VIDEO: What Is Freeform Injection Molding?

FIM or freeform injection molding combines the proven injection molding process with the freedom of part design. Check out this video describing how this advanced technology works. 
#moldingequipment #amerimold


Facebook Share Icon LinkedIn Share Icon Twitter Share Icon Share by EMail icon Print Icon

Couldn’t make it to Amerimold this year to see all the wonderful demonstrations hosted by exhibitor companies? Well, there’s no reason you have to miss out on all the informative lessons that went along with them. Check out MoldMaking Technology’s Youtube channel to see exciting content on latest technology updates in the moldmaking industry, including this video where Rich Oles of ALBA Enterprises introduces the moldmaking world to the FIM (freeform injection molding) process that combines the proven injection molding process with the freedom of part design.

Rich Oles, President ALBA Enterprises: In collaboration with two other companies, we are showcasing a new technology that was debuted in North America at Rapid Plus TCT show. 

Freeform injection molding is the IP of AddiFab. And the gentleman back here is Carsten. He's the CEO for North America. And AddiFab is a company out of Denmark. And they've invented a solution that gets cured with a UV light in an additive manufacturing environment, as well as the machine that does the printing; they've got two different versions: a single plane and a production version was 72 planes.

The difference with the FIM, or freeform injection molding technology, is instead of printing a part, you're actually printing the cavity insert. This gives you all the advantages of additive manufacturing speed, design freedom, there's no limitation undercuts, you have no parting lines, nothing, it's just the cavity insert. But it allows you to use the proven technology of all the resins that are available and approved at your suppliers on the market today.

The difference with the FIM, or freeform injection molding technology, is instead of printing a part, you're actually printing the cavity insert.

So, if you can pan up over here, you can see these three steps. So there's three steps to this process. And we've got two of them, you can see but we’ll show you the third. You start out by creating the additive manufacturing insert with the Addi Fab machine and using their resin, then you inject into that insert with any injection molding resin. We're molding peak with 13% carbon fiber, we're doing metal injection molding, we're doing ceramic injection molding prior to curing. It's pretty impressive what's able to be done. Then you remove the cavity insert, and you end up with a component that looks like this, if you can zoom in on that. This is not this is not any function; this is just to show you what is possible. In fact, the screw is way too big for what this application is. But we literally just took an existing tool, machined the part shape off put a counterbore in it and shot it. And it works pretty good. You're not limited to this size. The printing window is 2 by 4 by 8 inches in this machine. And you can combine the printed blocks, kinda like you do Legos, in a mold unit like a mud base. So then you can injection mold, any shape size (it’s not limited to Babyplast; you can injection molding any machine). It's a really, really interesting technology.

I want to go through some of the technical things before we start molding some parts and then take some questions. We're at about 56 zoom. We're capable to 220 zoom here on digital USB microscope. That is the part that you were looking at up on the on the machine here. That's the resolution. The part is the impression of the cavity. So it is an injection molded part that performs like injection molded parts do that is masquerading as an additive manufactured part.

Carsten, you want to show that display of this one up on top? And actually, do I have a volunteer who wants to stand on this component?

Rich places component on ground (3:45)

Carsten: I think the record so far is 295 pounds.

Rich: Well, not quite 295 pounds. I'm going to grind the part into the carpet a little bit.

Grinds part into carpet

If you have an additive manufactured 3D-printed component, you probably don’t want to do that. Every additive manufactured component has a vulnerability and so does ours. In the x y-plane in the additive world, you're building those layers, layer on layer, you're adding material. And so the mechanical bond or mechanical chemical bond between those layers is vulnerable to side loading. In this case, well, what we do is we literally take the additive manufactured insert and we put it into an injection mold, which is just a counterbore with an injector pin.

Begins the demonstration

So, we're injection molding, this is a TPV from Mitsubishi chemical. It's called Trek Spring. It's pretty impressive. It's used for over molding, sports equipment, like grips and things like that, like the handle on this cart. This component comes out. And so, we just injection molded that part. And you'll see the dark red is shrinking away. And so, what happens is in the cooling cycle of a conventional injection molding application, that is what normally happens. The part under pressure is packed against the A and B sides of the tool or the components, the cores, whatever is coming out. And when it’s in contact is when it's able to cool that plastic. But when it separates away from that, then it can't cool that plastic as effectively. That's why you want to have pack and hold as long as you can. It's a very basic process.

What this shows us is this cavity. You see I'm grabbing this with my hand? This is 443 degree Fahrenheit temperature—I'm shooting it out of here with a 10-second cooling cycle into my hand. So what that means is this FIM (freeform injection molding) insert right there is not a great conductor of energy, as most printed cavity inserts, if it's a conventional cavity insert or not, is not a good conductor of energy. The byproduct of this that I didn't expect is that that's in our benefit. So the negative things about injection molding are you just shoot the material as fast you can, you get different temperatures in the layering that happens in laminar fill, because of the variable shear rates that you're experiencing. That impacts the viscosity of the resin, so as it gets towards the end of the fill and starts to solidify and cool it's getting higher in viscosity and higher to push and your transfer pressure climb, climb climbs. And this process with this part right here, we're only hitting 1600 psi plastic pressure at transfer. And so part of that because we have a giant screw on it, right. But that's not all. Because we don't take the energy out of the plastic, of course, it's removing energy from the plastic as it goes. But the delta-t from start to the end of fill is dramatically less. Now we're actually talking to some of the people that are here displaying today. We were talking to the guys over Beaumont Technology, we were showing this, we'd like to work with them possibly on documenting this technology with data that can't be disputed. It's one thing for me to rub my stomach and tell you how great this is nothing to show you the data.

This is an introduction. We wanted to make sure everybody could see this process. I'm going to shoot another part. Norm back here from ALBA is going to set up the thermal imaging camera. The thermal imaging camera—if you can get a shot of the Madison Electric guys, they were so gracious and they let us use the FLIR 1020. So there's a plug on their camera. It's actually a very affordable camera. And it's just below the scientific grade. It uses a micro bolometer to collect radio metric data. We're going to go ahead and shoot this part. I'm going to hand it to Norm and I'm going to explain to you what you're going to see.

Demonstration starts

The longest 17 seconds of my life. 

Okay, here you go Norm. What's happening right now is the injection resin is up here at this temperature and the cavity insert is here. You can still see the part shape on the right hand side. And the bright white stuff is the actual polymer that's exposed on the outside of the cavity for it's actually like an overflow. As that insert comes up in temperature—because the resin inside is giving up its energy through diffusivity (a rate that can give up its energy)—they're going to come to a steady state, and then they're going to find that steady state and they'll come down together.

Now, the part that we haven't talked about yet is how to get that part out of that cavity, because it's trapped in that cavity. There's a solution that you drop this in, in this size mass, it's about eight hours to remove that—it dissolves. The solution that's left behind—and this is probably the most important thing I'm going to say today: I've been trying to disprove the value of this technology for six months because usually it's too good to be true. And so about three weeks ago, at Rapid is the first time I publicly stood beside this technology, because I believe it is a disruptive technology. And if combined with other technologies, with all the talent from the mold makers and the different people here, this can go on to be great things in addition to additive manufacturing. It's not a replacement. All of what's here and all of what’s at the Rapid show is fantastic stuff. But this is a new technology. So, to remove this, you drop it in the solution, eight hours later you get something that looks like this thing.

And we got giveaways here if you guys want, we've got cards. Mitsubishi Chemicals, got these jump drives, they got have all this information on as well as a website where we've collaborated.

The solution that's left behind is biodegradable. So you can dispose of that like anything else; there is not a chemical impact. That's an important statement in this environment, with the image that plastics has in the industry today. Which me personally, I understand the image of pollution in plastics but I'm a little frustrated by that, because that's my industry. I started out as a mold maker mold designer. Part of the reason we have that image is because of individual consumers and single use products. They're not responsible consumers.

And so we should always try to find ways to conserve. And in this technology, what it can do, it can enable you to take an assembly of let's say, three components, let's say for a seat assembly, let's say on a hinge. And you've got three components that have snap features that come together, in those three components that come together, what's the most vulnerable thing, it's the snap feature, if your injection molding, and your operator said, I've been doing this for 32 years, I'm going to turn it up this way. And you molded some stress or you degrade the resin is still passes your initial quality check. But when it's out there, and we'll say some nylon, it's a hydraulic material and picks up moisture. And it fails at the snap feature, you can eliminate the snap features, you can combine three parts, six parts, one part, two part, whatever. And it can be engineered for the application, not to be DFM for design for manufacturing. You can engineer the part that will solve the problem for that specific application. So, what does that mean? That means that the product engineers that—and I'm a moldmaker, so I say this humbly—product engineers got beat up pretty bad by moldmakers and mold designers for a long time. Because they would design a product that fulfilled a need. These are educated people that are engineers, but they didn't understand moldmaking. And because they didn't understand draft, maintenance, tooling, parting line cores flash, they were criticized and ridiculed. And I got to raise my hand I was one of those guys. And now they don't have to be. Now that product designer and that education can get its full value stream at that organization. They may be able to design products that are 40% lighter. So, this technology alone can enable an existing supply chain to maximize the return on investment, or their operational efficiency within the organization and the employees they have. It's a big change. It's a very big change in thinking for sure.

So it's not any more complicated than that. Some people want to make it more complicated. It's really not. I was using example earlier that this technology isn't limited to the Babyplas molding machine, it can be used with any injection molding machine. Everybody’s seen Legos, right? Legos snap together. So the printing window, the volume for the Addi Fab FIM technology machines is 2 by 4 by 8 inches. But that's not to say that you can't print and stack these inserts into a larger mold base.

Rich is handed three blocks

This is the create. This is the inject. And this is the result. Again, just illustration to show you, you can't tool this, you can't cut it in a five axis, you can't even EDM that. There are blind spots, no matter what you do, it's just the way it is. So, create, inject, and then you remove the cavity. So, you could create these inserts to literally drop them into a tool and stack up a leg. If you can envision a part in that 3D volume, you can use them as building blocks. Stacking together, you're going to have to machine the outside, so they line up. And you’re probably going to flash some. You have to work the details out. I personally would use a block that would drive into a zero corner with wedges. You would get some kind of mechanical seal between the blocks, then leave them stick out 1000–2000. You develop tonnage on them with the face of the piece. We inject into them, you've got that.

Now you get any kind of technology, you can also go ahead and have a block. A conventionally injection molded part, I know this isn't going to be able to be conventionally injection molded, but you have a conventional injection molded part. Let's say you're using one of the many companies here that use additive manufacturing, building steel cavity inserts for conformal cooling for cycle time. But you have a feature that sits on top of that part that requires all kinds of love, that requires all kinds of action buried deep into the tool. Let's say this would be your B-half of the tool sticking up and this is the A-half. If I've got to put action to get holes in that from slides, my actions and the slide mechanical slides are going to block my ability to put water in that tool. Could you imagine instead of having to build all that action buried in the steel and all the cost, you just inserted that into a counterbore in the tool, injection-molded this and it comes out looking just like this. And then you drop this into solution to dissolve this point, so then you get the action on top of it like that. Now all of a sudden, you're combining technologies. Let's say flash is not an option in that area because it's a critical, sensitive area.

You saw earlier back on the screen, we showed you what 50 microns looks like under almost 60 power zoom, it's not for every application. Like I had mentioned earlier, I've been doing this now for about six months, I went into this trying to disprove it, because I've heard from everybody how great all these things are. And they are very good. They're very interesting. But when you get into production volumes at production cycle speeds to be competitive, the field things very quickly, when it comes to additive manufacturing. This actually has that potential.

So they make two machines. A single plane machine is like 150 grand. They make a multiple plane machine that has 72 printing windows have 248 that can run for 48 hours continuously. For this insert to do 15 of those takes 40 minutes at 50 micron, printing speed and resolution. You can run non-stop for 48 hours. You can get 1080 of those out of their automation machine. That machine costs $300 thousand. We're actually talking about a complete package on the machine here. This machine is like between $43 thousand and $49 thousand. But then you can do a whole sell. We do everything turnkey. We will build the molds for you we work with moldmakers that are here, you name it. The molds are simple. They're just kind of counterboring, with a pin, square, rectangular, round, whatever you want.

So it's a different it's a departure from conventional moldmaking. I'm a moldmaker. I kind of was mad when I first saw this, because all my skill and the things that I pride myself on doing is literally negated because you can do it on a computer. But it doesn't mean that I don't bring value to the table from what I've learned. And our industry is evolving. It's evolving every day through technologies like this.

Does anybody have any questions? Someone's got to have a question come on.


The question was, what's left when this is dissolved, the cavity insert is dissolved. It's a fluid and it's biodegradable. So, the chemistry in the resin used to remove this is why we're not telling that. The IP of the resin that is being printed is also intellectual properties at Addi Fab. If you want to buy the resin you can, but we recommend you buy the machine because it's not designed to work with the other machines. So, pretty smart.

The question was, what's left when this is dissolved, the cavity insert is dissolved. It's a fluid and it's biodegradable.

Are there any other questions anybody has?

We're going to probably have this technology — we're working on it right now and it's not finalized — hopefully at K Show. We're talking about doing this with our partners, Mitsubishi Chemical Europe and have this physical display at the K-Show there. We’re already committed to being at Rapid TCT next year. We're talking to the Gardner team about all their events. We want to promote this technology and educate. This is this one is going to take is a lot of education.