Thixomoulding capability boost

Posted on 10 Jan 2011 by The Manufacturer

A consortium formed by Shearline Precision Engineering will bid for funding for the UK’s largest largest magnesium thixomoulding facility.

Shearline Precision Engineering in Ely has put together a consortium of industry leaders to bid for European funding (FP7) that could see the company developing the largest facility for Magnesium Thixomoulding® in the UK.

The thixomoulding process is a more environmentally friendly way to process magnesium than conventional methods. Products made in this way can be 75% lighter than steel, reducing energy usage when used for components in transport systems. The manufacturing process itself uses less energy than traditional casting and can produce less than half the waste.

Technical and commercial director of Shearline Charles Maltby says: “Magnesium is an exciting metal, and thixomoulding allows alloys to be moulded into structures that are strong and light, and require reduced processing. An ideal application is seat structures for airplanes, reducing the weight of seating by 35% will make a huge difference to the energy consumption of the aircraft.”

The bid team includes Magnesium Elektron, a UK company that has developed the alloys; JSW/Buhler, makers of injection moulding equipment; Sirris, a Belgian research organisation with its own existing generation thixomoulding machine; and AM2, a German company led by Bernd Wendinger, an authority in the process. “These commercial partners together with the University of Sheffield and the Advanced Forming Research Centre, linked to the University of Strathclyde, offer a strong team with world class expertise,” says Maltby.

The consortium wants to explore the commercial applications of the technology. Thixomoulding uses a semi-solid state of the alloy to allow it to smoothly fill even complex shaped moulds. The manufactured structures can have thinner walls than conventional die-casting and a higher resistance to fatigue and corrosion. These qualities mean a wide range of industries and applications, from medical devices to defence equipment, could benefit from using magnesium.

Shearline already has a Knowledge Transfer Partnership associate from the University of Shefield, Rachel Peachey, working in the company to evaluate the properties of the new alloys.
Repeatability is one of advantage of the technique: “With traditional casting there can be a lot of scrappage because the parts are not of consistent quality,” says Ms Peachey. “One company we have spoken to is forced to reject about two in every five gearbox housings because the process they are using cannot ensure that each box is of a sufficient standard. Thixomoulding can overcome this problem because each part a mould produces is identical.”

Shearline says that one advantage of thixomoulding is that multi-part assemblies can often be modified to use just one or two parts, reducing the energy used during both the manufacturing and assembly processes.

The company is keen to explore the potential of using the process for relatively large structures within the aerospace, automotive, defence and other high technology sectors. Part of the proposal is to install a ‘large-size’ thixomoulding machine at Shearline’s Ely premises, enabling industries across Europe to access the technique at this size.

“Thixomoulding has many environmental benefits – the manufacturing process reduces energy usage and waste, and the lightweight parts it can produce have the potential to make huge improvements to efficiency in the transport industry,” adds Mr Maltby. “We’re very excited to be exploring its vast range of applications.”