Royal Society Publishing

An asymptotic model for the formation and evolution of air gaps in vertical continuous casting

M. Vynnycky


The formation of an air gap at the mould–metal interface in vertical continuous casting has long been known to have a detrimental effect on the efficiency of the process, and has therefore attracted attempts at mathematical modelling. While almost all current efforts consist of complex three-dimensional numerical simulations of the phenomenon, this paper considers instead an asymptotic model that captures the essential characteristics. The model is thermomechanical and is derived for a geometry, where the generalized plane strain approximation is appropriate. Although two-way coupling between the thermal and mechanical problems is accounted for, it is found that the problems decouple at leading order anyway, and that the thickness of the air gap does not depend on the constitutive relation used for describing the inelastic strains. Furthermore, a criterion for the onset of air-gap formation is derived in terms of the process operating parameters. Mathematically, we obtain a moving boundary problem for a parabolic partial differential equation with a degenerate initial condition and a non-standard Neumann-type boundary condition. Sample computations are performed using parameters for the continuous casting of the copper, and the results, qualitative trends and possible extensions are discussed.


1. Introduction

Air-gap formation in the industrial continuous casting of metals and metal alloys has long been recognized as having an adverse effect on process efficiency. A two-dimensional schematic of the situation is given in figure 1, which shows molten metal, typically copper, aluminium or steel alloys, passing vertically downwards through a cooled mould, solidifying and being withdrawn at casting speed, Vcast. At each mould wall, there is typically first a region where liquid metal is in contact with the mould wall, followed by a region where the solidified shell is in contact; after this, at z=zgap, an air gap begins to form between the solidified shell and the mould wall. Eventually, at some location z=zmid, complete solidification occurs at the centreline. In particular, the formation of the air gap prohibits effective heat transfer between the mould and shell, leading to longer solidification lengths and requiring supplementary process design considerations, such as mould tapering.

Figure 1

Two-dimensional schematic of air-gap formation.

As previously stated by several authors (Schwerdtfeger et al. 1998; Kron et al. 2004, 2005; Fredriksson & Åkerlind 2006), the air gap is thought to form when the solid metal shell, in going from a plastic to elastic state, is strong enough to withstand the metallostatic pressure of the adjacent molten metal, thereby receding from the mould as a result of contraction; a contributing factor is also thought to be the expansion of the mould itself (Kim 2003). Prior to this, when the applied pressure dominates, no air gap can form. In view of the detrimental effect that the air gap has on process efficiency, mathematical models of varying degrees of complexity have been derived to describe the phenomenon. Early analytical models for predicting the onset of air-gap formation, although not its evolution, were due to Savage (1962), Richmond & Tien (1971), Kristiansson (1982) and Tien & Richmond (1982). Most subsequent models have been numerical and have adopted different approaches for handling the thermomechanical interaction at the air gap.

  1. A heat transfer coefficient is assumed for the thermal calculation, and the temperature field that is computed is then used to determine the displacement of the solid strand from the mould (Schwerdtfeger et al. 1998); there is therefore no back-coupling from the mechanical to the thermal problem.

  2. Experiments are carried out for a particular solidification process in order to correlate the heat transfer coefficient with the air gap width (Trovant & Argyropoulos 1998, 2000; Kron et al. 2004); this heat transfer coefficient is then used for the thermal calculation.

  3. Complete two-way coupling between thermal and mechanical calculations is allowed for, so that the thermal boundary conditions are dependent on the surface displacements and stresses of the solidifying shell, and vice versa (Grill et al. 1976; Kelly et al. 1988; Bellet et al. 1996; Huespe et al. 2000; Kim 2003; Li & Thomas 2004; Sun et al. 2007).

While approach (iii) is no doubt most representative of the actual thermomechanical interaction that occurs in the course of air-gap formation, it is computationally expensive and unwieldy: for example, none of the models under (iii) has given the qualitative understanding of the air gap's dependence on different operating parameters, or indeed whether it is possible to avoid air-gap formation completely. The alternative approach that we suggest here is to use asymptotic methods to reduce the complexity of the problem, although without sacrificing any physical features; the reason why this appears to be possible is because the thickness of the air gap is much smaller than all other length scales in the problem. There are several benefits to adopting the asymptotic route: for initial design purposes, to gain insight prior to more general and expensive simulations; for use as a benchmark for testing more general formulations; for use in online control systems. Furthermore, the model presented here can serve as the basis for input to other asymptotic models for casting processes (Bland 1984; Hill & Wu 1994; DiLellio & Young 1995; Smelser & Johnson 1995; Johnson & Cherukuri 1999; Cherukuri & Johnson 2001). There is also an experimental perspective to this model, and approach (iii) in general, which is worth highlighting. While there exist numerous experimental methods for determining the appropriate boundary conditions that are necessary for modelling via approach (i), e.g. thermocouples embedded into the mould wall (Åberg et al. 2005b; Åberg & Fredriksson 2007), these require two measurements at any particular z-location in order to determine a suitable heat transfer coefficient. However, having a model for air-gap formation and evolution means that we require only one measurement at each z-location; furthermore, there is then the possibility to compare approaches (i), (ii) and (iii).

The layout of the paper is as follows. In §2, we formulate the appropriate thermomechanical problem for a geometry in which the generalized plane strain approximation holds. In particular, we discuss the appropriate condition for describing the onset of air-gap formation, as well as how to incorporate air-gap evolution. In §3, we non-dimensionalize the governing equations, perform asymptotic reduction and derive a criterion for air-gap formation in terms of the operating parameters. From the asymptotics, we see that the thermal and mechanical problems decouple, and that the thickness of the air gap is independent of the constitutive relation chosen to describe the inelastic strains. In §4, we describe briefly some of the numerical aspects of the problem, and in §5 a finite-element method is used to solve the governing equations; by this stage, these have been reduced to a moving boundary problem for a parabolic partial differential equation (PDE) with degenerate initial conditions and a non-standard Neumann-like boundary condition. Conclusions are drawn in §6.

2. Mathematical formulation

We consider a steady-state, two-dimensional problem, as already shown in figure 1, in which pure liquid metal at its melting temperature, Tmelt, enters a mould region at z=0, solidifies and is withdrawn at a casting speed Vcast; the extension to the case where the liquid metal is at a temperature greater than its melting temperature will be considered elsewhere, but the working assumption that we use allows us to take ym(0)=0 and thereby to avoid extraneous details that are not essential here. Subsequently, an air gap starts to form at the inner mould surface at z=zgap. For 0<z<zgap, solidification occurs in the region 0<y<ym(z), whereas for z>zgap, air occupies 0<y<ya(z) and solid occupies ya(z)<y<ym(z). Eventually, after complete solidification has occurred at z=zmid, the solid region occupies ya(z)<y<W; due to symmetry, we need to consider only the left-hand side of figure 1.

(a) Heat transfer

The heat transfer aspects are as follows. For 0<z<zgap and 0<y<ym(z), and then z>zgap and ya(z)<y<ym(z), we haveEmbedded Image(2.1)where ks is the thermal conductivity of the solid metal; cps is its specific heat capacity; and ρ its density. In equation (2.1), we use the fact that casting geometries are often slender, which motivates us to assume that Embedded Image.

For boundary conditions at y=ym(z), we haveEmbedded Image(2.2)and the Stefan condition,Embedded Image(2.3)where ΔHf is the latent heat of fusion; this form for (2.3) also makes use of the fact that the geometry is slender and that there is no heat flux in the liquid phase. However, once solidification is complete, at z=zmid, we treat y=W as a symmetry axis, so that (2.2) and (2.3) are replaced by justEmbedded Image(2.4)

At the left-hand surface of the solid phase, separate considerations are necessary for 0<z<zgap and z>zgap. For 0<z<zgap, where the solid shell is in contact with the mould, it is reasonable to assume continuity of temperature and heat flux, i.e. at y=0,Embedded Image(2.5)where kM is the thermal conductivity of the mould. In addition, assuming only heat conduction in the slender mould, we haveEmbedded Image(2.6)subject toEmbedded Image(2.7)where To(z) is the experimentally measurable temperature at the outer surface of the mould; in practice, measurements may also be made by means of thermocouples located within the mould itself (Åberg et al. 2005b; Åberg & Fredriksson 2007). So,Embedded Image(2.8)where AM(z) is to be determined; substituting into (2.5), we arrive atEmbedded Image(2.9)For z>zgap, on the other hand, if we assume heat conduction only in the air gap and continuity of temperature and heat flux at the mould–air and air–shell interfaces, we haveEmbedded Image(2.10)with additional interface conditionsEmbedded Image(2.11)andEmbedded Image(2.12)where ka is the thermal conductivity of air. Now, using (2.8) andEmbedded Image(2.13)as the general form of the solution to (2.10), boundary conditions (2.11) and (2.12) lead toEmbedded ImagegivingEmbedded ImageEmbedded ImageFollowing straighforward manipulation to eliminate Ta, we obtainEmbedded Image(2.14)Whether conduction is the only heat transfer mechanism in the air gap has been the subject of some debate (Ho & Pehlke 1984; Nishida et al. 1986); if it is not the dominating mechanism, then we would need to replace (2.10) with something else and the subsequent manipulation leading to (2.14) would not hold. We assume here that conduction is the dominating mechanism, since this gives a closed form for the required boundary condition, although we note that other possibilities, e.g. convection and radiation, can be introduced in systematic fashion. Of use to process engineers is the heat transfer coefficient, h, between the solidified shell and the mould, defined in dimensional variables from the equationEmbedded Image(2.15)retracing the manipulation that led to (2.14), we arrive atEmbedded Image(2.16)

Since governing equation (2.1) is a parabolic PDE, an initial condition for Ts is necessary at z=0. As this is where solidification starts, most appropriate isEmbedded Image(2.17)In addition, we must haveEmbedded Image(2.18)i.e. the solid phase is initially of zero thickness. Consequently, the problem is initially degenerate; we demonstrate later how to deal with this potential difficulty.

A final comment concerns the form of the boundary conditions (2.9) and (2.14). Since this study adopts the simplest possible approach in order to ensure analytical tractability, using the temperature at y=−HM appears at first sight not to be the simplest; this would instead be a constant temperature condition at y=0, as used for the thermomechanical analysis of Weiner & Boley (1963), for example. There turn out to be at least two reasons for our approach here: the first is simply that the inner mould surface is not isothermal in practice; the second, and somewhat deeper, reason is that such a boundary condition would not give rise to air-gap formation, i.e. the criterion for air-gap formation, which we introduce in §2b, would never be satisfied. More details of this are given in appendix A in the electronic supplementary material; for a more sophisticated treatment of the appropriate boundary condition, although without consideration of air-gap formation, see the models for the vertical continuous casting of steel by Bland (1984), Hill & Wu (1994) and DiLellio & Young (1995).

(b) Structure mechanics

In Cartesian coordinates in three dimensions, the equilibrium of forces is given byEmbedded Image(2.19)Embedded Image(2.20)andEmbedded Image(2.21)where σx, σy, σz, τxy, τxz, τyz are the stress components, with τxy=τyx, τxz=τzx, τyz=τzy. In continuous casting, the generalized plane strain approximation is often invoked. Although there are different definitions for this in literature (Babuška & Szabó 2006), here, we take it to mean that the length scale in the z-direction is much greater than that in the x- and y-directions, which enables us to reduce (2.19)–(2.21) toEmbedded Image(2.22)however, we still allow for the possibility for expansion in the z-direction and take ϵz=ϵz(z), where ϵz is the longitudinal strain. In addition, if we exclude bending, we can set τxy=τyz=0, as in Weiner & Boley (1963) and Kristiansson (1982), leaving justEmbedded Image(2.23)there is, however, axial stress, i.e. σz≠0. However, as discussed in detail by Jablonka (1995) and Schwerdtfeger et al. (1998), a more convenient form for these when considering a body translating in the z-direction isEmbedded Image(2.24)where the dots denote differentiation with respect to z.

The stress components are then related to the elastic strain rates—Embedded Image—throughEmbedded Image(2.25)We will assume that thermal Embedded Image, elastic and inelastic strains Embedded Image occur simultaneously and that they are additive, so thatEmbedded Image(2.26)where ϵx and ϵy are strain components in the x- and y-direction, respectively. With Embedded Image equations (2.25) and (2.26) are then summarized byEmbedded Image(2.27)where E is the Young modulus; ν is the Poisson ratio; and α is the thermal expansion coefficient, and the strain components are in turn related to the displacements, u, v, w, byEmbedded Image(2.28)Note that, in writing (2.27), we have implicitly assumed that E and α are independent of temperature. Using the expressions for copper given by Freed (1988),Embedded Image(2.29)Embedded Image(2.30)over the temperature interval suggested by the computed results of Mahmoudi (2006), ∼1250 K≤Ts≤1356 K, implies that E will decrease from 3.5×1010 Pa to 2×1010 Pa, whereas α will increase from 2.2×10−5 K−1 to 2.3×10−5 K−1; for simplicity, and to ensure analytical tractability, we keep E and α constant in this paper and use the values given in table 1, which are themselves taken from earlier computations for the vertical continuous casting of copper (Mahmoudi et al. 2001, 2003; Mahmoudi 2006). Furthermore, strain compatibility conditions give that, for this geometry (Weiner & Boley 1963; Kristiansson 1982),Embedded Image(2.31)Embedded Image(2.32)for a detailed discussion of the derivation of these, see Boley & Weiner (1997), pp. 87 and 527. In addition, if we use the empirical strain hardening equation for viscoplastic strains in the form suggested by Schwerdtfeger et al. (1998) for Embedded Image, we find thatEmbedded Image(2.33)since Embedded Image and Embedded Image are both the same function of σy(z) and Embedded Image is a function of σ(y, z). A similar conclusion results if we instead use Norton's law for secondary creep (Kristiansson 1982), and so we choose to proceed on the assumption that (2.33) holds; for our purposes, it turns out that we do not need to specify them, as far as computing the width of the air gap is concerned. Thence, equation (2.27), combined with (2.31) and (2.32), can be reduced toEmbedded Image(2.34)andEmbedded Image(2.35)

View this table:
Table 1

Parameters for computations.

The structure mechanical problem is then fully specified by imposing three conditions. Normally, these consist of boundary conditions at y=0 and y=ym(z), as well as a global constraint (Weiner & Boley 1963; Kristiansson 1982; Schwerdtfeger et al. 1998; Åberg et al. 2005a). Considering first y=ym(z), we will haveEmbedded Image(2.36)where p(z) is the hydrostatic pressure, which we write as p=p0+ρgz, with p0 as the pressure at z=0, and thenEmbedded Image(2.37)Since also Embedded Image from (2.23), we conclude that Embedded Image everywhere, which then givesEmbedded Image(2.38)everywhere. We note also that in general σx=σz=−p(z) at y=ym(z), givingEmbedded Image(2.39)However, (2.38) will only hold as far as z=zmid; for z>zmid, we will have σy=σy(z), but now we setEmbedded Image(2.40)at y=W, i.e. symmetry conditions, which leads toEmbedded Image(2.41)

The other boundary lies at y=0 for zzgap, where we set zero normal displacement,Embedded Image(2.42)which then givesEmbedded Image(2.43)For z>zgap, we setEmbedded Image(2.44)an alternative candidate would have been σy=−pa, where pa is the pressure of the surrounding atmosphere. Equation (2.44) is motivated by the condition, used by Richmond & Tien (1971), that the lateral stress, i.e. σx, should vanish when the air gap forms; we continue to use that condition thereafter also. On the other hand, if we use σy=−pa, we find that it is not possible to satisfy (2.38) without presumably having τxy≠0, thereby losing analytical tractability; hence, we settle for (2.44). Note also, however, that (2.44) holds only if ya(z)>0 and, as we find later, for parameter ranges for which ya returns to zero, it is plausible that (2.42) should be reinstated.

Boundary conditions (2.38) and (2.43), or (2.44), will not suffice, however, to determine Embedded Image, and therefore additional considerations are required. A further condition results from the fact that σz has to be compensated by the total external force, Fz, acting on the cross-sectional area, i.e.Embedded Image(2.45)Different assumptions can be made to obtain Fz; this is discussed briefly for the continuous casting of steel by Schwerdtfeger et al. (1998). In the mould region, Fz will equal the weight of the liquid metal column above the cross-sectional area of the shell if the friction within the mould is negligible and the strand is held by the guiding system below the mould, i.e. the slice of the shell is subjected to an overall compression. In principle, there can also be overall longitudinal tension in the shell with positive Fz, exerted by the withdrawal machine, if the friction in the mould is large; also, if friction and weight force compensate each other, Fz=0. Here, the most relevant case is that for the mould region, so we setEmbedded Image(2.46)in each case, the first term is due to the pressure p0 at the meniscus level, whereas the second term is due to weight of the liquid metal column. Differentiating (2.45) and (2.46) with respect to z, replacing σz by σ and equating then givesEmbedded Image(2.47)

3. Analysis

(a) Non-dimensionalization

To non-dimensionalize, we writeEmbedded Imagewhere ΔT is a temperature scale to be determined. Equation (2.1) then becomesEmbedded Image(3.1)where Embedded Image is the reduced Peclet number, given byEmbedded Image(3.2)The boundary conditions for θ are thenEmbedded Image(3.3)Embedded Image(3.4)andEmbedded Image(3.5)where Zgap=zgap/L and St is the Stefan number, given byEmbedded Image(3.6)withEmbedded Image(3.7)Also, (3.5) reveals why ya was rescaled with kaHM/kM rather than W: this is the thickness it needs to be to make a leading-order contribution to the heat transfer in the problem. The initial conditions (2.17) and (2.18) are, respectively,Embedded Image(3.8)andEmbedded Image(3.9)

For the structural mechanics part of the problem, we have from (2.34) and (2.35)Embedded Image(3.10)andEmbedded Image(3.11)From the discussion leading to (2.38), we haveEmbedded Image(3.12)everywhere, where P(Z)=P0+P1Z, withEmbedded Image(3.13)also, from (2.39),Embedded Image(3.14)Equation (3.12) will only hold for ZZmid; for Z>Zmid, we will have ΣY=ΣY(Z), but now we have symmetry conditions at Y=1, i.e.Embedded Image(3.15)where dots now denote differentiation with respect to Z. For the boundary facing the mould, we haveEmbedded Image(3.16)andEmbedded Image(3.17)Finally, (2.47) becomesEmbedded Image(3.18)

To make further analytical headway, we need to consider the orders of magnitude of the various dimensionless parameters that are present: Embedded Image. Using the data in table 1, we haveEmbedded Image(3.19)for the other three parameters, we need to determine ΔT. This quantity ought to characterize the temperature difference across the solidified shell; furthermore, it should be chosen so that θO(1). However, it is not straightforward to know the appropriate scale a priori, because the only temperature associated with the boundary condition at the outer surface of the shell is actually that associated with the mould, To(z), although this temperature is likely to be much lower than that at the outer surface of the shell. Nevertheless, using this value does set an upper bound on ΔT; hence, we take Embedded Image, where Embedded Image. This givesEmbedded Imagewhile these orders of magnitude depend on the fact that we have taken ΔT∼103 K, we note that even if we had taken ΔT∼102 K, leading toEmbedded Imagethere will be no quantitative differences in what follows.

More significant, however, is the fact that δ≪1, which permits still further simplification.

(b) δ≪1

For the thermal model, we now have (3.1), subject to initial conditions (3.8) and (3.9) and the following boundary conditions:

  1. for 0<ZZgap, boundary conditions (3.3) and (3.4),

  2. for Zgap<ZZmid, (3.4) andEmbedded Image(3.20)and

  3. for Zmid<Z≤1, (3.20) andEmbedded Image(3.21)

To determine Ya(Z) and Zgap, we return to the structure mechanics. Equation (3.18) now becomes, at leading order in δ,Embedded Image(3.22)Now, in order to treat ZZmid and Z>Zmid simultaneously, we set ΣY≡−φ(Z). From the foregoing analysis, φ(Z)=P(Z) for ZZmid, but its functional form for Z>Zmid is unknown a priori. Combining (3.10) and (3.11) givesEmbedded Image(3.23)Using (3.22), we haveEmbedded Image(3.24)where, for simplicity, we have implicitly taken Ym(Z)=1 for Zmid<Z<1. On rearranging,Embedded Image(3.25)Furthermore, we obtainEmbedded Image(3.26)which can also be written asEmbedded Image(3.27)Also, we haveEmbedded Image(3.28)from which we can obtain Embedded Image and Σ asEmbedded Image(3.29)Embedded Image(3.30)Embedded Image(3.31)where Zm(Y) is the inverse function of Ym(Z); thus, Embedded Image and Σ can be calculated from (3.29)–(3.31), once θ has been determined. Of particular note here is the fact that Σ does not depend on the functional forms used for ϵi and Embedded Image. Most significantly, this will mean that the thickness of the air gap will not depend, at leading order, on the constitutive relation chosen for the inelastic strains; this conclusion, although initially somewhat surprising, is consistent with the computed results of Schwerdtfeger et al. (1998).

Now, we focus attention on ZZmid, where Embedded Image. First, we observe that Zgap is given byEmbedded Image(3.32)which indicates that if we neglect the hydrostatic pressure distribution by setting P0=0, we would obtain Zgap=0, implying an overprediction in the subsequent air-gap thickness; from (3.32), we then obtainEmbedded Image(3.33)For Zgap<ZZmid, we haveEmbedded Image(3.34)but for Z>Zmid,Embedded Image(3.35)thus, (3.34) and (3.35) constitute the extra conditions at Y=0, subsidiary to (3.20), that are necessary in order to find Ya(Z). As boundary conditions, (3.34) and (3.35) are rather unwieldy, particularly with regard to later numerical implementation, and it proves more convenient to manipulate them to a simpler form. Differentiating (3.34) with respect to Z givesEmbedded Image(3.36)and Ya(Z) can be eliminated completely by using (3.20) to giveEmbedded Image(3.37)A similar procedure using (3.20) and (3.35) givesEmbedded Image(3.38)

(c) Onset of air-gap formation (analysis for Z≪1)

While there is no doubt that Σ<0 when solidification begins, there is no guarantee that there is a solution for Zgap for all possible combinations of operating parameters; such a situation was found by Richmond & Tien (1971). For example, if Embedded Image, the force on the solidified shell becomes more compressive, meaning a lower likelihood that the shell will separate away from the cooling mould. Since the air gap is thought to form just a short distance below the meniscus, it is therefore instructive to consider the analysis for Z≪1, when regular series expansions for θ and Ym in terms of Z ought still to be valid. SettingEmbedded Image(3.39)(3.1) becomesEmbedded Image(3.40)with boundary conditions (3.3) and (3.4) becomingEmbedded Image(3.41)andEmbedded Image(3.42)respectively. Now, in the transformed coordinates, (3.26) becomesEmbedded Image(3.43)where Embedded Image.

As Z→0, a self-consistent boundary-value problem is obtained if Ym(Z)=λZ+o(Z), where λ is a strictly positive constant whose value is to be determined. However, it turns out to be more convenient to writeEmbedded Imagein addition, we expect a similar expansion for Embedded Image, and we come to the form of this shortly. At Z0, equation (3.40) reduces toEmbedded Image(3.44)subject toEmbedded Image(3.45)Embedded Image(3.46)respectively. So,Embedded Image(3.47)Embedded Image(3.48)As regards air-gap formation, we need to look in particular at Embedded Image. At leading order in Z, which is Z0, we obtainEmbedded Image(3.49)however, substituting (3.47) and (3.48), we find that this vanishes, and so we turn instead to Z1. Hence, we expect instead thatEmbedded Image(3.50)this requires additional analysis to find F1.

Equation (3.40) at Z1 givesEmbedded Image(3.51)subject toEmbedded Image(3.52)andEmbedded Image(3.53)Using (3.48), we haveEmbedded Image(3.54)So,Embedded Image(3.55)where A1 and B1 are constants of integration. Applying the boundary conditions, we obtainEmbedded Image(3.56)Embedded Image(3.57)andEmbedded Image(3.58)This time, we observe thatEmbedded Image(3.59)Now, ifEmbedded Image(3.60)we will have Embedded Image, so that Σ(0, Z) is initially increasing; in dimensional terms, (3.60) is written asEmbedded Image(3.61)Although, as we shall see later, (3.61) is not a hard and fast criterion to predict whether an air gap will form or not, it does help to determine combinations of Vcast, To(0) and Embedded Image for which an air gap is more likely to form. SettingEmbedded Image(3.62)an air gap is more likely to form for combinations lying below the surface Χ1=0 given in figure 2. Furthermore, a promising feature of inequality (3.61) is that even though the non-dimensional analysis was carried out using the width and length of the casting geometry, these parameters are not present in the final dimensional expression, which is in terms of quantities local to the onset. Also, sinceEmbedded Imagethe gap should start to form at Embedded Image.

Figure 2

The surface Χ1=0, where Χ1 is given by equation (3.62). An air gap is more likely to form for combinations of Vcast, To(0) and Embedded Image lying beneath this surface.

The reason for the caution exercised above is that Embedded Image may be dominated by terms of order higher than Z before the theoretical value of Zgap is reached; consequently, Embedded Image might still lead to air-gap formation, and Embedded Image might still lead to the absence of an air gap. To clarify further, we need to consider an additional term in the Taylor series expansion for Embedded Image, i.e.Embedded Image(3.63)In particular, if Χ1>0, an air gap will form if Χ2>0; on the other hand, even if Χ1<0, a gap may still form if Χ2>0. Hence, the sign of Χ2, which we can obtain by considering (3.40) at Z2 asEmbedded Image(3.64)is of importance; for the derivation of (3.64), see appendix B in the electronic supplementary material. We make use of (3.64) for interpreting the numerical results in §5.

4. Numerical implementation

The numerical task at hand is the solution of (3.1), subject to boundary conditions (3.3), (3.4), (3.21), (3.37) and (3.38), and initial conditions (3.8) and (3.9). Since the problem is degenerate at Z=0, it is convenient to use (3.39), although now not just for small Z. Hence, we have (3.40), subject to initial conditionsEmbedded Image(4.1)Embedded Image(4.2)and boundary conditions:

  1. for 0<ZZgap, (3.41) and (3.42),

  2. for Zgap<ZZmid, (3.42) andEmbedded Image(4.3)and

  3. for Zmid<Z≤1,Embedded Image(4.4)Embedded Image(4.5)

In the transformed variables, Zgap will be given by the solution toEmbedded Image(4.6)whereas Zmid≔{min Z|Ym(Z)=1}; after F and Ym have been determined, Ya is given byEmbedded Image(4.7)

Some aspects of the numerical method used to solve a system of equations similar to the above—in particular, order of accuracy and correct initialization—were considered recently by Mitchell & Vynnycky (submitted). Whereas they used a variety of finite-difference methods, here we use the finite-element software Comsol Multiphysics.

5. Preliminary model results

Although non-dimensional variables were useful for the analysis in §§3 and 4 for easily identifying orders of magnitudes of various terms, as well as formulating the leading-order problem, it turns out to be more useful to return to dimensional variables in order to consider actual model predictions. To demonstrate the use of the model, it is clear that one should be guided by (3.61); otherwise, one might choose combinations of Embedded Image and Vcast for which an air gap does not form at all.

As a basis for computations, we use the geometry and operating conditions given in table 1, and choose To(z) of the formEmbedded Image(5.1)where Embedded Image. We choose (5.1) because it is a comparatively simple profile that contains the qualitative features we desire: Embedded Image, and To(z) approximately constant away from z=0, as is suggested by the computed results of Mahmoudi (2006).

(a) Air-gap formation

Figure 3 shows the curveEmbedded Image(5.2)for Vcast=0.1 m s−1. For Embedded Image, (5.2) predicts that Embedded Image will be positive at z=0 if To(0)≥Tcrit≈553.6 K; subsequently, figure 4 shows σ(0, z) versus z for several values of To(0) around this value. When To(0)>Tcrit, Embedded Image at z=0, so that σ(0, z)=0 soon after z=0. As To(0) decreases, so does Embedded Image at z=0; when To(0)<Tcrit, Embedded Image at z=0. Note, however, that this does not necessarily mean that an air gap will not form for all values of To(0)<Tcrit: although Embedded Image when To(0)<Tcrit, further analysis indicates that Χ2>0 for To(0)<Tcrit, giving the possibility that the second term in (3.63) may dominate the first when |Χ1| is small. As To(0) decreases further, and |Χ1| becomes larger, the first term in (3.63) dominates once again. In summary, the actual value of To(0) for which an air gap will subsequently form is slightly lower than that given by (5.2); this result is consistent with the profiles in figure 4, which indicate that the actual value of To(0), below which an air gap does not form, lies between 525 and 545 K.

Figure 3

Embedded Image as a function of To(0) for Vcast=0.1 m s−1 using (5.2).

Figure 4

σ(0, z) versus z in the vicinity of z=0 for Embedded Image, Vcast=0.1 m s−1 for three values of To(0). The curves for To(0)=525 (solid line) and 545 K (dashed line) have been truncated after the point where σ(0, z)=0 (dot-dashed line, To(0)=565 K).

(b) Air-gap evolution

Fixing nowEmbedded Imagewhich is a combination that is known from figure 2 to lead to air-gap formation, we vary Vcast to investigate its effect on quantities such as ym(z), ya(z) and the heat transfer coefficient, h. First, however, we compare in figure 5 the profiles for ym for Vcast=0.1 m s−1 obtained when the air-gap model is included and omitted; for the case where the air-gap model is omitted, we simply use (3.41) for all Z, rather than switching to (4.3) when σ(0, z)=0. From the figure, it is evident that omission of the model predicts complete solidification within the mould region, whereas inclusion predicts the opposite; hence, inclusion of such a model is essential to any prediction of heat transfer within the mould region.

Figure 5

Comparison of ym versus z, obtained with (dotted line) and without (solid line) the air-gap model for Embedded Image, Vcast=0.1 m s−1.

Figure 6 serves to identify the extent of solidification for three casting speeds: Vcast=0.01, 0.03 and 0.1 m s−1. For the two lower speeds, solidification is complete; this figure will subsequently help to interpret the later figures.

Figure 6

ym versus z for Embedded Image, Vcast=0.01 (solid line), 0.03 (dot-dashed line) and 0.1 (dotted line) m s−1.

Figure 7 shows ya(z) for these three casting speeds. For each of these, the air-gap thickness is of the order of magnitude computed in models and inferred from experiment by other authors, albeit for the continuous casting of steel (Kelly et al. 1988; Huespe et al. 2000). When solidification is incomplete, we see that ya(z) increases rapidly to begin with and then decreases slowly; qualitatively, this resembles distinctly the full numerical results shown by Huespe et al. (2000). For Vcast=0.03 m s−1, where complete solidification occurs, we see that ya decreases markedly after z=zmid; decreasing the casting speed further, we find that ya ultimately returns to zero. Note also that using (3.61) for this combination of Embedded Image and To(0) indicates that an air gap will not form for Vcast<0.005 m s−1.

Figure 7

ya versus z for Embedded Image, Vcast=0.01 (solid line), 0.03 (dot-dashed line) and 0.1 (dotted line) m s−1.

Figure 8 shows the temperature at the outer surface of the solidified shell, whereas figure 9 shows the temperature at the mould wall at y=0. Naturally, these coincide for regions where there is no air gap, although this occurs only for very small values of z for all values of Vcast and for z≥0.3 m for Vcast=0.01 m s−1. An interesting feature of figure 9 is that (TM)y=0 increases as ya decreases, whereas it decreases once ya=0. For reference, the profile for To(z), which was taken to be the same for all values of Vcast, has been included in figure 9.

Figure 8

Embedded Image versus z for Embedded Image, Vcast=0.01 (solid line), 0.03 (dot-dashed line) and 0.1 (dotted line) m s−1.

Figure 9

Embedded Image versus z for Embedded Image, Vcast=0.01 (solid line), 0.03 (dot-dashed line) and 0.1 (dotted line) m s−1.

Figure 10 shows the heat flux, Q, given byEmbedded Imagethis of the same order of magnitude as in Mahmoudi (2006). In all cases, we note that, following an initial steep decrease for small z before the air gap forms, Q is more or less constant for intervals where an air gap is present. Finally, figure 11 shows the heat transfer coefficient, and this is also of the same order of magnitude as in other available works on the continuous casting of copper; note, however, that h is by definition unbounded when ya=0, which explains its behaviour in figure 11 at locations when ya=0 in figure 7.

Figure 10

Q versus z for Embedded Image, Vcast=0.01 (solid line), 0.03 (dot-dashed line) and 0.1 (dotted line) m s−1.

Figure 11

h versus z for Embedded Image, Vcast=0.01 (solid line), 0.03 (dot-dashed line) and 0.1 (dotted line) m s−1.

6. Conclusions

In this paper, we have developed an asymptotic model to describe the formation and evolution of the air gap that is present in vertical continuous casting. Starting with a coupled thermomechanical model, we demonstrated that the thermal and mechanical models could be decoupled, and that the thickness of the air gap was independent of the thermoplastic constitutive relation used—while somewhat surprising, this is in line with observations made elsewhere (Schwerdtfeger et al. 1998). In addition, the analysis has given a criterion, equation (3.61), which serves as a guideline, in terms of operating parameters, as to whether an air gap will form at all. Preliminary calculations were carried out using parameters for the continuous casting of copper.

The analytical framework presented here can now be extended in many ways. The simplest would be application to an actual casting process; for this, continuous casting in a cylindrical mould would be the most appropriate (Schwerdtfeger et al. 1998; Johnson & Cherukuri 1999; Cherukuri & Johnson 2001). Other extensions would be to include the effect of mould taper, which can also be treated asymptotically, and mould contraction, which would require solving for the stresses and displacements in the mould itself. A further step would be to consider the effect of superheat, i.e. with the temperature of the incoming molten metal being greater than the melting temperature. By comparison with the case of zero superheat, we would expect solidification to start lower down the mould wall and the onset of air-gap formation to occur even further down, in view of the compound effect of the superheat and the extra liquid head that this leads to.

Finally, we note that air-gap formation also occurs in a variety of other metal casting processes and the current asymptotic methodology, which uses the fact that the length scale associated with the air-gap thickness is much smaller than all other length scales in the problem, has the potential to be of use there too.


The author acknowledges the support of the Mathematics Applications Consortium for Science and Industry ( funded by the Science Foundation Ireland Mathematics Initiative grant 06/MI/005.


    • Received November 15, 2008.
    • Accepted January 29, 2009.


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