Digitalization and automation - often referred to collectively as Industry 4.0 - are sweeping through everyday life in all sorts of companies. Even the most traditional of sectors can't hold out against progress forever - take the casting industry, for example. The BLANK Group first started developing an automated casting process a number of years ago. However, it was only at the end of 2018 that it finally produced its first successful castings with an automated system. Over the past two years, this system has been continuously improved and today comprises two robots that handle both the ceramic shell and the melt, working in parallel to complete the casting process together.

Ralf Jedrysiak, head of the casting production section at BLANK, is confident that this approach is unique in the world: "The aim was to take make life easier for our employees in this physically demanding work area. In addition, the standardization of the processes enables a repeatability that benefits quality and speed." Only a single production employee is needed to control the newly created automated cell during series production. First, this employee is responsible for supplying the shells, which are preheated in a circular furnace inside the cell while the melt is prepared for casting at the same time. Once the liquid metal has been checked by the in-house metallurgical laboratory, the casting process can begin. The employee starts the process outside the casting cell by pressing a button. From this point on, the robots work completely autonomously within the closed-off production area.

According to Jedrysiak, the production cell, which is the product of close collaboration between the casting technology department and the company’s own plant planning department, is a pioneering step forward for new machine technologies in the casting process. Product and process engineer Bartosz Debek was part of this development process from the very beginning: “The challenge was especially the handling of the shell by the robots in conjunction with the high temperature during the casting process. We first had to get a feeling for the robots and their movements and adapt them to suit the materials involved, such as the sensitive shell and the hot metal.” Everything had to be planned and adjusted in intricate detail, from the shell and the coordination of the robots to the infeed of the melt and the automated placement of the shells. BLANK now considers its development ready for series production, as Jedrysiak explains: “We have since expanded the concept and can use it for a variety of tree structures. We can already cover the same variety of alloys with the casting robots that we can in atmospheric casting. Nevertheless, the robot cell still offers scope for expansion and optimization concepts.” For example, the development department is currently working on refining the gripping concept and automating the necessary logistics activities.

FEINGUSS BLANK GmbH (88499 Riedlingen, Germany)