Vacuum Casting: Everything You Need to Know

Learn all about the applications, materials, costs, and more for vacuum casting.

Are you looking for high-precision parts with exceptional detail and accuracy? Vacuum casting fits the bill perfectly.

As a cornerstone of the manufacturing industry, vacuum casting produces high-quality parts for small and medium batch production.

Whether you’re an experienced engineer, a budding designer, or simply curious about manufacturing processes, this article highlights everything you need to know about vacuum casting.

How Does Vacuum Casting Work?

Vacuum casting, or urethane casting, involves using a vacuum to draw liquid materials into a mold. The result? Highly detailed, precise components with a fast turnaround.

The vacuum casting process begins with creating a master model, typically using high-precision techniques such as 3D printing or CNC machining. This model is then surrounded by liquid silicone to create a mold, which is then placed inside a vacuum chamber.

Once the silicone hardens, the master model is removed, leaving a perfect silicone mold ready for casting. The mold then goes into a vacuum casting machine. The casting material then fills every crevice of the mold, replicating the intricate details of the design. The final part is removed following a curing period, and the mold can be reused to replicate the process.

The mold lasts approximately 30 parts before a new one is needed, making vacuum casting ideal for small to medium-sized production batches.

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Benefits of Vacuum Casting

So, why choose vacuum casting for your project?

First, the level of detail and accuracy vacuum casting provides is virtually unmatched, making it an excellent choice for intricate designs that other manufacturing processes might struggle to reproduce.

Vacuum casting is also known for its speed and efficiency. Because the silicone molds can be reused, producing a series of identical parts in a relatively short period is possible. This makes vacuum casting an ideal choice for rapid prototyping or small-scale production.

Another significant advantage is the variety of materials available. Vacuum casting offers a wide range of choices to suit specific requirements, from different types of polyurethane resins that mimic the properties of materials like ABS, polycarbonate, or rubber.

Furthermore, vacuum casting is more cost-effective for small series production than other manufacturing methods. It eliminates the need for expensive tooling and machinery, making it a go-to solution for businesses looking to minimize costs while maintaining high-quality results.

Applications of Vacuum Casting

Vacuum casting boasts a broad reach, finding uses in diverse industries thanks to its versatility and high precision.

In the automotive industry, vacuum casting allows designers and engineers to quickly produce prototypes for new car parts, interior components, or even small series parts for specialty vehicles. The accuracy and speed of vacuum casting help accelerate the design and testing phases, enabling faster product development and launch.

The medical device industry also relies heavily on vacuum casting. The process’s ability to precisely reproduce intricate designs is vital in producing surgical tools, diagnostic equipment, and other healthcare devices. Furthermore, the range of biocompatible materials available for vacuum casting is a significant advantage in this field.

The consumer electronics industry is another sector that extensively uses vacuum casting. The precision and fine detailing offered by vacuum casting are instrumental in a sector where aesthetics and form factor are as crucial as functionality.

In the aerospace industry, vacuum casting finds its application in creating lightweight, durable components and prototypes. Due to the industry’s stringent standards, the precision and high-quality finish achieved through vacuum casting are critical.

Beyond traditional industries, vacuum casting is also a popular choice in the gaming industry, where it’s used to create detailed figurines, game pieces, and collectibles.

How Much Does Vacuum Casting Cost?

The short answer is, “it depends.”

If you want to do vacuum casting in-house, an industrial-grade machine can cost thousands of euros—but that doesn’t include the tools you’ll need to make the master model. This is why injection molding services, such as the one offered by MakerVerse, are so popular.

If you’re starting from scratch with no existing prototype, you’ll need to factor in the cost of 3D printing or CNC machining a master model. This master model is vital for the creation of silicone molds. It might seem like a hefty upfront cost, but when you consider the high-quality replications it enables, it becomes a worthy investment. Small molds can cost less than 100 euros.

Another crucial cost consideration in vacuum casting is the materials used. Higher quality, specialized materials usually cost more but offer superior results. Materials that mimic the properties of ABS, polycarbonate, or polypropylene can vary in price, affecting the final cost.

The production volume also impacts the overall cost. Vacuum casting is typically used for low to medium-volume production, as silicone molds have a lifespan of about 30 casts. While this may limit long-term use, it provides an economical solution for smaller production runs and prototyping.

If you’re producing just a few pieces or need a small production run, vacuum casting can be a more cost-effective method than alternatives like injection molding.

Materials Used in Vacuum Casting

The most commonly used materials in vacuum casting are polyurethane resins, thanks to their ability to mimic a range of plastics with different properties.

ABS-like resins are often chosen for their robustness and high-impact resistance, mimicking the properties of ABS plastic. This makes them an excellent choice for functional parts and enclosures.

Transparent resins are another popular choice in vacuum casting, especially when optical clarity is a requirement. These resins can be used to create clear, glass-like parts or tinted to achieve various colors and levels of transparency.

For projects that require heat-resistant parts, high-temperature resins are the go-to material. They can withstand elevated temperatures, making them perfect for components exposed to heat.

Flexible resins offer elasticity and are used when the part requires to be bent or flexed during its operation.

Silicones are frequently chosen in vacuum casting for their flexibility and biocompatibility, making them suitable for medical or food industry parts.

Design Considerations for Vacuum Casting

Designing for vacuum casting involves several considerations. The process’s high accuracy favors parts with complex geometries and intricate details.

However, undercuts, overhangs, and very thin walls may require special attention or modifications.

Always consider the properties of the selected material and the lifespan of the silicone mold, as these can impact the design and production run.

Vacuum Casting vs. Injection Molding vs. 3D printing

So, which of the many manufacturing processes is suitable for you? That’s a complex question that depends on the needs of your project. However, there are some quick rules of thumb to guide you in the right direction.

Vacuum casting stands out for low-to-medium volume production of high-quality, intricate parts.

Check this guide for an in-depth look at injection molding vs. vacuum casting.

However, if you’re looking at larger production volumes or if your design is relatively simple, alternatives like injection molding might be more economical.

Similarly, 3D printing may be better for one-off prototypes or highly customizable parts.

Your decision should be guided by your project’s requirements, and you should consider factors like production volume, part complexity, material properties, and timeline.

Getting Started with Vacuum Casting

Vacuum casting is a versatile, cost-effective method for producing intricate parts and prototypes. Its ability to mimic various materials and provide a quick turnaround makes it an attractive choice for multiple industries.

However, as with any manufacturing process, it’s vital to consider your project’s specifics. By understanding the ins and outs of vacuum casting, you can make an informed decision that brings your project to life most effectively.

If you want to get started with vacuum casting or know what manufacturing process is best for you, we’re here to help. Once you upload a part on the MakerVerse platform, our experts will contact you to provide the guidance you need to see your project through.