3D printed sand moulds reinvigorate the casting industry by combining traditional manufacturing techniques with cutting edge technology.

The challenge

Developing higher value castings in a high-wage economy

Traditional castings can be cheaply mass-produced in lower wage countries. It's a labour intensive process which involves making separate moulds for each casting, which is removed from the mould after solidification by destroying the mould.

Foundries in Australia needed a point of difference for survival against global competition: the ability to create complex and high value castings with advanced performance and assured quality.

CSIRO Ball and 3D printed sand castings

Our response

Partnering with Swinburne University of Technology

CSIRO's Voxeljet 3D sand printer offers exactly the sort of flexibility required to develop high value castings. It's the only 3D sand printer presently available in Australia and uses additive manufacturing techniques that build complex structures, layer by layer.

The Voxeljet can print moulds that support geometrical forms such as undercuts and reverse-tapers, which cannot be designed with traditionally made sand moulds. As a result, complex castings can be poured from these moulds to create one unified casting. Instead of having to make several castings and join them manually, we can do it all in the one step and without the need for welding or bolts to combine parts. This saves money, reduces weight and lowers transportation costs.

Our partnership with Swinburne University of Technology brings fresh perspectives to the development of innovative products and processes, while providing 3rd year Industrial Design students industry-based learning opportunities.

Swinburne student Hasitha Bandara, for instance, recently developed a structure that cannot be made by traditional manufacturing methods alone.

Introducing the CSIRO Ball.

[Music plays and CSIRO logo appears on screen]

[Image changes to show Hasitha Bandara, Industrial Trainee]

Hasitha Bandara: My name’s Hasitha Bandara and I’m a third year industrial design student from Swinburne University. For the past few months I’ve been working at CSIRO’s Lab 22,

[Image changes to show the camera panning around inside Lab 22]

which is an additive manufacturing centre. The machinery I’m using is called the Voxeljet.

[Image changes to show the Voxeljet in action]

It’s a 3D printer which builds complex sand moulds layer, by layer. It’s held together with a binder that is deposited from an inkjet printer head.

[Image has changed back to Hasitha]

My project focuses on combining traditional techniques, with the sophisticated abilities of 3D sand printing, it’s all culminated into the CSIRO ball.

[Camera pans over a row of completed CSIRO balls]

It combines engineering and artistic design, and it’s near impossible to make through traditional methods alone.

[Image has changed back to Hasitha]

After a sand mould has been 3D printed and assembled, liquid aluminium is poured into the mould and is allowed to set, which creates a casting.

[Image changes to show Hasitha brushing casting sand out of a mould]

It can then be baked at 450-degrees, which allows the sand to crumble by dissipating the binder. All that’s left after the process is the aluminium ball.

[Image changes to show Hasitha holding a silver ball up to the camera]

The beauty behind this piece is that the two hemispheres can rotate independently.

[Image changes to show Hasitha gentling twisting the CSIRO ball]

It’s a self-made assembly and doesn’t require any further joining of the two hemispheres.

[Image has changed back to Hasitha]

The CSIRO ball is a representation of CSIRO’s ability to push the boundaries of what is possible.

[Image changes to show the CSIRO ball next to another casting]

Only when you look inside the ball are the hidden intricacies and details found. With the hidden tree structure inside holding the globe together, which represents a hundred years of research that CSIRO is committed to.

[Music plays and CSIRO logo appears with text: Australia’s innovation catalyst]

CSIRO Ball - Traditional casting methods meet 3D sand printing

The results

Traditional casting methods meet 3D sand printing

The CSIRO Ball is about the size of a cricket ball with two aluminium hemispheres that were cast together and rotate on each other, but do not come apart.

Hasitha designed a unified cast part that behaves as an assembly, despite being poured as a single casting. This process brings together the traditional manufacturing process (casting) with the new 3D sand printing process.

A sand mould was first printed on the Voxeljet. Then once fully hardened, aluminium at 700°C was poured into the mould. It was allowed to cool and the outer sand mould was broken away (the sand is recyclable). Once dusted away, all that was left was the aluminium globe.

The process of the planning, prototyping, printing and casting, and final product of the CSIRO Ball.

The CSIRO/Swinburne partnership is great for students who can think conceptually, but need to understand the boundaries of the manufacturing process and be creative.

— Hasitha Bandara, 3rd year Industrial Design Student from Swinburne University of Technology

Justin Yuan's 3D printed lamp and chair

A previous Swinburne industrial design student, Justin Yuan, also developed a lamp and stool with the Voxeljet.

Do business with us to help your organisation thrive

We partner with small and large companies, government and industry in Australia and around the world.

Contact us

Have a question? Contact us using the form below, or call 1300 363 400 during business hours, .

Your contact details

First name must be filled in

Your enquiry*

We'll need to know what you want to contact us about so we can give you an answer.

Please tell us how you heard about CSIRO