DIY Injection Mold Design for the Home Shop

3D printing is great for prototyping, and not bad for limited runs of parts. Unfortunately though it really doesn’t scale well beyond a few pieces, so when you’re ready for the mass market you will need to think about injection molding your parts. But something like that has to be farmed out, right? Maybe not, if you know a thing or two about designing your own injection molds.

The video below comes from [Dave Hakkens] by way of his Precious Plastic project, whose mission it is to put the means of plastic recycling into the hands of individuals, rather than relying on municipal programs.  We’ve covered their work before, and it looks like they’ve come quite a way to realizing that dream. This tutorial by [Dave]’s colleague [Jerry] covers the basic elements of injection mold design, starting with 3D modeling in Solidworks. [Jerry] points out the limitations of a DIY injection molding effort, including how the thickness of parts relates to injection pressure. Also important are features like gentle curves to reduce machining effort, leaving proper draft angles on sprues, and designing the part to ease release from the mold. [Jerry] and [Dave] farmed out the machining of this mold, but there’s no reason a fairly complex mold couldn’t be produced by the home gamer.

When you’re done learning about mold design, you’ll be itching to build your own injection mold machine. Precious Plastic’s tutorial looks dead simple, but this machine looks a little more capable. And why CNC your molds when you can just 3D print them?

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Lost PLA Casting With a Little Help From Your Microwave

lost-pla

[Julia and Mason] have been perfecting their microwave-based lost PLA casting technique over at Hackaday.io. As the name implies, lost PLA is similar to lost wax casting techniques. We’ve covered lost PLA before, but it always involved forges. [Julia and Mason] have moved the entire process over to a pair of microwaves.

Building on the work of the FOSScar project, the pair needed a way to burn the PLA out of a mold with a microwave. The trick is to use a susceptor. Susceptors convert the microwave’s RF energy into thermal energy exactly where it is needed. If you’ve ever nuked a hot pocket, the crisping sleeve is lined with susceptor material. After trying several materials, [Julia and Mason] settled on a mixture of silicon carbide, sugar, water, and alcohol for their susceptor.

The actual technique is pretty simple. A part printed in PLA is coated with susceptor. The part is then placed in a mold made of plaster of paris and perlite. The entire mold is cooked in an unmodified household microwave to burn out the PLA.

A second microwave with a top emitter is used to melt down aluminum, which is then poured into the prepared mold. When the metal cools, the mold is broken away to reveal a part ready to be machined.

We think this is a heck of a lot of work for a single part. Sometimes you really need a metal piece, though. Until metal 3D printing becomes cheap enough for everyone to do at home, this will work pretty well.