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RAPID PROTOTYPING

What Does the Future Hold for Prototype Casting? Meet the Trends That Might Define It

Jon Cooper

Those who operate in the world of prototype casting have never shied away from a challenge, particularly those raised by the automotive industry. A collective drive for innovation has continually improved and modernized this ancient technique, using it for everything from prototyping to mass production. But what comes next? The rise of two key trends might well decide that in 2021 and beyond.

The year of e-mobility

It should come as no surprise — after all, the introduction of vehicles powered by renewable sources is not a new idea. However, as technology advances and the popularity of e-mobility manufacturers such as Tesla reaches new heights, 2021 may be the year that consumers start to look at electric vehicles as a feasible alternative in far greater numbers.

 

But what does this mean for prototype casting? 

 

Simply put, it's just the latest in a long line of exciting challenges. The automotive industry has always been important to foundries, and the thought of ever losing it is a scary one. For many manufacturers, a key challenge of new developments is to reduce weight wherever possible, and the flexibility and finesse of prototype casting make this method a crucial part of their production, particularly for pieces such as the cylinder head, block, or turbocharger. However, compared to the electric motor of today, an internal combustion engine is vastly more complex. So, will prototype casting still be necessary?

In a word, yes! The pursuit of lighter, better-performing parts won't end anytime soon, regardless of what powers the vehicle. There are other factors to consider, too. In theory, the less a car weighs, the less material it takes to build, and the fewer emissions it will produce when running. That means a high-quality foundry will still be a sought-after asset for those hoping to reduce their environmental impact. 

So, while it's understandable that those in the casting industry may feel a little nervous about manufacturers turning away from traditional engines, it's far from a widespread panic. After all, change can be scary — but that doesn't mean it's bad!

Competition breeds demand

 

There's a reason (or several) that casting is as popular as it is today, and while demand may fall in the short-term, it's only a matter of time before it finds its place once more in an ever-changing industry. As always, competition will make sure of that, with manufacturers striving to find an edge that will set their product apart. The performance of electric-powered vehicles will improve, and with it will come a rise in complexity. The demand for new parts, new prototypes, and new production methods will never be far away. 

But competition isn't exclusive to a battle of the brands. After all, the electric engine isn't the only challenger to consider when it comes to upsetting the current status quo. Some manufacturers may turn instead to hydrogen-fueled vehicles, for instance, or continue to walk the middle ground with hybrid engines, all of which will need new parts and prototypes as they chase that top spot. 

 

Don't rule out the internal combustion engine… yet 

 

While demand for alternatives may be growing among consumers, it will likely be some time until global infrastructure is ready to meet it. A lack of fast-charge stations may put a dampener on the uptake of electric vehicles, particularly outside city centers, impacting the range a car can manage in a single journey. This is particularly important for commercial vehicles – a swiftly rising corner of the casting market throughout the global pandemic – which need to cover incredible distances on a daily basis. While electric trucks may be a reality in the future, it is hard to see them replacing the current crop for some time yet. 

Until then, hybrid and internal combustion engines will remain a popular choice, as will casting when it comes time to produce them. 

Dreaming big

We all know that prototyping is an essential part of every production process, but it's not without its limitations: namely scale, size, and weight. You might produce a test model of an individual part, but something the size of a family car, for example? Not likely. 

 

Or at least, it wasn't

 

When it comes to prototyping in 2021, manufacturers are beginning to dream big, and casting is the way to go. With modern prototyping foundries able to cast and accurately machine larger or much heavier models, we expect the demand for such prototypes to rise sooner rather than later. 

In truth, it's overdue, and it makes a lot of sense. Whether you're building an engine part for construction or transport vehicles, a turbocharger for your ship engine, or a train bogey, you want to make sure it works. And as with any prototype, it's always best to create and test a model using the same technique that will eventually form the finished item — something that wasn't possible until recently. 

But it's not all about weight 

 

It's also about doing something that's never been done before. That's the art of innovation, of course, and prototype casting has always been a particularly useful technique for making it happen. Imagine, for instance, if you could completely change the way a car is built? Instead of bolting and welding bits and pieces to a frame, what if you could cast entire sections, then join them together? 

With prototyping foundries able to produce items on a scale larger than ever before, it's no longer a question of if but of when. Nothing is impossible. And as we said at the beginning, those who work in the world of prototype casting will never shy away from a challenge. Together with the dreamers, we're excited to see what the future holds. After all, we wouldn't be here if we didn't dream big, too.

 

Would you like to learn more about prototype casting or ask for more information about starting a project with ACTech? We'd love to have a conversation.