The University of Alabama

Foundry Serves Both Engineering and Art

Foundry--molten-metal-lo-resBy Adam Jones and Kelli Wright

The University of Alabama has opened a new foundry meant to encourage creative collaboration between engineering and art students.

Located between Hardaway Hall and the old Bureau of Mines building, the foundry will provide space and facilities for teaching, research and service to metal-casting and processing industries for students in the College of Engineering. The facility also adjoins a foundry used by the College of Arts and Sciences, and students from both colleges will share the expanded and renovated collaborative space.

“I am excited about the opportunities the new joint-use foundry will present our students,” said Dr. Charles L. Karr, dean of the College of Engineering. “I strongly believe students from the arts and engineering can learn from each other. This space allows our students to enhance their creativity, and it is a plus for the College.”

There are also consolidated workshop facilities used by both colleges. The new building is located in the Bureau of Mines complex in close proximity to the new and renovated foundries. It houses a machine and construction shop used by many departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as a workshop used by the College of Engineering.

Not only will there be opportunities for collaborative work, but also the close proximity of the new facilities enhances resource sharing. Students and faculty in both colleges will learn from one another about the different kinds of investment, or mold-making, processes, as well as how to work with additional kinds of metals and alloys for different purposes.

“The Bureau of Mines art and engineering complex will be a space where any student can come create something,” said Dr. Robert Olin, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “This space is meant to provide a place for inspiration and encourage our students to develop their great ideas and turn them into reality. We want them to have somewhere they can get their hands dirty and experience the enjoyment of seeing a project come to fruition.”

At its heart, the foundry serves the needs of the metallurgical and materials engineering department’s mission. It replaces a foundry in a part of H.M. Comer Hall razed to make way for the North Engineering Research Center, set to open for the fall 2013 semester.

“I am pleased we were able to construct our new facility because our students get a leg up on other graduates from across the country due to their experiences in our foundry,” Karr said.

The UA metallurgical and materials engineering department is one of just eight metallurgical engineering programs accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, and one of only 20 Foundry Educational Foundation Certified Schools in North America.

Dr. Viola Acoff

Dr. Viola Acoff

“Having a fully functional modern foundry is vital to us being able to maintain our ABET accreditation as a metallurgical engineering program,” said department head Dr. Viola Acoff.

Additionally, Acoff said an FEF board certification team visited the facility in January, and it will recommend UA be re-certified for another five-year term to the FEF board of directors later this month at a meeting on campus.

With about 5,000 gross square feet, the new foundry incorporates all basic types of equipment used in operating foundries, and it permits demonstration to students of most of the practices encountered in making cast iron, steel and nonferrous alloys.

Equipment highlights include:

  • Three Inductotherm melting furnaces for melting cast iron, steel,brass, bronze and aluminum-based alloys
  • A NASA withdrawal furnace for melting and casting super-alloys under vacuum that can  produce up to 25-kilogram turbine components cast into ceramic-shell molds
  • Molding equipment and a core machine for making green sand and pepset-based molds and cores
  • Finishing equipment
  • Spectrometer by Spectro Analytical Instruments
  • An investment casting lab with a 3-D printer “Thermoset” by 3D Systems for making investment patterns
  • A sand-testing lab and a dedicated computer lab where  students can perform mold and casting design using advanced casting and ingot simulation software tools

The withdrawal furnace was acquired by the department a few years ago from the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, but it could not be installed in the old foundry. The state-of-the-art furnace is used by aerospace companies to make aircraft engine components typical on commercial passenger jets.

“With this additional capability, students will be exposed to every major type of casting process, ranging from traditional casting of cast iron to the casting of nickel-based superalloys used in various aerospace applications,” Acoff said.