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The Process and Benefits of Brass and Aluminum Die Casting
Die casting is a manufacturing process that has been used for over 150 years to produce precisely shaped metal parts through the use of reusable molds called dies. Two of the most commonly used metals in die casting are brass and aluminum, each offering unique benefits. In this article, we will take a closer look at brass and aluminum die casting, the die casting process, and the advantages of each metal.
Brass Die Casting
Brass is an alloy made up primarily of copper and zinc. The ratio of copper to zinc can be varied to create different types of brass alloys with differing properties, but common brass used for die casting contains 60-70% copper and 30-40% zinc.
Brass is valued for its high dimensional stability and accuracy, ability to withstand high temperatures, strength and wear resistance, and smooth surface finish. Parts can be die cast from brass with thin walls and intricate shapes. Brass die castings maintain excellent mechanical properties even in small cross-sections.
Some common applications for brass die cast parts include:
- Plumbing fixtures and hardware
- Musical instruments
- Door handles and hardware
- Valves and fittings
- Electrical and electronic enclosures
- Gears, bearings, and bushings
- Automotive trim and nameplates
The excellent corrosion resistance of brass also makes it ideal for products used in seawater or salty air environments. And its antimicrobial properties inhibit bacteria growth, an advantage for items like door handles where germs can spread.
Aluminum Die Casting
Aluminum is lightweight, corrosion resistant, and easily recyclable. Pure aluminum is soft and ductile, so aluminum die casting alloys typically contain silicon, magnesium, copper, zinc, or other metals to improve casting and mechanical properties. Common aluminum alloys used for die casting include 380, 383, and 413.
Some key benefits of aluminum die casting parts are:
Lightweight - Aluminum weighs about one-third as much as brass and steel alternatives, important for reducing weight in vehicles, aircraft, and other applications. This helps improve fuel efficiency and performance.
High dimensional accuracy - Aluminum can be die cast into complex shapes while maintaining tight tolerances. This helps reduce or eliminate secondary machining.
Strength - Aluminum alloys possess high strength-to-weight ratios.
Thermal conductivity - Aluminum is an excellent conductor of heat, helping dissipate heat in electronics and other products.
Corrosion resistance - Aluminum forms an impervious oxide layer protecting against corrosion. Treating the surface can further improve corrosion resistance.
Easy finishing - Aluminum parts accept a variety of finishes from paints to anodizing.
Recyclability - Aluminum can be easily recycled.
Common applications of aluminum die castings:
- Automotive parts like engine blocks, pistons, intake manifolds
- Consumer products like power tools, appliances, grills
- Electronics enclosures, heat sinks
- Aerospace and aviation components
- Medical equipment
- Furniture hardware
The Die Casting Process
While brass and aluminum are both commonly used for die casting, the actual process used is the same. Die casting involves these key steps:
1. Mold design - Dies are made of tool steel and machined to form two halves of the final part shape. The dies are contained inside a mounting plate, aligned by guide pins, and can be rapidly opened and closed by a hydraulic or mechanical ram.
2. Alloy preparation - Ingots of the desired alloy are melted at temperatures of 900-1600°F depending on the metal. The molten metal is filtered and degassed.
3. Casting - The dies are sprayed with lubricant and closed. The liquefied alloy is injected into the dies under high pressure of 10,000 to 40,000 psi, filling the cavity. The pressure is maintained until the metal solidifies.
4. Cooling and ejection - Cooling lines circulate water to extract heat from the dies and solidify the casting. The die halves separate and the casting is ejected.
5. Finishing - Excess metal is trimmed and the castings are heat treated, tumbled, polished, plated, painted, or other finishing processes applied.
6. Quality control - Castings undergo inspections and testing to verify they meet dimensional, mechanical, and metallurgical requirements.
The quick solidification under high pressure allows the production of highly precise and complex die cast parts with good reproducibility. Parts can often be net shape or near-net shape, needing little additional machining.
Advantages of Brass vs. Aluminum Die Castings
Brass and aluminum each carry their own advantages and disadvantages for die casting. Here are some key comparisons:
Appearance - Brass has a distinctive gold color which some manufacturers prefer for decorative products like musical instruments, door hardware, and trim pieces. Aluminum has a gray metallic appearance.
Weight - Aluminum is roughly 60% the density of brass, making it lighter. This gives aluminum an edge for aircraft, automotive, and other applications where low weight is critical.
Mechanical properties - Brass is generally stronger than aluminum and better resists wear, deformation, and fatigue. It maintains strength at elevated temperatures. Aluminum can be alloyed and treated to achieve significant improvements in mechanical characteristics.
Corrosion resistance - With proper surface treatments, aluminum generally has better overall corrosion resistance than brass in severe environments, especially involving chlorides. Brass holds up better against acids.
Machinability - Brass is easier to machine after casting than higher-strength aluminum alloys. But aluminum can be cast to closer tolerances, reducing secondary machining.
Thermal conductivity - Aluminum conducts heat 2-3 times better than brass, useful for heat sinks. Brass has better thermal insulation.
Recyclability - Both metals are highly recyclable, but aluminum is more readily recycled. Around 75% of all aluminum produced is still in use from recycling.
Cost - Brass alloys are generally more expensive than aluminum. But secondary operations can alter the final cost advantage.
To summarize, for moderate strength requirements, particularly in less demanding environments, aluminum is lighter, more corrosion resistant, and lower cost. Brass offers higher strength, wear resistance, and better appearance and machinability, helping justify its use where these attributes are valued.
Working with a Professional Die Caster
For companies looking to produce brass or aluminum die cast parts, partnering with an experienced die caster is key to achieving optimal results. Here are some tips when selecting a casting partner:
- Look for extensive expertise in both aluminum and brass alloys and applications.
- Seek out capabilities in other secondary processes like CNC machining, plating, heat treating, custom finishing, and part assembly. This allows streamlined production under one roof.
- Evaluate their engineering and design support capabilities. Experienced staff can help develop new products designed for die casting from the start.
- Examine the casting facility and quality systems. Look for methods like automated process control, inline inspection, and comprehensive testing labs.
- Ask about their sustainability initiatives. Responsible use of materials, energy, and water support environmental goals.
- Discuss capacity flexibility for scalability and surge production needs. Custom tooling ownership enables fast design iterations.
- Make sure delivery and change management programs meet your needs. Close collaboration is key.
With over 50 years in the die casting business, Acme Die Casting offers all the above best practices and more. Get in touch with us today to discuss your next aluminum or brass die casting project! Our expertise in high-quality, cost-effective die castings can help make your product a success. CNC Milling CNC Machining