Investment casting is one of the oldest manufacturing processes, dating back thousands of years, in which molten metal is poured into an expendable ceramic mold. The mold is formed by using a wax pattern - a disposable piece in the shape of the desired part. The wax pattern is dipped into ceramic slurry that hardens and becomes the mold. This process is often referred to as "lost-wax casting" because the wax pattern is melted out of the ceramic mold after the ceramic mold has cured and then the base metal is poured into the remaining cavity. The lost-wax process uses one mold to create one part. However, since the mold produces only one part during its life, parts with complex geometries and intricate details can be created with little worry about die wear or dimensional changes.
Investment casting can make use of most metals, most commonly using aluminum alloys, bronze alloys, magnesium alloys, cast iron, carbon steels, stainless and other nickel alloys. This process is beneficial for casting metals with high melting temperatures that cannot be molded in plaster or metal. Parts that are typically made by investment casting include those with complex geometry such as turbine blades or firearm components or marine parts. High temperature applications are also common and include parts for the automotive, aircraft, and military industries.
An investment casting foundry can use almost any castable metal; however aluminum alloys, copper alloys, stainless and steel are the most common. The advantages of investment castings are:
Excellent surface finish
High dimensional accuracy
Extremely intricate parts are castable
Almost any metal can be cast
No flash or parting lines
The main disadvantage is the overall cost. Some of the reasons for the high cost include specialized equipment, costly refractories and binders, much labor is required and occasional minute defects in the finished part.