The way to fabricating objects via silicone molding requires a highly skilled individual with plenty of experience. Such background influenced researchers from Istituto di Scienza e Tecnologie dell'Informazione (ISTI-CNR) and the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) to seek ways to reduce the cost and time needed for silicone molding.
More specifically, they have developed a tool that can automatically find the best option of designing molds as well as delivering templates for so-called "metamolds”; molds that are rigid and 3D-printed for fabricating optimizing silicone molds. The new technology can effectively reduce the cost of this fabricating technique and the need for manual labor.
"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," says Bernd Bickel, the lead investigator of the study.
Using the tool, requires the user to simply upload the desired shape to the computer. Following that step, the tool then calculates where the cuts are needed for best results. Lastly, 3D-printable templates of the metamold are automatically created and printed, the printed metamolds are then filled with liquid silicone for the final production piece which are reusable and can cast multiple replicas using abroad range of materials.
Researchers are hopeful that their technology can be applied for many things such as jewelry design or art. "When you are not producing millions of copies, then this is the method of choice," says Thomas Alderighi from ISTI-CNR, the first author of the study who has spent two months at IST Austria as an intern in the research group of Bernd Bickel.