Newswise — UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Guha Manogharan, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State, is embarking on a new research project that has the potential to transform the fundamentals of casting science by studying 3D design principles through the introduction of 3D sand printing.

This research will be fueled by Manogharan’s $504,000 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant, which is one of the most prestigious awards a young professor can earn. This five-year award supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education by establishing a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.

Sand casting is considered the oldest manufacturing process. It consists of pouring metal into sand molds where the molten metal fills the cavity of a part and solidifies into castings. 

According to the American Foundry Society, 90% of all durable parts involve metal casting and a person is usually never more than 10 feet away from an object created through metal casting, such as components found in pumps, cars, construction sites and machinery.

“Although sand casting is one of the most widely used manufacturing processes, the fundamental approach to sand casting has largely been unchanged for several decades,” Manogharan said. “On the other hand, additive manufacturing, specifically 3D sand printing, allows us to explore unparalleled design freedom to produce complex molds.”

By leveraging Manogharan’s unique experience in both traditional and advanced manufacturing techniques, he plans to bridge the fundamental knowledge gap between the oldest, sand casting, and the newest, additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D sand printing. Specifically, he plans to seamlessly integrate the emerging technology of AM by reimagining 3D-mold geometries to reduce defects that are common in the traditional sand-casting process. 3D sand printing is used to create complex large castings for automotive, defense, aerospace and naval applications, among others. 

“Sand casting is so widely used, other manufacturing processes are not going to replace it,” he said. “But we can strategically integrate the advantages offered by AM to help solve the fundamental challenges that still exist in casting.”

The traditional sand-casting process has a tendency to produce inherent defects such as porosity, trapped impurities and oxides, even under a completely controlled manufacturing environment. Ultimately, the quality and mechanical strength of the finished metal component is largely dependent on three factors in the casting process: how the metal is poured inside the mold, how the metal flows inside the mold (gating) and how metal is fed into the casting as it shrinks during cooling process (feeding). 

According to Manogharan, more than 90% of casting defects occur due to improper gating and feeding systems. 

“Now, we can reimagine all of these designs using 3D printing,” he said. “This award will enable me to start putting together the building blocks for a comprehensive, new set of design principles that can reduce the defects and improve the mechanical properties in sand-casted parts.”

This knowledge will be highly applicable to the foundries that currently produce sand-casting molds every day. Manogharan plans to actively work with Foundry Education Foundation, which is a network of certified universities, including Penn State, that advance and sustain the science of metal casting. He plans to share both research and educational outcomes with foundry educators from 30 universities across the United States, in order to integrate the new knowledge from this project into classrooms and foundries.

Manogharan hopes the eventual enhanced designs he is able to create using 3D printing will reach all corners of the casting industry. 

“This grant will enable me to transfer all my research findings to the foundries themselves and also the Penn State Commonwealth campuses and other FEF affiliated schools,” he said. “This really allows me to take the knowledge we’ll learn and transform it into educational and outreach opportunities.”  

In addition, the new knowledge and designs can be extended to other types of castings, since much of the research will be focused on optimizing the fundamental properties of melt flow.

But ultimately, the motivation for Manogharan in this project is to reinvigorate the technology and workforce responsible for this critical manufacturing industry. 

“I want to transform sand casting into a 21st century digital process by applying concepts like Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things into this vital industry,” he said. “I hope this will further engage the current workforce and encourage students to revisit casting as a career option.”