Conformal cooling back on front burner for Canadian company

Pat Zaffino and his team have more than 30 years of experience in the tool and mold industry. Several years ago, he developed a technology that creates conformal cooling channels on injection molds by means of a proprietary additive manufacturing technique. The technology was tested and proven in a mold that has produced 20,000 fascia bumpers. It can reportedly reduce injection molding cycle times by as much as 40%. 

I chatted with Zaffino at the recent PLAST-EX show in Toronto. He is currently Operating Manager at Conformal Cooling Solutions, which markets this technology, one of several companies that was showcased in the event's Startup Stadium. If that causes you to raise an eyebrow and wonder what a mature technology is doing in a startup competition, well, therein lies a story.

Zaffino and his team began developing the technology in 2006, and that date is significant, because the company did not survive the Great Recession that shook the world two years later. One of the company’s last projects before it shuttered involved a major automaker that tested the technology and found it could deliver significant cycle-time reductions. “The technology gives mold makers options they never had before,” said Zaffino. “By utilizing a combination of conformal cooling channels and conventional baffle water line systems, the mold surface can cool more uniformly and create more room on the tool to assist engineers and toolmakers in the design process.” As part of the testing process, the OEM implemented conformal cooling channels into a core half of a bumper fascia tool. “By using only conformal cooling channels, we were able to reduce the cycle time from 54 to 41 seconds,” said Zaffino.

But then came the Great Recession. Although the company had shut down, Zaffino retained the patents for the additive/conformal cooling technology. Use of the patents was halted, however, because of an intellectual property dispute, resulting in a rare process called an interference proceeding. As described by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), “an interference is a contest . . . between an application and either another application or a patent. An interference is declared to assist the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office in determining priority, that is, which party first invented the commonly claimed invention.” The USPTO proceeding involved three U.S. patent judges, who heard and reviewed documentation from both applicants, the OEM and Zaffino, and ruled in favor of Zaffino.

Long story short, “we’re back in business and starting from scratch . . . again,” said Zaffino. And that’s how he persuaded PLAST-EX organizer (and producer of this website) Informa Markets that Conformal Cooling Solutions should indeed qualify for a spot in the Startup Stadium.

A game-changing technology

At this point in time, it’s abundantly clear to injection molders that 3D-printed conformal cooling technology is a game changer. There are different paths you can take to achieve great cycle times, but if you ask Zaffino, multilayer robotic TIG welding is the one to take. It allows engineering changes to be made to molds quickly, accurately and safely, and by improving mold cooling efficiency, cycle time reductions between 25 and 40% can be achieved. It also does not have the size limitations of other additive conformal cooling methods currently used today, such as laser sintering.

“Our technology lets you implement conformal cooling on an entire bumper, dashboard or wheel liner, as well non-automotive tooling. Size is no longer a factor,” Zaffino explained from the PLAST-EX show floor. “Our technique will produce conformal cooling circuits around any contour surface at a fraction of the cost of other additive manufacturing processes.”

Conformal Cooling Solutions Conformal Cooling Solutions

On the left is a conventional mold with gun-drilled cooling passages. The image on the right shows a mold core with the company's patented conformal cooling passages.

Zaffino also stressed that the technology his company has developed is all hard-wire TIG, laser and plasma deposition, which has proven itself over the last five decades. “Powder-metal laser sintering is a fairly new process in comparison to hard-wire deposition,” said Zaffino. By automating the hard-wire deposition process, imperfections and safety concerns are eliminated, he added.

The company describes the typical steps involved in performing the additive procedure to mold and die surfaces on its website, as follows:

  • Engineering studies are performed at the design stage to determine placement of conformal channels and results calculated by programs such as MoldFlow analysis.
  • Channels are machined into the part using the new math data during the block roughing stage.
  • Software developed by Conformal Cooling Solutions reads the data of the paths and determines the correct offsets and buildup required. This data is then communicated to the robotic cell.
  • Tool is placed on a multi-axis table with pre-heating ability and brought to temperature.
  • The cell applies the additive buildup with beads placed in a sequence to minimize distortion of the channel and mold surface. Material characteristics of the beads are the same or better than parent material.
  • If the geometry does not allow access to the tool, the beads can also be added manually.
  • Once complete, the part is heat treat normalized and sent for finish machining.

With its patents now firmly in hand, Conformal Cooling Solutions is ready to bring this technology to any company that relies on injection molded parts and can see value in a 25 to 40% reduction in cycle time as well as decreased part distortion. That’s a pretty broad field, covering the aerospace, defense, consumer goods, medical and, of course, automotive sectors.

Startup Stadium is a new feature at select Informa Markets trade shows and conferences, including PLASTEC, PLAST-EX, Expoplast and Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) events. The goal of the program is to provide an opportunity for companies in early-stage production and funding to demo their products and network with potential customers. The next Startup Stadium is scheduled for BIOMEDevice in San Jose, CA, on Dec. 4 and 5, 2019, and will be focused on medical technology startups. If you would like to learn more about the program or be considered for participation, please contact Suzanne Schoenfeld.

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