What is aerospace casting? Types & Material Alloys

The global commercial aircraft fleet is projected to balloon to over 45,000 by 2040, according to Boeing’s latest forecast. To meet this surging demand, the aerospace industry is constantly innovating, driven by the relentless pursuit of lighter, stronger, and more fuel-efficient aircraft. In this high-stakes environment, castings aerospace, a family of precision metal forming techniques, takes center stage.

In this article, we shall learn benefits, types, and materials used in aerospace casting. Lets’ start.

Benefits of Aerospace Casting

One of the key reasons aerospace casting has become such a vital manufacturing technique is the multitude of benefits it offers. Here, we’ll delve into four crucial advantages that make casting a perfect fit for the demanding world of aerospace engineering.

Investment Casting & Near-Net Shapes

Firstly, aerospace casting excels at producing parts with intricate details and complex geometries. Unlike some subtractive manufacturing methods, casting allows for the creation of near-net shapes with features that would be incredibly difficult or even impossible to achieve through machining. This is particularly important for components like turbine blades with intricate internal cooling channels.

These channels are essential for efficient engine operation by managing heat transfer within the blade. Traditional machining would struggle to replicate these complex geometries without generating excessive waste material.

Casting, on the other hand, can produce these blades with exceptional precision and minimal post-processing needs. Techniques like investment casting, also known as lost wax casting, are particularly adept at achieving this level of detail due to the use of a precisely crafted wax pattern that is replicated in the final metal component.

Aluminum Casting & Strength-to-Weight Ratio

Secondly, lightweight construction is paramount in the aerospace industry. Every pound saved translates to increased fuel efficiency and extended range. Here, casting shines again. The ability to utilize materials like aluminum alloys, known for their excellent strength-to-weight ratio, allows for the creation of robust yet lightweight components.

 This translates to significant fuel savings and a more environmentally friendly operation. A prime example is the use of cast aluminum landing gear components. Compared to traditional steel forgings, cast aluminum offers significant weight reduction while maintaining the necessary strength to handle the demanding landing and takeoff cycles. This reduction in weight translates directly to improved fuel efficiency for the aircraft.

Nickel-Based Superalloys & High-Temperature Performance

Thirdly, achieving a high strength-to-weight ratio is a balancing act crucial for aircraft components. They need to be strong enough to withstand the significant stresses encountered during flight, yet lightweight to maximize fuel efficiency.

 Casting techniques are adept at achieving this ideal balance. By using specific alloys and controlled solidification processes, aerospace castings can achieve exceptional strength without compromising weight. A prime example is the use of nickel-based superalloys for casting turbine discs.

These discs experience extreme temperatures and centrifugal forces during engine operation. Casting allows for the creation of these components using alloys that offer superior strength and high-temperature performance compared to other manufacturing methods. These properties are critical for ensuring the safe and efficient operation of the jet engine.

Investment Casting & Dimensional Accuracy

Finally, for mass production, consistent and repeatable results are essential. The controlled nature of casting processes ensures that each part produced meets the same stringent quality and dimensional accuracy standards. This consistency translates to reliable and efficient manufacturing, allowing the aerospace industry to meet the ever-growing demand for high-performance aircraft.

Investment casting, for instance, is ideal for mass producing complex parts like missile fins or aircraft control surfaces. The process ensures each fin or control surface is produced with the precise dimensional accuracy and tolerances needed for optimal aerodynamic performance. This consistency is crucial for ensuring the predictable and reliable flight characteristics of the aircraft.

Types of Aerospace Casting Processes

The world of aerospace casting boasts a diverse repertoire of techniques, each offering unique advantages and considerations. Here, we’ll delve into the three most prominent methods employed in crafting high-performance aircraft components:

Investment Casting (Lost Wax Casting)

Process: Investment casting, also known as lost wax casting, reigns supreme in the realm of aerospace casting. This intricate process begins with the creation of a detailed wax pattern that replicates the final metal component. This pattern is then coated with a ceramic slurry and fired, transforming the wax into a mold shell. Molten metal is subsequently poured into the shell, allowed to solidify, and then the ceramic shell is broken away to reveal the final cast part.


  • Unmatched Geometric Complexity: Investment casting excels at producing parts with intricate details and near-net shapes, including features like internal cooling channels in turbine blades that would be impossible to achieve through machining.
  • High Dimensional Accuracy: The use of a precisely crafted wax pattern translates to exceptional dimensional accuracy in the final cast component, minimizing the need for extensive post-processing.
  • Material Versatility: Investment casting can accommodate a wide range of alloys, including aluminum, nickel-based superalloys, and stainless steels, allowing for the selection of the optimal material properties for each application.


  • Higher Cost: Compared to other casting methods, investment casting can be a more expensive process due to the labor-intensive nature of creating the wax pattern and ceramic mold.
  • Production Lead Time: The multi-step process typically requires longer lead times compared to simpler casting methods.

Parts Examples: Turbine blades, vanes, blisks (integrated blade disks), impellers, housings, missile fins, control surfaces.

Sand Casting

Process: Sand casting, a time-tested method, involves creating a mold cavity in compacted sand using a pattern. Molten metal is then poured into the cavity, allowed to solidify, and the sand mold is broken away to reveal the cast part. Sand casting offers greater design flexibility compared to investment casting, but the level of geometric detail achievable is more limited.


  • Cost-Effectiveness: Sand casting is a relatively inexpensive method, particularly for simpler shapes, making it suitable for prototype development or lower-volume production runs.
  • Design Flexibility: Sand casting allows for greater design freedom compared to investment casting, as the sand mold can be readily modified to accommodate changes in the part geometry.
  • Wide Material Range: Similar to investment casting, sand casting can accommodate a variety of metal alloys, offering flexibility in material selection.


  • Limited Geometric Complexity: Sand casting struggles to produce parts with intricate details and smooth surface finishes compared to investment casting.
  • Dimensional Tolerances: The dimensional accuracy of sand castings is generally lower compared to investment casting due to the inherent limitations of using sand as the mold material.
  • Post-Processing Needs: Sand castings often require more extensive post-processing steps like grinding and machining to achieve the desired surface finish and dimensional tolerances.

Parts Examples: Engine blocks, landing gear components, housings, brackets, simple airframe components.

Other Casting Processes

While investment casting and sand casting dominate the aerospace casting landscape, two additional methods deserve a brief mention:

  • Centrifugal Casting: This technique utilizes centrifugal force to distribute molten metal within a mold, resulting in a more uniform grain structure and improved mechanical properties. It’s particularly well-suited for producing parts with a cylindrical or tubular geometry, such as turbine liners or landing gear components.
  • Permanent Mold Casting: This method employs a reusable metallic mold, offering faster production times compared to sand casting. However, the permanent mold design limits the geometric complexity of the parts that can be produced. It’s often used for medium-volume production runs of components with moderate geometric complexity, such as engine housings or structural components.

Aerospace Casting Materials and Alloys

The success of any aerospace component hinges on the materials used in its construction. In the realm of casting, selecting the right alloy is paramount for achieving the optimal balance of strength, weight, and performance. Let’s delve deeper into the common alloys that take center stage in aerospace casting:

Aluminum Alloys

Aluminum alloys reign supreme for their lightweight properties, translating to improved fuel efficiency and extended range. Additionally, they boast excellent castability, making them ideal for complex geometries achievable through casting techniques like investment casting. Here are some workhorse aluminum alloys in the aerospace industry:

  • A356 & A357: These alloys offer a compelling combination of high strength and good castability. They are commonly used for engine components like cylinder heads, crankcases, and pistons, where a balance of strength and weight reduction is crucial.

Nickel-Based Alloys

For applications involving extreme temperatures, such as turbine blades and discs, nickel-based alloys are the undisputed champions. These alloys offer exceptional:

  • High-Temperature Performance: They can withstand the intense heat generated within jet engines without succumbing to creep (gradual deformation under stress at high temperatures).
  • Oxidation Resistance: Nickel-based alloys excel at resisting oxidation, a critical factor for parts exposed to hot, oxygen-rich environments within the engine.

Common examples include:

  • Inconel 600 & 625: These versatile alloys are widely used for turbine blades, discs, and combustor liners due to their exceptional high-temperature strength and oxidation resistance.

Stainless Steel Alloys:

Stainless steel alloys offer a well-rounded package of properties, making them suitable for a diverse range of aerospace casting applications. They provide:

  • High Strength: These alloys offer good mechanical strength, allowing them to handle the significant stresses encountered during flight.
  • Corrosion Resistance: Stainless steel excels at resisting corrosion, a crucial property for components exposed to harsh weather conditions or moisture.

Here are some key players in this category:

  • 17-4 PH & 15-5 PH: These precipitation-hardened stainless steels offer a good balance of strength and corrosion resistance, making them suitable for landing gear components, airframe structures, and control surfaces.
  • 347 Austenitic Stainless Steel: This alloy prioritizes good weldability, making it ideal for applications where multiple cast components need to be joined together.

Other Alloy Options: Pushing the Boundaries

Beyond the core materials mentioned above, the world of aerospace casting explores other options for specialized applications:

  • Cobalt Alloys: These alloys offer exceptional high-temperature strength and wear resistance, making them suitable for components like turbine nozzle vanes and wear surfaces.

Choosing the Right Alloy

The selection of the optimal casting alloy hinges on a careful consideration of the specific application. Key factors to consider include:

  • Operating Temperatures: For components exposed to extreme heat, nickel-based alloys are essential.
  • Strength Requirements: The specific loads a component needs to withstand will dictate the required strength level of the alloy.
  • Weight Constraints: Lightweight aluminum alloys are ideal for maximizing fuel efficiency.
  • Corrosion Resistance: For components exposed to harsh environments, corrosion resistance becomes a priority.

Aerospace Casting Materials and Alloys Chart

Material GroupAlloyKey PropertiesApplications
Aluminum AlloysA356 & A357* Lightweight * High Strength * Good CastabilityEngine components (cylinder heads, crankcases, pistons)
Other Common Alloys (e.g., Al-Si Alloys, Al-Li Alloys)* Excellent Strength-to-Weight Ratio * Corrosion Resistant * Improved Stiffness (Al-Li)Airframe components, control surfaces, landing gear components (Al-Li)
Nickel-Based AlloysInconel 600 & 625* High-Temperature Performance * Oxidation ResistanceTurbine blades, discs, combustor liners
Other Common Alloys (e.g., Inconel 718, Rene 41)* Excellent Strength at High Temperatures * Resistant to Creep * Improved Machinability (Rene 41)Turbine discs, exhaust systems, structural components (Inconel 718)
Stainless Steel Alloys17-4 PH & 15-5 PH* High Strength * Good Corrosion ResistanceLanding gear components, airframe structures, control surfaces
347 Austenitic* Good WeldabilityComponents requiring joining (e.g., welded assemblies)
Other Common Alloys (e.g., 304L, 17-4 CRES)* Good Corrosion Resistance * Moderate Strength (304L) * High Strength and Toughness (17-4 CRES)Fluid system components (304L), High-strength fasteners (17-4 CRES)
Cobalt AlloysHaynes 25* High-Temperature Strength * Wear Resistance * Excellent Oxidation ResistanceTurbine nozzle vanes, wear surfaces, hot-end structural components
Magnesium AlloysAZ91D* Ultra-Lightweight * Good Strength-to-Weight RatioNon-critical structural components (limited use due to flammability concerns)
Titanium AlloysTi-6Al-4V* High Strength-to-Weight Ratio * Excellent Corrosion ResistanceLanding gear components, airframe structures (limited use due to high cost)

Quality Control and Testing in Aerospace Casting

In the realm of aerospace, safety and performance are paramount. This translates to equally stringent quality control and testing procedures for cast components. Here’s why these measures are crucial and how they are implemented:

Stringent Requirements for Safety and Performance:

  • Safety First: A single point of failure in a critical aerospace component can have catastrophic consequences. Casting defects like cracks, voids, or improper material properties can compromise structural integrity and lead to potential in-flight failures.
  • Performance Optimization: To achieve optimal fuel efficiency, range, and overall aircraft performance, cast components need to meet precise dimensional tolerances and weight specifications. Even minor deviations can impact performance.

Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) Methods: Inspecting Without Compromise

Given the critical nature of aerospace components, destructive testing methods, which involve breaking or damaging the part, are not a viable option. Therefore, aerospace casting relies heavily on non-destructive testing (NDT) techniques to ensure the integrity and quality of the cast parts:

  • Visual Inspection: Highly trained inspectors meticulously examine the cast part surface for any visible defects like cracks, surface porosity, or blemishes. This initial step often utilizes high-powered magnification tools for a thorough examination.
  • Radiographic Testing (X-Ray): This technique utilizes X-rays to penetrate the cast component and create an image on film. Internal defects like voids, cracks, or shrinkage cavities can be identified by analyzing the variations in X-ray absorption within the part.
  • Ultrasonic Testing: High-frequency sound waves are transmitted through the cast part, and any internal defects will cause reflections in the sound wave pattern. By analyzing these reflections, inspectors can locate and characterize internal flaws.
  • Liquid Penetrant Testing: This method involves applying a special liquid that seeps into surface-breaking cracks and other defects. The liquid is then removed, and a developer is applied to draw the penetrant out, revealing the location and size of the defects on the surface.
  • Magnetic Particle Testing: For certain alloys that are susceptible to magnetic fields, this technique involves magnetizing the cast part. Fine magnetic particles are then applied, and they will be attracted to areas with discontinuities in the magnetic field, which can indicate cracks or other defects near the surface.

Top Aerospace Casting Companies

RankCompany NameLocationServicesWebsite
1PCC Structurals, Inc.USAInvestment casting, superalloy, aluminum, titaniumhttps://www.pccmetalsgroup.com/
2Precision Castparts Corp.USAInvestment casting, airfoils, forged components, fastenershttps://www.precast.com/
3Willman Industries, Inc.USAInvestment casting, aluminum, stainless steel, nickel alloyshttps://willmanind.com/
4CastingodChinaInvestment casting, aluminum, magnesium, zinchttps://www.castingod.com/
5MES, Inc.USAInvestment casting, aluminum, stainless steel, exotic alloyshttps://www.mesinc.net/
6Benton Foundry, Inc.USASand casting, aluminum, steel, ironhttps://www.bentonfoundry.com/
7GF Casting SolutionsGermanyInvestment casting, aluminum, stainless steel, nickel alloyshttps://www.georgfischer.com/en/our-solutions/gf-casting-solutions.html
8AlcoaUSAInvestment casting, aluminum alloyshttps://www.alcoa.com/global/en/home/
9Bharat Forge LimitedIndiaInvestment casting, titanium, nickel alloys, superalloyshttps://www.bharatforge.com/
10Avio AeroItalyInvestment casting, turbine blades, blisks, impellershttps://www.avioaero.com/


In conclusion, aerospace casting stands as a cornerstone technology in the aviation industry. From the intricate turbine blades at the heart of the engine to the robust landing gear components, cast parts play a vital role in aircraft performance and efficiency. Careful selection of casting processes, materials, and rigorous quality control procedures ensure the creation of high-integrity components.

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