And the Award Goes To…Die Casting

by Joanna Dykhuis, IQS Editor

Besides marking the end of summer and the start of a new school year, the close of August also brings the Primetime Emmy Awards, a show highlighting and honoring popular actors, actresses and television shows. The trophy that is awarded to each winner of a winged muse holding an atom is one of the most recognizable of its kind. The Academy Awards feature another icon: a trophy called Oscar. These two trophies have more in common than what meets the eye because they are both a result of the manufacturing process die casting.

Die casting is a widely used metal forming process in which liquid metal is forced into the cavities of a mold, called a die. When the metal is cooled, the die is removed to reveal the solid metal part inside. Die casting is used extensively for industrial and commercial manufacturing because it is a cost-effective and reliable method of producing metal castings with good detail and surface quality. Die casting designs can be more complex and detailed than those of stamped or forging parts. There is no limit to what die cast parts are used for. Automotive castings are used in vehicles because they are lightweight and strong which increases the overall efficiency of the car or truck. Almost half of all North American die castings are used in the power train of an automobile. Other die castings are used in appliances, pumps and compressors, power and hand tools, telecommunications, electrical components, hardware and other applications.

The process of die casting allows companies to manufacture large quantities of parts and tools from non-ferrous metals such as lead, zinc, magnesium, aluminum, tin, bronze and copper. Alloy castings are also made through die casting although steel parts are usually forged. Emmys and Oscars are made of copper, tin, nickel and silver and are plated in gold. During World War II Oscars were made of plaster so the metal could be put to use in the American effort. Die castings generally require only minimal secondary tooling and processing. In the case of the Emmy Award, however, the statuettes take over five hours to make. For parts prototypes, sculptors work with clay or plaster until the final design is chosen. A mold is created around the prototype to become the die. After the casting is cooled, workers dip it in multiple baths to apply a finish. For the awards show trophies, a die caster uses white gloves to deburr, buff and polish the statuette after casting it by hand instead of through a machine.

Automated machines allow die casting to quickly produce parts of any size and weight. Small components require less than a second while parts of several pounds require only five minutes for a complete casting cycle. Oscar weights 13.5 pounds but die casting is capable of producing much larger items as well. The main difference in die casting is not the size of the machine or the part but in the method used for production. Two main methods are hot chamber die casting or cold chamber die casting. The number of cavities in each die is another option; some dies have a single cavity for a single component while others have multiple cavities that produce identical parts at the same time. Unit and combination dies can simultaneously produce different parts that may be used separately or in an assembly. Emmys and Oscars are made individually for maximum control and craftsmanship. Whatever the end product may be, die casting deserves an award show of its own.