CAMP Collaborates with GM to Upgrade the Lost-Foam Process

General Motors Powertrain, a CAMP Corporate Member located in Massena, NY, completed the first phase of a $1.37 million project designed to upgrade the quality of the plant's lost-foam casting process. This ongoing research effort is a partnership between General Motors (GM) Powertrain, Clarkson University's Center for Advanced Materials Processing (CAMP), the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The lost-foam process makes use of a polystyrene foam which is similar to the kind used in coffee cups. The foam is used to make molded patterns for engine block and cylinder head castings. First the foam mold is placed into a box of compacted sand. Then the molten metal is added and its heat vaporizes the foam. Once cooled, the metal takes the shape of the mold.

GM's lost-foam process uses 25 % less energy than the traditional casting technique and also uses less metal. Their high-tech process allows for patterns and molds to be designed in very complex shapes. This saves additional energy and natural resources because it eliminates many of the downstream finishing steps at machining plants.

In addition sophisticated measuring equipment, developed in part by Buffalo Wire Works in collaboration with CAMP and support from NYSERDA, is being used to analyze the coating applied to the molds and the sand packed around the coated patterns used in this project. (The New York State Office of Science, Technology, and Academic Research (NYSTAR) provided an $ 81, 000 technology transfer grant to Clarkson University to enable it to partner with Buffalo Wire Works to develop the prototype for the particle size and shape analysis instrument being used in the lost-foam casting process.) Buffalo Wire Works is a CAMP New York State Associate.

Team members collaborate on the Lost-Foam Process. From left: Dr. Calvin K. Johnson (Consultant), Ms. Joanna M. Jenack (Process Engineer at GMPT), Professor Dayakar Penumadu (CAMP / University of Tennessee), Ms. Gail Rink (Marketing Manager at Buffalo Wire Works Co., Inc.), Mr. Ross Johnson ( Manager of Manufacturing Engineering at GMPT), Dr. Dana Levy (Project Manager at NYSERDA), Mr. Gunnar Walmet (Program Director at NYSERDA), and CAMP Deputy Director Edward McNamara. Also on the team is Mr. Scott Hutchins (Program Manager for the U.S. DOE).

Mr. Ross Johnson (Manager of Manufacturing Engineering at GMPT) describes the Lost-Foam Process used at GMPT in Massena, New York.

Russell W. Bessette, M.D., Executive Director of NYSTAR, said "When Governor Pataki announced the funding for the development of the Buffalo Wire Works prototype project, he did so in full realization of the economic potential the technology could offer manufacturers. The development of a process to automatically analyze the particle size of materials is a significant manufacturing advancement, and it signals the success of the Governor's efforts to enable the creation of new technologies to build the economy of Upstate New York."

The teamwork approach to improve the lost-foam process has received praise from State legislators. "Attracting substantial federal funding to match our New York funds offers us the chance to show our North Country innovation, technology and skills. With much of this coming from our own Clarkson University, this is truly a North Country project that holds great promise for GM and the people of St. Lawrence County," said Senator Raymond A. Meier.

"The future of GM's Powertrain plant in Massena is brightened by this project. NYSERDA, DOE, and Clarkson are teaming to produce very positive trends for our Northern New York Region, and we appreciate this progress,' said Assemblyman Chris Ortloff.

This joint effort to improve the lost-foam process is an ongoing project. Specifically it will improve the lost-foam casting process through the use of in -process controls resulting in higher quality, lower scrap rates, and a reduction of aluminum re-melting.