Using 3D printing instead of injection molding for fluid manifolds

The debate on whether to use injection molding or additive manufacturing for certain parts tends to support injection molding as the best answer.

But with newer additive technologies, the case for using additive is getting stronger. Carbon’s CLIP technology, for example, can compete with injection molding in many applications.

One example involves fluid manifolds, which deliver liquids from one point to another. Manifolds are common components in printers, cooling systems, and hydraulic systems.

Engineers designing these parts have historically been confined to production with injection molding, which allows for mass produced parts. However, injection molding can restrict a designer’s ability to create smooth contours that facilitate fluid flow.

With additive manufacturing, and engineer can design the smooth contours needed, and produce them on an additive machine. But mass production may not be possible on that additive machine because of material compatibility and the need for production speed.

Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) company is putting these accepted views to the test using Carbon’s CLIP technology and Cyanate Ester resin family.

The CLIP process injects oxygen at a key point in the build, which inhibits the resin from curing too quickly. This curing delay delivers parts with very smooth features, on par with injection molding. It also speeds up the entire build process.

Engineers at the manifold company began with the part’s material: the manifolds need specific chemical resistance, lifetime material stability, and isotropic properties. Without these attributes, design and scalability of an additive process would not matter. Carbon’s Cyanate Ester was the first additive material and process to surpass these requirements with a heat deflection temperature of 230°C, long-term thermal stability, and the necessary chemical resistance.

Once the material was chosen, engineers were free to optimize their design by combining parts and reducing the number of part interfaces. Their new manifold decreases points of possible fluid contamination and improves fluid flow, reliability, and manifold performance.

“With design freedom and a new way of designing, the CLIP process allows the development of other products, by controlling build flow, we can control other components in the system, ultimately developing better, more efficient products.”

While additive used to be synonymous with unscalable for the manifold company, they see “CLIP [as] good on the scalability to volume.” The final piece showcases complex geometries visually, and initial testing has proved out all of the hopes above. Currently the group is investigating a final manifold design for eventual direct production of hundreds of thousands of parts.


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