WASHINGTON, DC - A steel casting technology developed by the U.S. Department of Energy has been transferred to the U.S. Army's Rock Island Arsenal to manufacture improved armor for vehicles used in the global war on terrorism.
The Office of Fossil Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) provided the Rock Island Arsenal with process guidelines, parameters, expertise, and patterns to set up and operate a facility for making steel castings using an NETL-developed process called loose-bonded sand, lost-foam technology. The facilities at the arsenal, in Rock Island, Ill., will be used to produce the improved cast steel armor plating for Army vehicles.
"The Department of Energy's longstanding history and expertise in developing processes to improve the efficiency and performance of materials, coupled with the Arsenal's expertise in manufacturing ordnance and equipment for the Armed forces, results in a partnership that can only lead to success in the production of better armament," said Tom Shope, Acting Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy. "The steel casting process we are sharing with the Arsenal will contribute greatly to the protection of our service men and women."
The Rock Island Arsenal - the western world's largest government-owned weapons manufacturer - produces weapons and weapons components at scales from prototype to full-scale sizes. NETL scientists have designed and produced patterns and gating systems for casting armor plate in the Arsenal's foundry, and they continue to assist Army researchers with process-related information and procedures.
NETL's cooperative materials-research efforts with the Department of Defense dates back to 1985, when it began to develop lost-foam technology for cast steel. In 1987, NETL researchers began working with the Defense Department to produce titanium and cast steel armor. NETL's Process Development Division, which also conducts research in other material process areas, such as power production and fuel cells, recently supplied cast steel armor plate prototypes to the Army Research Laboratory for use on targets during ballistic tests.
In NETL's loose-bonded sand, lost-foam technology for casting steel, researchers make a foam pattern of a part, then dip the pattern into a water solution containing a suspended refractory. The refractory material coats the foam pattern and leaves a thin, heat-resistant layer. After sand is poured around the pattern to provide support, molten metal poured into the mold melts and vaporizes the foam. The solidification of the metal and its removal from the sand gives rise to the name lost-foam casting.
Although the process appears simple, it represents an innovative and competitive technology when compared with currently used steel stamping and forging of steel parts. The stamping and forging processes have not been widely integrated into the transportation industry.
NETL's technology provides a host of advantages. Lost-foam castings may be made in any shape and size and can be applied to a range of metals including steel, iron, aluminum, and nickel alloys. In addition, the technology reduces costs and development times for manufacturers.
As a result of these advantages and its ability to produce molds of complex structures, more manufacturers are beginning to apply the lost-foam casting method to their specific product needs.