The Pennsylvania State University

School of Visual Arts

Summer Discovery Grant Report: Digital Technologies in the Foundry Process

Cydnei Mallory in Latvia at Cast Iron Conference

Cydnei Mallory was a recipient of a 2014 Undergraduate Summer Discovery Grant in support of her research project, Digital Technologies in the Foundry Process.  The Summer Discovery Grant program is a resource that helps students take advantage of Penn State’s research environment. Mallory is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in Sculpture.

Mallory has always had a strong interest in foundry and metal-casting techniques and receiving a Summer Discovery Grant has affected her work in a “positive and enlightening way,” she said. Through this funding, Mallory was able to research her “lost plastic” hypothesis. Below is a report from Mallory describing her research process:

With the recent rise in the availability of economical desktop 3D modeling printers and scanners, the most novice person can create and find 3D models to utilize. In 2012, the Penn State School of Visual Arts’ Sculpture studio purchased a MakerBot—a desktop 3D printer that extrudes layers of plastic to build rapid prototyped three-dimensional objects. Drawing from my educational experiences, I wondered what might be possible with the MakerBot: Can three-dimensional plastic models printed by the MakerBot be substituted for the traditional wax forms used in foundry? In other words, can the “lost wax” process become the “lost plastic” to broaden the possibilities of cast bronze or aluminum sculptures?

With help from the Summer Discovery Grant I was able to test the “lost plastic” hypothesis with two standard mold methods, including plaster investment and ceramic shell. To begin my research, I chose a pelvis as my model for its complex form. Making a mold would require an advanced background in mold making. I chose multiple methods for obtaining the model that varied in cost, accessibility, and ease of use, including an online model, scanning an existing pelvis to create a model to print, and creating a form using SoVA’s 3D modeling program, Rhino, resulting in 22 models printed. After each mold was poured I assessed the accuracy of the castings and consulted with Professor Cristin Millett, my faculty mentor, to determine the cause of any faults or defects and possible strategies to prevent the problem from recurring.

The “lost plastic” casting technique yielded astounding results. My preliminary tests indicate that ceramic shell yields superior results to plaster investment.

As I enter my final semester at Penn State, I continue researching the “lost plastic” hypothesis, as well as the rapidly expanding realm of digital technology. The ability to burn out a digitally printed 3D model instead of a wax form opens up new possibilities for casting techniques in foundries at all levels, including academic institutions, industry, manufacturing, fine art, and even the backyard foundry.