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Foundry Lab
Sample parts offered as example of the parts produced by the Foundry Lab DMC technology.

Breaking Down ‘Technology’

Feb. 7, 2022
The “disruption” that investors crave is done by metalcasters in microns and millimeters. It’s science, … not wish fulfillment.

An extraordinary announcement at the end of November – just weeks ago as I write – suggests the end for all of us who work in or adjacent to metalcasting, due to a breakthrough technology. A New Zealand start-up called Foundry Lab raised $8 million in its first pitch for outside investors, explaining it has developed a “digital microwave casting” technology that produces “cast” metal parts with same-day turnaround. Further, this venture claims its Digital Metal Casting (DMC) technology is able to compete for business in high-volume manufacturing applications that are unachievable with current metal additive technologies, thus combining the cost-advantages of foundry or diecasting production with the speed of 3D printing.

The developers have identified every shortcoming of metalcasting, and propose their new technology to address those, to make foundries and diecasters obsolescent.

Foundry Lab also claims to offer design advantages over CNC machining, with the flexibility to create metal parts in any casting alloy, suitable for functional testing before production begins.

I’m not so bold as to call this news unbelievable, but on the evidence provided it is implausible. I’ll remain skeptical until more details are revealed: How is raw material reformatted as a final shape? How do the parts perform? I’ll trust the investors to understand what they’re buying, but I’ll expect metalcasters and casting buyers to evaluate the process and its results too.

After all, those making this announcement are indicating that sand and binders, furnaces and refractories, molds and cores, shakeout systems, etc., are no longer required to produce ‘castings.’ The people who know those process technologies best understand that none are ideal; there are costs and risks, and shortcomings to metalcasting as it is. The same is true for metal 3D printing and CNC machining.

It takes no particular insight to point out these deficiencies. It takes very little imagination to suggest that there would be a market for a technological alternative – but it takes that process expertise to understand how any improvements might be implemented.

What Foundry Lab does not say is curious too, to those with even a passing knowledge of metallurgy or material science, or process engineering. That is, we are assured what DMC is not – but not offered nearly enough to say what it is, or how it compares to casting.

In another way, what we are presented by Foundry Lab is not extraordinary at all, but a fairly standard presentation from a business pitching its ‘disruptive’ technology to would-be investors, many of whom will care less about the missing information than they do about missing out on a technology breakthrough. They view ‘technology’ as an exploitable resource, not a discipline.

Anyone with such a grasp of technology should stay clear of metalcasting, and not because it’s a particularly expensive undertaking. It’s not an industry that demands wealth so much as patience. Metalcasters often face the truth that there are no technological solutions to their problems  – yet.

Such solutions cannot or will not emerge whole from the ether. The disruption that investors crave is done by metalcasters in microns and millimeters. It’s science, not wish fulfillment.

In this respect, at least, metalcasting technology is changing. Mountains of collected data and advanced analytics mean that product design phases are being extended into the production process, while chemical and material results provide insights that optimize production sequences and minimize material and resource waste.

The shakeout (if you will) of all this seems to be that a “breakthrough” technology should proceed from what is known, not from what we wish.