In-Mold Assembly of Multi-Functional Structures

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Combining the recent advances in injection moldable polymer composites with the multi-material molding techniques enable fabrication of multi-functional structures to serve multiple functions (e.g., carry load, support motion, dissipate heat, store energy). Current in-mold assembly methods, however, cannot be simply scaled to create structures with miniature features, as the process conditions and the assembly failure modes change with the feature size. This dissertation identifies and addresses the issues associated with the in-mold assembly of multi-functional structures with miniature components. First, the functional capability of embedding actuators is developed. As a part of this effort, computational modeling methods are developed to assess the functionality of the structure with respect to the material properties, process parameters and the heat source. Using these models, the effective material thermal conductivity required to dissipate the heat generated by the embedded small scale

actuator is identified. Also, the influence of the fiber orientation on the heat dissipation performance is characterized. Finally, models for integrated product and process design are presented to ensure the miniature actuator survivability during embedding process. The second functional capability developed as a part of this dissertation is the in-mold assembly of multi-material structures capable of motion and load transfer, such as mechanisms with compliant hinges. The necessary hinge and link design features are identified. The shapes and orientations of these features are analyzed with respect to their functionality, mutual dependencies, and the process cost. The parametric model of the interface design is developed. This model is used to minimize both the final assembly weight and the mold complexity as the process cost measure. Also, to minimize the manufacturing waste and the risk of assembly failure due to unbalanced mold filling, the design optimization of runner systems used in multi-cavity molds for in-mold assembly is developed. The complete optimization model is characterized and formulated. The best method to solve the runner optimization problem is identified. To demonstrate the applicability of the tools developed in this dissertation towards the miniaturization of robotic devices, a case study of a novel miniature air vehicle drive mechanism is presented.