Development of In-Mold Assembly Methods for Producing Mesoscale Revolute Joints

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In-mold assembly is a promising process for producing articulated joints. It utilizes injection molding to automate assembly operations, which may otherwise require high labor times for production. Since injection molding is a high throughput process, in-mold assembly holds considerable promise in bulk production of assembled parts. However, current in-mold assembly methods cannot be used for manufacturing in-mold assembled products at the mesoscale. This is because the process changes considerably when the sizes of the molded parts are reduced. The premolded component in a mesoscale joint consists of miniature features. Hence, when a high temperature, high pressure polymer melt is injected on top of it, it is susceptible to plastic deformation. Due to presence of a mesoscale premolded component which is susceptible to deformation, traditional shrinkage models alone can not be used to characterize and control the clearances. This dissertation identifies and addresses issues pertaining to in-mold assembly of revolute joints at the mesoscale. First, this dissertation identifies defect modes which are unique to in-mold assembly at the mesoscale. Then it develops mold design templates which can be used for manufacturing in-mold assembled mesoscale revolute joints. Further, issues related to the deformation of the mesoscale premolded component are identified. Two novel mold design solutions to realize mesoscale in-mold assembled revolute joints are presented. The first involves use of mold inserts to constrain the premolded component to inhibit its deformation. The second involves use of a bi-directional flow of the polymer melt over the premolded component to balance the deforming forces experienced by it. Finally, methods to predict and control clearances that would be obtained in mesoscale in-mold assembled revolute joints are presented. To demonstrate the utility of the tools built as part of this research effort, a case study of a miniature robotic application built using mesoscale in-mold assembly methods is presented. This dissertation provides a new approach for manufacturing mesoscale assemblies which can lead to reduction in product cost and create several new product possibilities.