Casting vs 3D Printing. What to Choose?

by Mike Brooks | Last Updated: January 8, 2022

For centuries, casting has stood the test of time. It’s an extremely effective and reliable method of manufacturing parts.

Casting vs 3D Printing

Even so, an advanced industrial revolution, 3D printing has put its best foot forward, and foundries embraced it.

When you want to create high-quality parts, you may be torn between the two manufacturing techniques.

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This article provides you with the necessary details to help you make an informed decision about casting vs 3d printing.

What Is Casting?

Casting is a production process whereby molten metal is poured into a hollow mold space, left to cool, and solidify to form a part.

The size and the shape of the cavity must match that of the desired part or casting.

The most common casting material is metal. Others include plaster, concrete, clay, and epoxy.

This manufacturing method is ideal for complex shapes. It would be uneconomical if you use other methods like a fabrication to produce such parts.

Metal Casting vs 3D Printing: How to Choose?

As time is a factor to consider in any industrial process, additive manufacturing is ideal when you want to produce metal parts. Metal 3D printing is more time effective as compared to the conventional metal casting process in many ways.

While metal casting processes require you to design your metal parts, the feed head, the filling system, and create a mold, 3D printing is time-conscious. Additive manufacturing only needs a kick start while the rest of the process is automated.

Additionally, the post-casting process is still faster for metal 3D printing while it’s quite involving for the subtractive metal casting.

In traditional metal casting, you detach the filling system and feed head, manually remove the spilled liquid metal between molds, and end with a surface finish.

3D metal printing gives you full control over the casting process, which is not the case with traditional metal casting. If your printer crashes, you can quickly stop the process before any damage occurs.

In the case of conventional casting processes, you do not see what is happening in the molds.

As a result, the molten metal concreting inappropriately creates a risk, necessitating additional metal parts to the original design.

What Are The Investment Costs?

Investment costs are the expenses foundries or individuals incur throughout the casting process. These costs include material, labor, set up, and tooling costs.

Material cost refers to the amount of money you spend on raw materials (mostly plastics, metal, and metal alloys) required to make the parts. This cost varies depending on the region, industry trends, demand and supply, and the time of the year.

Labor cost is the expense you incur in paying wages to your workers. The workers are involved in pouring it into the mold and removing the finished parts from the mold.

Setup cost is incurred in setting up the machinery to start your casting process.

Tooling cost is the cost of tool wear when machining. Whether you incur low or high tooling costs will depend on the material and the tooling manufacturing process.

When to Use Die Casting and When to Use 3D Printing

3D printing is the ideal casting method to make plastic parts. These are characteristically precise parts that need 3D printing services. Die casting is not as suitable for plastics as for metals except for injection-mold high-quality plastic parts.

Consider using 3D printing when making small batches of 3D printed parts. Then, go for the die casting option if you are making many copies of a specific size and type of parts.

Many foundries have embraced the two casting methods. They use die casting for producing strong zinc and aluminum parts and other major operations. On the other hand, 3D printing does well in projects requiring more skills or low-quality part final product.

Benefits of Die Casting

1. Suitable for Mass Production

Die casting parts can be obtained within specified shapes and tolerance because they are made from die-casting molds.

Also, you can make multiple components without adding more tooling – little or no machining is required. With die casting, mass production is made easy.

2. Dimensional Stability and Accuracy

Die casting products are dimensionally steady and long-lasting and at the same time maintain close tolerance. These parts are also resistant to heat.

3. Weight and Strength

First, where plastic injection moldings and die-cast parts have similar dimensions, the parts are stronger. Secondly, their thin walls are lighter than other casting methods. Thirdly, these parts have an alloy’s strength and not a joining process as there is no welding of separate parts.

Benefits of 3D Printing Technology

Design Flexibility

The additive method allows more complex designs and prints as it has no design restrictions.

Quick Prototyping

3D printers create parts within a very short time thus, speeding up the prototyping process. Since each stage completes faster, design modification is more efficient.

Print on Demand

Since additive manufacturing allows you to print when the parts are needed, less space is required to store inventory. Also, 3D design files are virtually stored and can be located and printed when required.

Lightweight and Strong Parts

The main material for 3D printing is plastic which is lighter than the metal equivalent. You can use tailored materials to make heat resistant, water repellant, and higher strength parts.

Minimal Waste

The production process requires only the needed material, unlike the conventional methods where there is more waste as materials are cut from large non-recyclable chunks.

Can 3D Printing Replace Casting?

Due to the remarkable benefits of 3D printing, one may be quick to think that it could be an ideal replacement for casting. On the contrary, the additive method is a powerful addition to the traditional methods.

3D casting will do great with highly-complex, low-volume production components. As a result, it enhances greater design freedom and cost savings in mold and pattern production.

Even so, it’s not fit for large-scale part manufacturing, and thus the need to use both additive and conventional casting processes.

Is It Cheaper to Cast or 3D Print?

For die casting, the cost of raw material (die) makes it more expensive than 3D casting. However, the printing price per unit is much higher in additive manufacturing than in die casting. There is a need for occasionally cleaning and replacing parts in both cases, which increases the expenses.

In the case of injection molding, it will only be cheaper than additive manufacturing if you generate more than 100 parts. Otherwise, the method will be more expensive.

That results from the relatively unchanging cost per unit in 3D printing. The price is indirectly proportional to the number of pieces produced for injection molding.

3D printing’s ability to level the manufacturing costs for different parts makes it the cheaper option. It can quickly create patterns without requiring modified molds.

How Much Does a 3D Printed Cast Cost?

The new technology of 3D printing is doing great in the medical field. 3D printed casts are more comfortable than traditional flusters, making them ideal for bone treatment.

Though not yet in the market, the price of 3D printed casts is expected to range between $200 and $500. The high cost may be because the custom printing is new and beneficial.

No cause for alarm, though. The additive industry is laying its foundation in the foundry industry after which, the costs can lower.

Wrap Up

The youngest technology, 3D printing, has hit the foundry market with a boom. Having remarkable benefits to its users, one may think it replaces the traditional foundry methods, which is not the case.

In the real sense, the foundries need to embrace innovation and maintain conventional methods to make it through stiff competition.  Also, by modernizing 3D printing, foundries can overcome the limitation of conventional methods.

If manufacturers can boost their traditional foundry workflows with 3D printing, they can be more responsive to customer quests, invest less in hard tooling, and confirm design expenses effectively.

Michael Brooks is the founder of M3DZone.com. He sees a very bright future for 3D printing that's why his mission is to try and make this easy for everyone. Discover your hidden talent and creativity. You can follow here: Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest.