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Reducing the velocity of liquid metal flow by Vortex-Gate design in aluminium

gravity casting

F.-Y. Hsu@ and J. Campbell#

Auspicium Co., Ltd., 2F-3, No.4, Sec.1, Jen-Ai Road, Taipei, Taiwan, R.O.C.,
IRC in Materials for High performance Applicatons, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston,
Birmingham B15 2TT, UK


A novel runner system design, named a Vortex-Gate, has been explored for aluminium
gravity casting. Using this design the velocity of flow of the liquid metal flow was
controlled below the critical value and, at the same time, an optimised flow rate was
maintained. Moreover, the liquid metal does not appear to generate “bifilm” defects.
Both the “virtual” experiment using a computational modelling package, and the
“physical” experiment, a real-time X-ray radiography study, were employed to study
the flow behaviour of Vortex-Gates.

1 Introduction

A low velocity of liquid flow entering mould cavity has always been suggested for
designing the running system. However, the critical value of mould entry velocity was
not clearly defined until Campbell (1991) proposed a definition. He suggested that
one of the most important requirement of a good running system.was the limiting of
the velocity in the ingate to below the critical velocity at which entrainment could

When the velocity of the liquid metal is higher than the critical value, the surface
become unstable as a result of surface turbulence in the form of breaking waves. In
film-forming alloys, if the surface forms a drop, a fountain or a breaking wave, then
the surface film is folded over and incorporated into the bulk liquid. The surface film,
folded dry side to dry side, constitutes a “bifilm” crack, floating in the liquid. There is
a real danger that this folded film or “bifilm” may be frozen into the solid. In addition,
the incorporation of surface films leads to bifilm cracks in the casting and other
defects that are initiated by bifilms, such as porosity and hot tears (Campbell, 1991).
Almost all casting alloys form surface films except the pure noble metals, gold and

In the case of aluminium alloys, as the liquid aluminium contacts the surrounding
atmosphere containing the oxygen, it has a tendency to form an insoluble oxide-film
on the surface. As Runyoro and Campbell (1992) observed the emerging liquid
aluminium in various speeds through the gates, they found that conditions for surface
turbulence in the casting start at 0.5 ms-1. With velocity higher than this critical ingate
velocity, “fountaining” with a mushroom shape was observed, which generates severe
rates of entrainment.

When Grube and Kura (1955) investigated water models (K R Grube and J G Kura
Trans Amer Found Soc 1955 63 35-48.], the velocity of the liquid leaving the sprue
was approximately 2.1 ms-1 whereas the velocity at the exit end of the gate was 0.46
ms-1. This low speed in the gate ensured a quiet manner of flow entering the mould
cavity. Later, when Al-7% Mg alloy was cast into a running system of identical
geometry no surface defect was found.

Green and Campbell (1993) found that high reliability aluminium alloy (i.e. Al-7Si-
Mg) castings were obtained by bottom gating a sand mould at an initial gate velocity
less than or equal to 0.5 m.s-1. The analysis also showed that the bottom gating at a
velocity greater than the critical ingate velocity is likely to produce castings at least as
poor as those produced by top gating.

Surface turbulence is not the only cause of bifilm defects within castings. Moving
bubbles can also cause similar defects. Since air, water vapour and other core gases
are highly oxidising to film-forming alloys, a bubble of any of these gases will react
aggressively, oxidising the metal as it progresses, and leaving in its wake a collapsed
tube of oxide, like an old sack. The inner wall of the oxide tube will be dry and thus
non-adherent, forming an excellent route for the escape of further bubbles. Campbell
(1991) named this kind of defect a “bubble trail”. These were further investigated by
Divandari and Campbell (1999). In the early stage of filling, bubbles entrained during
the priming of the filling system are frequently observed. A benchmark test conducted
by Sirrell and co-workers (1995) showed clearly, using real-time X-ray radiography,
that air bubbles were commonly trapped in the low pressure region just after the
sprue/runner junction. Eventually, the bubbles escape, floating up to the top surface,
but leaving in their wake long crack-like channels, as leak paths, traversing the

Oxide cracks, formed as a result of surface turbulence or bubble trail damage, may not
be detectable by the current non-destructive inspection technique. These invisible
macro-defects described by Campbell (1993) result in uncertainties in the static and
dynamic strength of castings. The only way to avoid such uncertainties therefore is
the application of process control to ensure that such defects are not introduced in the
first place.

To control the velocity of the flow entering mould cavity, a filter is often placed in the
running system. Sirrell and Campbell (1997) noticed that the use of ceramic foam
filters in the running system were found to increase the reliability of the cast alloy,
primarily through the control of the metal velocity and not through the removal of
inclusions from the liquid metal.

[But other interpretations of the results are possible, such as the use of the filter is (i)
to remove the inclusions before the entering the filter and, at the same time, (ii) to
reduce the possibility of bifilm produced after the velocity reduced by filter. Both
functions may exist throughout when using filter in the running system; and these two
functions would help the increasing reliability of casting.] [William. This seems to me
to be a re-statement of the above paragraph. Thus I suggest we delete this.]

Moreover, that inclusions in liquid metal are removed by the use of filter is not
hundred percent. For example, Nyahumwa et al (1998) studied the fatigue life of the
castings derived from filling aluminium alloy A356 into two running systems, with
and without a filter. In the quiescently filled castings, although the reduced surface
turbulence, resulting from the use of a filter, would have eliminated the condition for
the creation of new oxide films, oxide films were still found at the initiation of the
failure. They believed that these oxides were old oxides, originating in the as-received
alloy, and that their size was reduced by a possible filtering or chopping action of the

The mechanism of the action of a filter deserves further study. However, the current
study focuses only on running systems without filters. The intention of designing a
running system without filters and still retaining the quiescent filling of the mould
cavity is not new. Rezvani et al (1999) used a so called “One-pass” filling method,
which in fact was simply a running system sufficiently narrow to avoid back waves.
Because the rolling back-wave was eliminated by this method, surface turbulence and
bubble generation were effectively suppressed all the way into the mould cavity.

2 Reducing velocity of liquid metal flow under a critical value

As liquid metal falls to the base of the sprue, the velocity of the flow at this point is
normally the highest in the running system. This velocity will generally be greater
than the critical ingate velocity, so there is a high risk of generating harmful surface
turbulence in the liquid metal. For example, if liquid aluminium falls only 12.5mm, its
velocity has already reached its critical velocity of 0.5 ms-1. For most sprues that are
some fraction of a metre in height, the melt velocity at the exit from the sprue will be
several ms-1. Therefore, one of the desirable functions of the running system is to
slow the liquid metal from its high value at the sprue exit to a speed below its critical

Two geometries that were thought to have potential to achieve this target were (i) a
diffuser (an expanding channel) and (ii) an off-set runner (or vortex runner), are
reviewed below.

2.1 Diffuser

As a large fraction of the dynamic pressure (or kinetic head) can convert into static
pressure (or potential head) in the form of a pressure rise, a reduction of velocity can
be achieved. This may be accomplished by decelerating the flow in a diverging
passage called a diffuser. (This appears to be a less-than-helpful name. A better name
might have been ‘a diverger’).To maintain the law of conservation of mass, once the
velocity head is reduced or transformed into the pressure head, the cross sectional area
of flow has to be increased. The geometry of runner therefore needs to expand (or
diverge) to fit this slower speed.

By using this concept a number of workers have used diffusers in an attempt to reduce
the velocity of the metal flow in their experiments (, Swift et al 1964, Robertson and
Hardy 1964, and Sirrell 1997). However, most of them have not reported satisfactory

Similarly, various traditional designs such as diffuser and “well” design did not enjoy
success because an “extra cavity” volume, over and above that required to
accommodate the main stream, was often created inadvertently, or inadvisably; for
instance, by the provision of a “well”. As a result, extra time was needed to fill this
cavity (e.g., resulting in longer filling time and longer “clean-up” time, which is the
time for the bubbles to escape completely).

Also, perhaps more importantly, the provision of a well was observed by Tiedie
(1999) to result in an unconstrained flow in the early stage of filling, generating
violent flow and splashing (Tiedie 1999). However, after the extra volume was filled,
he observed that the main stream flow found its way, taking the turn between the
sprue and the runner without regard for the geometry of his various well designs. In
fact, the liquid in the additional volume was stagnant, taking no part in the
mainstream flow. In the later computer modelling of various sprue-base designs,
Hsu(2003) confirmed that the additional volumes were, at best, redundant.
Furthermore, severe disadvantages follow from the use of such additional volumes
such as wells. (i) Extra filling time is needed. (ii) metal yield is reduced; and (iii) at
the early stage of filling the flow is not constrained entirely by the walls of the filling
system, with the result that surface turbulence is practically inevitable at the high
velocities in this part of the running system, so that harmful bifilms will be

Thus, in various ways, all these previous studies have unfortunately ignored the
importance of how the flow enters the diffuser geometry. The initial condition of the
entering flow need to be defined with some precision so that the runner walls follow
an exact shape of the mainstream flow. In fact, an arbitarily expanding geometry does
not necessarily affect the flow stream at all. The velocity of the flow stream should be
reduced before entering in pace with the expanding geometry, simply dictated by the
need of re-sizing the flow channel as the flow converts its energy from kinetic to
potential head.

Hsu (2003) also concluded that a Diverging-Bend design, which is a bend geometry
and its cross sectional area increasing along this geometry (i.e., Figure 1), has the
possibility to achieve the goal of reducing the velocity of liquid metal but retaining an
optimum flow rate. since the pressure in the central bottom of the bend geometry can
force the flow for filling crosswise in a cross-section of diverging geometry. If both
the continuous pressures obtained from the bend geometry, and sufficient diverging
angle for the geometry are provided, a liquid metal will have the chance to fill fully in
cross-sections. In this way the generation of bifilm defects can be avoided.
Approximately, an 80% reduction of original flow velocity and an increase of 1.23
times the original flow rate can be achieved at each right-angle bend.

2.2 Off-set runner (Vortex runner)

The other way of reducing the velocity of flow is to decrease the kinetic energy of
flow by rotating the flow in the form of vortex (or whirl).

Yang et al (1998, 2000) studied the aluminium alloy (Al-7Si-0.4Mg) in sand moulds
with off-set sprue, shown in Figure 2, where the sprue was sited off-set relative to the
axis of a cylindrical runner. They found that the mean kinetic energy of this design is
subsequently reduced, so that the velocity in the runner and the gate can be
significantly lowered. When the stream of liquid metal reached the end of the runner
there was no reflected wave. Entrapment of bubbles was also thus reduced.
Interestingly, in the initial filling of runner, a void was found to be formed in the
centre of the flow at the entrance to the runner for this design.Yang et al believed that
is not significantly harmful. This design is worthy of further study.



Unit : mm

Figure 1 dimensions of a typical "Diverging-Bend" designed by Hsu (2003)

Figure 2 The system of the sprue off-set relative to runner junction of Yang et al (1998). (Unit: mm)

3 Investigation method

3.1 Computational modelling

A computational fluid dynamics (CFD) code, Flow-3D™ (Flow Science Inc.1), has
been used for these studies. Flow-3D™ is based on the finite-volume-method, which
is originally developed as a special finite difference formulation.

Since the flow phenomena in running systems were mainly considered here, one fluid
(i.e. liquid metal) with sharp interface tracking of VOF algorithm was employed in
the modelling. Because the sand mould was assumed to have a high permeability, the
generation of back-pressure from air and/or gas in the cavity during filling was
ignored. Empty cells within a domain were therefore present as voids at no pressure,
which means atmosphere pressure exists throughout the filling process.

In all of our computational modellings, isothermal conditions were assumed since the
change of viscosity of the liquid could be ignored as approximately only 1 per cent of
heat loss was expected (c.f., Richins and Wetmore 1952). Thus, the energy equations

Flow Science Inc., 683 Harkle Rd Suite A, Santa Fe, NM 87505, U.S. http://www.flow3d.com
for calculating heat transfer and solidification were excluded, concentrating on the
main aim of this work: the study the early stages of mould filling.

The simulations were carried out on a Silicon Graphic-Octane (R10000-IP30)

machine, which contains 175 MHz CPU and 640 MB memory. The operating system
is IRIX version 6.5 of Silicon Graphics. The input parameters, which were selected
for the modelling of liquid alloy Al-7Si-0.4Mg in the options of Flow-3D™, are
shown in Table 1.

Table 1 Input parameters in the options of Flow-3D for the modelling of liquid aluminium alloy LM25.

Parameters in Flow3D Descriptions

The gravitational acceleration is 9.81 ms-2 and the
1. gz = -9.81
direction of gravity is negative direction of z-axis.
2. icmprs = 0 Incompressible fluid was considered.
3. ipdis = 1 Initial hydrostatic pressure in z direction was set up.
4. itb = 1 Free surface or sharp surface was calculated.
No calculation of energy Isothermal condition was set up.
5. equations for heat transfer
and solidification
6. iwsh = 1 Wall shear stress was turned on.
Reduce free-surface breakup in extreme distortion and
7. ifpk = 3
discard isolated drops of fluid.
iadix = 1
The line implicit method (ADI) was used for pressure
8. iadiy = 1
iteration in x, y, and z direction.
iadiz = 1
The standard k- turbulence model was chosen;
The k- model is based on the use of two parameters,
9. ifvis = 3 namely the turbulent kinetic energy k (=0.5(u’2 + v’2 +
w’2)) and the rate of dissipation of k due to viscous
damping, which is denoted by .

3.2 Real-time X-ray radiography study

In this work, the main role of the real-time X-ray radiography was to verify the results
of computational modelling. The filling of a sand mould was viewed using a 160kV
X-ray source of diameter 1.5 mm and 6mA via an image intensifier, and recorded on
video tape. The working resolution was 0.3 mm in the static image and 1~1.5 mm in
an image of moving metal at an approximate speed of 2 ms-1. X-ray video frame
speed was 50 frames per second throughout the period of filling.

The mould and pouring mechanism were contained in a lead-lined cabinet. An

operator viewing the pour via a closed circuit TV camera controlled the pouring
remotely from outside the cabinet.

The X-ray images were enhanced by a picture enhancement unit (Hamamattsu DVS-
1000). A time code signal was also superimposed on the image using a time code
generator unit (FOR.A TGR-2000). The resulting images were displayed on a monitor
and recorded onto videotape using a video recorder (Panasonic AG7350).

3.2.1 Sand moulds

Moulds were made by mixing dried silica sand (AFS grade 60) with a urethane-type
resin (Ashland Pepset). The silica sand was bonded with a mixture of Pepset 5112
resin and Pepset 5230 catalyst, in a proportion of 0.6 wt % of the mass of sand for
each of them.

3.2.2 Vortex-Gate design

Three patterns, (i) pouring basin, (ii) vertical sprue and horizontal runner together
with (iii) a Vortex-Gate design were separately built. After the mould parts were made
and assembled a total head height of 300 mm was achieved as illustrated in Figure 3.

In the pouring basin some important features were (i) an overflow, (ii) a rounded off-
set vertical step, and (iii) a radiused entrance to the sprue. The overflow helped to
provide a constant pressure head, whereas the step and rounded entrance avoided air
entrainment into the sprue. The top area of the sprue was increased 20% over the
theoretical entrance area and a straight taper between top and bottom areas was
created. The precise geometry of the sprue/runner L-shaped junction between the
sprue and the runner formed the central study of Hsu’s (2003) work.

Overflow sump
Pouring basin




L-shape junction

Figure 3 Vortex-Gate design

3.2.3 Alloy preparation

Each charge was approximately 2.0 kg of pre-alloyed ingot, and was melted in an
induction furnace in a clay/graphite crucible. At 78010C, measured by a type K
thermocouple with uncoated junction, the crucible was transferred into the pouring
unit of the X-ray equipment. After a short delay, to allow the door of the lead-shielded
cabinet to close and the X-ray machine to switch on, the molten alloy was then poured
(using a remote control) into a pouring basin, where a graphite-stopper was placed at
the entrance of sprue. The molten alloy was poured until the basin was full, signaled
by the flow of the liquid into the overflow sump. At 7505C, measured by the
thermocouple in the pouring basin, the stopper was abruptly lifted clear from the
sprue entrance, permitting the start of filling. Additional molten alloy was poured into
the basin continuously in order to maintain a constant head height in the basin during
the filling of the casting. The pouring lasted approximately 1.5s. The whole casting
operation was carried out remotely from outside the cabinet.