Glass is one of humanity’s oldest materials, and it is still used widely for everything from drinking vessels and packaging to optics and communications. Unfortunately, the methods for working with glass are stuck in the past. Most methods require a lot of high heat in the range of 1500 °C to 2000 °C, and they’re all limited in the complexity of shapes that can be made.
As far as making shapes goes, glass can be blown and molten glass pressed into molds. Glass can also be ground, etched, or cast in a kiln. Glass would be fantastic for many applications if it weren’t for the whole limited geometry thing. Because of the limitations of forming glass, some optic lenses are made with polymers, even though glass has better optical characteristics.
Ideally, glass could be injection molded like plastic. The benefits of this would be twofold: more intricate shapes would be possible, and they would have a much faster manufacturing time. Well, the wait is over. Researchers at Germany’s University of Freiburg have figured out a way to apply injection molding to glass. And it’s not just any glass — they’ve made highly-quality, transparent fused quartz glass, and they did it at lower temperatures than traditional methods. The team used x-ray diffraction to verify that the glass is amorphous and free of crystals, and were able to confirm its optical transparency three ways — light microscopy, UV-visible, and infrared measurements. All it revealed was a tiny bit of dust, which is to be expected outside of a clean room.
While 3D printing has now become easily accessible and cheap, there are still several use cases where you need the advantages offered by injection molding, even for small batch runs. Professional small-batch injection molding can be pretty expensive, and buying a manual machine can cost quite a bit. Of course, there are a number of DIY injection molding projects to choose from, but they usually involve a fair amount of tools and labour. [Bolzbrain] wanted to bypass all of the heavy cutting, welding and frame assembly work, so he’s built himself a DIY Injection Molding Press for cheap using an off the shelf, six ton hydraulic press. At final count, he ended up spending about €150 for the machine and another €120 for tools to build the machine. He also managed to locate a cheap, local CNC service that gave him a good deal on machining the Dies. But of course you can’t put a price on the lessons learnt and the satisfaction of having built it by hand.
Choosing the hydraulic press is a great idea as it provides the high pressure needed for the job without the operator having to exert a lot of effort, which is a big drawback with some of the other DIY machines. As a bonus, the structural frame is quite sturdy and well suited for this purpose. The other main part of such a machine is the heated injection block and there are several different ways of doing it. After some amount of studying probable solutions, he decided to build a heated aluminium block through which the plastic granules can be rammed using the hydraulic piston. Heating is provided by a pair of 500W heaters and a type ‘k’ thermocouple does temperature sensing. An industrial PID controller adjusts the block temperature via a solid state relay. Overall, the electrical and mechanical layout cannot get any simpler.
[Bolzbrain] did a great job of documenting his build over a series of videos and more wizened hackers watching them will squirm in their seats spotting the numerous fails. He bought the cheapest pedestal drill machine that he could buy and watching the drill struggle while making a 26mm hole in the aluminium block is quite jarring.
The electrical wiring has a lot of scope for improvement – with 220V AC heaters, exposed wiring and jury rigged panel held up with a pair of clamps. Installing and removing the die is a task and requires a lot of fiddling with several C-clamps — something which needs to be repeated for every shot. Maybe toggle clamps could help him to ease die fixing and removal. Once he figures out about mold release agents and wall draft angles, he won’t have to struggle trying to remove the molded article from the die. Then there’s the issue of proper runner design so that the thermo-plastic can quickly fill the mold cavity completely without any pockets.
But in the end, all that matters is that he is getting reasonably good molded parts for his purposes. With more tweaking and incremental improvements, we’re sure he’ll get better results. The video after the break is a short overview of his build, but the project page has a series of detailed videos covering all aspects of the project. And if you’d like to get an introduction to desktop injection molding, check out “Benchtop Injection Molding for the Home Gamer”
A wall-mounted, electric car charging station doesn’t sound like it’d require the most exciting or complicated enclosure. This was pretty much the assumption [Mastro Gippo] and his team started out with when they decided to turn what came back from a product designer into a real enclosure for the ‘Prism’ charging hardware they had developed. As it turned out, the enclosure proved to be the most challenging part of the project.
The first thought was to make a cheap, simple prototype enclosure for integration testing. This led them through trying out FDM 3D printed enclosures, wooden enclosures, folded (glued) plastic enclosures, aluminium extruded enclosures, Zamac alloy enclosures, and finally the plastic injection molded enclosure they had been avoiding due to the high costs.
Even if it meant taking out a loan to cover the setup costs, the results really do speak for themselves with a well-integrated design and two really happy looking partners-in-business. It does make us wonder how projects lacking this kind of financial leeway can get professional-grade enclosures without breaking the proverbial bank.
FDM 3D printing is always getting better and with a lot of post-processing you can have one enclosure that looks great, but that doesn’t scale. Outsourcing it to a professional 3D printing company like Shapeways is better, but it’s still not injection-molding quality and if the product is successful you’ll eventually invert the cost/benefit you were shooting for in the first place. Where is the middle ground on great-looking enclosures? Please let us know your experiences and thoughts in the comments.
Pretty much any household item nowadays has an involved, extremely well-thought-out manufacturing method to it, whether it’s a sheet of paper, an electrical outlet, a can of tuna, or even the house itself. Some of the stories of how these objects came to be are compelling, though, as one of the recent videos from [This Old Tony] shows as he takes a deep dive into a $5 ball valve, and uses it to talk about all of the cool things you can do with injection molding.
Injection molding is the process of casting molten plastic into more useful pieces of plastic. In this case it’s a plumbing valve which might seem simple on the surface, but turns out to be much more involved. These ball valves are extremely reliable but have a very small price tag, meaning that a lot of engineering must have gone into their design. What is unearthed in the video is that injection molding allows parts to be cast into the molds of other parts, and the means by which those parts don’t all melt together, and how seals can be created within the part itself. All of this happens with a minimal number of parts and zero interaction from a human, or from any robot that isn’t the injection mold itself.
The video goes into exceptional detail on these valves specifically but also expounds on various techniques in injection molding. Similar to the recognition the seemingly modest aluminum can deserves, the injection molded ball valve deserves a similar amount of respect. While [This Old Tony] usually focuses on metalworking, he often tackles other interesting topics like this and this video is definitely worth checking out.
3D printing is a technique we’ve all been using for ages at home, or via Shapeways, but if you are designing a product, 3D printing will only get you so far. It’s crude, slow, expensive, and has lots of limitations. While it’s great for the prototyping stage, ultimately products manufactured in volume will be manufactured using another method, and most likely it will be injection molding. Knowing how to design a part for injection molding means you can start prototyping with 3D printing, confident that you’ll be able to move to a mold without major changes to the design.
The 2017 Hackaday Prize includes a $30,000 prize for Best Product as we seek products that not only show a great idea, but are designed for manufacturing and have thought through what it takes to get them into the hands of the users. Some of the entries seem to be keenly aware of the challenges associated with moving from prototyping to production. Here are some examples of best practices when prototyping with future injection molding in mind.
Having finished the Tools of the Trade series on circuit board assembly, let’s look at some of the common methods for doing enclosures. First, and possibly the most common, is injection molding. This is the process of taking hot plastic, squirting it through a small hole and into a cavity, letting it cool, and then removing the hardened plastic formed in the shape of the cavity.
The machine itself has three major parts; the hopper, the screw, and the mold. The hopper is where the plastic pellets are dumped in. These pellets are tiny flecks of plastic, and if the product is to be colored there will be colorant pellets added at some ratio. The hopper will also usually have a dehumidifier attached to it to remove as much water from the pellets as possible. Water screws up the process because it vaporizes and creates little air bubbles.
Next the plastic flecks go into one end of the screw. The screw’s job is to turn slowly, forcing the plastic into ever smaller channels as it goes through a heating element, mixing the melted plastic with the colorant and getting consistent coloring, temperature, and ever increasing pressure. By the time the plastic is coming out the other end of the screw, and with the assistance of a hydraulic jack, it can be at hundreds of tons of pressure.
Finally, the plastic enters the mold, where it flows through channels into the empty cavity, and allowed to sit briefly to cool. The mold then separates and ejector pins push the part out of the cavity.
Walk on almost any beach or look on the side of most roads and you’ll see the bottles, bags, and cast-off scraps of a polymeric alphabet soup – HDPE, PET, ABS, PP, PS. Municipal recycling programs might help, but what would really solve the problem would be decentralized recycling, and these open-source plastics recycling machines might just jump-start that effort.
We looked at [Precious Plastic] two years back, and their open-source plans for small-scale plastic recycling machines have come a long way since then. They currently include a shredder, a compression molder, an injection molder, and a filament extruder. The plans specify some parts that need to be custom fabricated, like the shredder’s laser-cut stainless steel teeth, but most can be harvested from a scrapyard. As you can see from the videos after the break, metal and electrical fabrication skills are assumed, but the builds are well within the reach of most hackers. Plans for more machines are in the works, and there’s plenty of room to expand and improve upon the designs.
We think [Precious Plastic] is onto something here. Maybe a lot of small recyclers is a better approach than huge municipal efforts, which don’t seem to be doing much to help. Decentralized recycling can create markets that large-scale manufacturing can’t be bothered to tap, especially in the developing world. After all, we’ve already seen a plastic recycling factory built from recycled parts making cool stuff in Brazil.