AFS Research: Moving the Industry Forward

Using AFS member dues to provide funding for breakthrough technologies 
and new processes helps the metalcasting industry survive and thrive into the future. 

Mike Buyarski; The Federal Metal Co, Bedford OH; Chair, AFS Research Board

The date for compliance with the new silica regulations is right around the corner, and AFS continues to assist foundries in developing the tools that will be needed to work toward compliance. As most AFS Corporate Members know, a portion of corporate dues are set aside for metalcasting research. This year, AFS has devoted a significant amount of this funding for research to develop new methods and materials to help foundries deal with the issue of silica dust exposure. Several research projects are addressing this issue, each coming at it from a slightly different perspective. The information below is a summary of how AFS has used your member dues to help fight this battle and move the industry toward compliance with these new regulations. 

Validating Alternate Non-Silica Materials 
Among the compliance options to new regulations on silica dust, some metalcasters may choose to move away for silica sand entirely and use non-silica molding media in their casting process. AFS is has funded two university-based projects that are aimed to test and characterize alternate non-silica molding media for use in clay-bonded green sand casting as a potential replacement for silica sand. Researchers are characterizing six different non-silica materials for potential use in green sand casting. Ceramic sands have been in use for many years, but are still not common in sand casting and many question still are unanswered about their potential as green sand replacements. Researchers are testing each material using standard green sand tests to ensure that the new materials will provide the needed compactability, permeability, mold hardness and other properties to make effective green sand molds that can produce quality castings. Research will also include:

  • Iron casting trials to measure surface finish and casting quality
  • Measuring breakdown of the media to quantify material loss, which will be important to minimize the cost of new sand additions
  • Sand reclamation procedures to strip the clay binder from sand grains and validate that the material can be returned to the core room for use in producing chemically bonded cores

Silica Dust Sampling
AFS has also funded research to develop an improved air sampling method for silica dust that can be used to help identify root causes of exposure. The new regulation will require a lot of on-going testing, and there is not a commercially available sampling instrument that can directly measure silica exposure in real time. In this project, investigators will combine existing testing technologies to develop and assemble a portable instrument, carried by individual workers, that is capable of measuring silica exposure. This has the potential to minimize the need for lab time to measure silica content in dust samples. A real-time test can assist in determining root causes of silica dust and defining areas of concern in the foundry. 

Powered Sweepers
AFS is also funding a research project to establish whether powered floor sweepers can be useful in reducing the overall exposure to silica dust. Under OSHA’s new silica standard, dry sweeping is discouraged where it contributes to employee crystalline silica exposure. To be able to use dry sweeping, employers must demonstrate either that wet sweeping/ HEPA vacuuming are not feasible or that dry sweeping does not contribute to exposure. The goal of this research is to determine the effect on the overall silica exposure in the foundry when using powered floor sweepers and validate whether their use contributes or reduces overall exposure. AFS researchers are testing silica exposure in the foundry both before, during and after sweeping with several different commercially-available sweepers. Researchers are also testing sweepers that have been retrofitted with new features that have been developed to improve performance and minimize distribution of dust. If tests demonstrate that powered sweepers do not contribute to the exposure of silica dust, AFS will work with regulators to get sweepers approved for use under the new standards. 

Each of these four programs have the potential to provide great benefit and new tools that will help foundries as they move toward silica compliance. This is another example of how AFS is delivering practical help for member foundries.