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Two Cost-effective Ways to Upgrade Your Casting Furnace

03 November 2021 /

Discover two cost-effective ways of upgrading your casting furnace operations and improving the efficiency of your vacuum precision investment casting process.

As running costs rise and many sites continue to ramp up operations post the UK national lockdowns, a new casting furnace represents a particularly sizable investment.

In some cases, the operational efficiencies and production potential unlocked by the vacuum precision investment casting (VPIC) process will still outweigh the initial capital investment associated with a new machine. For sites with existing VPIC systems, it may be more cost-effective in the current climate to consider upgrading your existing equipment.

With some systems costing in excess of £1m for the VPIC machine alone, what do those cost-effective solutions look like and how can VFE help you to set them up?

Find out more about our range of casting furnace products and services

Centralised furnace management and control

A furnace management and control system (FMCS) can be thought of as a set of electronic or mechanical devices that regulates other devices or systems by way of control loops.

As its name suggests, an FMCS is designed for use in vacuum furnaces (heating/brazing/melting/casting), diffusion bonders, vacuum drying ovens and atmospheric/air furnaces. Control systems for other machine types are also available, in this case, VPIC systems are essential to the vacuum precision investment casting process. 

Typically, a casting furnace control loop consists of a sensor, a controller and a final control element.

  1. The sensor reads the process variable or a related measurement

  2. The controller receives the signal from the sensor and then forwards it to instrumentation, to remote terminal units and to final control elements

  3. In the final control element, the process variable is adjusted to be kept constant at what is known as a set point

Upgrading a casting furnace with FMCS capabilities confers a range of benefits beyond the control applications. Most notably, it integrates a site’s casting furnaces with other third-party systems, opening up an array of possibilities in terms of efficiencies and cost savings.

Related read: 3 Ways to Reduce Heat Treatment Costs

Upgraded vacuum pump systems

At VFE, we understand that a pump is the ‘heart’ of virtually any system and is critical to its performance. In regards to VPIC systems specifically, both the melt and mould chambers are pumped using vacuum pumping groups.

How they work

The melt chamber is usually a three-stage system consisting of primary mechanical, booster and diffusion pumps to give 10-4mbar operation. The mould chamber has to be evacuated to 10-2mbar quickly, usually within 60-90 seconds for rapid process equiax casting. It achieves this through a large, two-stage pumping group of primary mechanical and booster pumps.

Many of the primary pumps for these applications are oil-based rotary pumps, but we’re now able to offer our customers a cost-effective alternative with superior operational benefits.

The benefits of upgrading to a dry vacuum pump

VFE’s parent company, Busch Vacuum Solutions, has developed a product called a dry vacuum pump, which retains a similar pump down speed as the oil-based pump and with the following advantages:

  • It offers an advanced screw design.

  • It uses a dry, contact-free operating principle.

  • It requires minimal maintenance.

  • It helps to minimise operating costs.

  • It produces less noise compared to its oil-based equivalent.

  • It has a lower vibration, essential for DS/SC machines.

Working with the Busch Group, VFE can carry out full vacuum pumping system upgrades for VPIC systems to help our customers drive up efficiencies and improve performance.

Learn more about VFE and Busch’s shared commitment to innovate

Keeping your casting furnace operations running

The VPIC process unlocks incredible manufacturing capabilities but the cost of a new machine will be more challenging for many sites to justify in the current climate. This doesn’t mean sites have to delay innovation or suffer inefficiencies, however. Upgrading even one of the two systems described above will help reduce operating costs and improve production, particularly if your current systems have reached the end of their life or no longer function.

Our expertise doesn’t stop at supplying and installing these systems. Because our FMCS solution was written and developed in-house, we have an extensive understanding of its capabilities and how to adapt it to suit your site’s operational requirements.

On top of improved management and efficiency of your investment casting processes, our FMCS product can also:

  • carry out centralised quality assurance (QA) processing (including automated cycle costing/buy-off reports)

  • individual part QA reports, even on multiple-part loads

  • quick response (QR) barcoding facilities

  • out-of-process alerts by email or SMS live as they occur

We also offer mechanical pump servicing, helping you to extend the life of your machines and ensure they’re always operating at peak performance. As standard, our mechanical pump servicing includes:

  • pump down testing

  • maintenance and repair of vacuum pumps

  • helium leak testing

Finally, VFE engineers can provide end-to-end maintenance services for any type of furnace. This can include all the required machine calibrations to keep your equipment both in good health and ensure it stays compliant with your standards.

For more information about our investment casting products and services, click the image below to download your copy of our VPIC service sheet.

Casting furnace services