alloys still in use today became available.

The die casting process has evolved from the original low-pressure injection method to techniques including high-pressure casting — at forces exceeding 4500 pounds per square inch — squeeze casting and semi-solid die casting. These modern processes are capable of producing high integrity, near net-shape castings with excellent surface finishes.

The Future of Die Casting

Refinements continue in both the alloys used in die casting and the process itself, expanding die casting applications into almost every known market. Once limited to simple lead type, today’s die casters can produce castings in a variety of sizes, shapes and wall thicknesses that are strong, durable and dimensionally precise.

The Advantages of Die Casting

Die casting is an efficient, economical process offering a broader range of shapes and components than any other manufacturing technique. Parts have long service life and may be designed to complement the visual appeal of the surrounding part. Designers can gain a number of advantages and benefits by specifying die cast parts.

High-speed production – Die casting provides complex shapes within closer tolerances than many other mass production processes. Little or no machining is required and thousands of identical castings can be produced before additional tooling is required.

Dimensional accuracy and stability – Die casting produces parts that are durable and dimensionally stable, while maintaining close tolerances. They are also heat resistant.

Strength and weight – Die cast parts are stronger than plastic injection moldings having the same dimensions. Thin wall castings are stronger and lighter than those possible with other casting methods. Plus, because die castings do not consist of separate parts welded or fastened together, the strength is that of the alloy rather than the joining process.

Multiple finishing techniques – Die cast parts can be produced with smooth or textured surfaces, and they are easily plated or finished with a minimum of surface preparation.

Simplified Assembly – Die castings provide integral fastening elements, such as bosses and studs. Holes can be cored and made to tap drill sizes, or external threads can be cast.

Die Casting Process

The basic die casting process consists of injecting molten metal under high pressure into a steel mold called a die. Die casting machines are typically rated in clamping tons equal to the amount of pressure they can exert on the die. Machine sizes range from 400 tons to 4000 tons. Regardless of their size, the only fundamental difference in die casting machines is the method used to inject molten metal into a die. The two methods are hot chamber or cold chamber. A complete die casting cycle can vary from less than one second for small components weighing less than an ounce, to two-to-three minutes for a casting of several pounds, making die casting the fastest technique available for producing precise non-ferrous metal parts.
Die Casting vs. Other Processes

Die casting vs. plastic molding – Die casting produces stronger parts with closer tolerances that have greater stability and durability. Die cast parts have greater resistance to temperature extremes and superior electrical properties.

Die casting vs. sand casting – Die casting produces parts with thinner walls, closer dimensional limits and smoother surfaces. Production is faster and labor costs per casting are lower. Finishing costs are also less.

Die casting vs. permanent mold – Die casting offers the same advantages versus permanent molding as it does compared with sand casting.

Die casting vs. forging – Die casting produces more complex shapes with closer tolerances, thinner walls and lower finishing costs. Cast coring holes are not available with forging.

Die casting vs. stamping – Die casting produces complex shapes with variations possible in section thickness. One casting may replace several stampings, resulting in reduced assembly time.

Die casting vs. screw machine products – Die casting produces shapes that are difficult or impossible from bar or tubular stock, while maintaining tolerances without tooling adjustments. Die casting requires fewer operations and reduces waste and scrap.