Pennsylvania transition from silica to ceramic sands

Metal casting provides nearly 200,000 jobs in the $33 billion industry in Pennsylvania, making it even more critical for small-to-medium-sized foundries to stay up-to-date on the changes. In the photograph: Paul Lynch, third from left, Robert Voigt, fourth from left, and Guha Manogharan, second from right, with students from a former project. IMAGE: ROBERT VOIGT

A team of Penn State engineering faculty and students is working with small-to-medium-sized foundries across Pennsylvania to aid in the transition away from using harmful silica sands in the metal casting process and to reduce costs through 3D printing.

The project is being supported by two grants totaling USD 140,000, funded by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s Pennsylvania Manufacturing Initiative.

Due to new regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, foundries must begin to switch from silica sands to ceramic sands. Silica sand, due to the fineness of its particles, can lead to the development of silicosis — a lung disease caused by breathing in silica.

Different from silica sands, ceramic sands, which are often artificial, are safer due to their spherical shape and rigorous testing to ensure the uniform grain, chemistry and physical properties, according to the researchers.

The first grant will send Penn State team to work with foundries across the Commonwealth on the deployment of non-silica aggregates in metal casting.

The second grant will focus on the improvement of 3D printing to reduce the costs inherent to metal casting.