Sep 7, 2018

Researchers Optimize Silicone Mold Fabrication with 3D Printed “Metamolds”

Researchers have developed a new tool to produce 3D printed "metamolds", which can be used to fabricate optimized silicone molds in a quick and cost-effective manner.

Researchers from the Institute of Science and Technology Austria and the Institute of Science and Information Technology in Italy have developed a faster and more affordable way to create silicone molds using what they’re calling “metamolds”. These are rigid molds that produced with 3D printing technology and are used to create optimized silicone molds.

To develop these so-called metamolds, the researchers have a newly developed fabrication tool. The tool works by automatically finding the best way to design the molds, while also delivering templates for the metamolds. The rigid 3D printed molds are then used to produce silicone molds.

This process reduces the cost of fabricating silicone molds, which is traditionally known to be a time-consuming process. But by automating the process, the researchers have found that metamolds allow them to create silicone molds in less time without much effort. In fact, a metamold can be produced as simply as uploading a desired shape to a computer and using the research team’s tool.

“Until now, silicone molding of complex shapes was a craft that needed years of experience and a skillful hand. You needed to know where to place the cuts ideally, and the work was done manually. Our new tool makes this method accessible for everyone,” said Bernd Bickel, heading the Computer Graphics and Digital Fabrication group at IST Austria.

How Metamolds Make Silicone Mold Production More Efficient

Molds are extremely useful when fabricating multiple replicas of a single object. Silicone is a popular choice of material for molds as it is easy to extract a complex part.

The tool developed by the research team works by calculating where certain cuts need to be integrated, using the smallest possible number of mold pieces. It also analyzes whether the resulting object can safely and easily be removed from the mold. Next, the computer generates a 3D printable template of the metamold.

The resulting metamold can then be used to fabricate the silicone molds by filling the 3D printed mold with liquid silicone. These molds can then be reused multiple times to cast replicas.

This process is ideal for low-to-mid volume production, especially with applications like art, jewelry, or even replicas of museum artifacts that can be touched by visitors. The research team claims that the silicone molds can be filled with a variety of resins, as well as unconventional materials like chocolate or ice.

“When you are not producing millions of copies, then this is the method of choice,” said Thomas Alderighi from ISTI-CNR.

The researchers presented their groundbreaking work at the prestigious SIGGRAPH conference, which took place back in August.

Source: IST Austria

License: The text of "Researchers Optimize Silicone Mold Fabrication with 3D Printed “Metamolds”" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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