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Conformal Cooling

Fathom specializes in producing injection molding tooling with integrated conformal cooling channels using Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) technology. DMLS produces solid 3D printed metal parts by melting metal powder with a focused laser beam layer-by-layer. Building with layers allows for the manufacture of highly complex geometries directly from 3D Computer-Aided Design (CAD) data. This is especially true for part geometries where slides, inserts or other tool components with complex characteristics are required.

Tooling is a primary application for DMLS. This allows tooling inserts and components to be manufactured at a rapid pace. On top of the value of short turnaround times, additional value is created by the unique geometric freedom of design. This helps to improve both the quality and economics of injection molded parts by reducing cycle time and scrap while increasing productivity by 30%-60%. DMLS tools are used to produce millions of parts for injection molding operations. The challenge of integrating a system of this kind is to find the optimal design for the channels. Complexity of the channel design does not impact the manufacturing process, as the DMLS system builds channels directly into the tool. The advantages of these systems maintain a wide range of benefits for injection molding production.

Injection Molding Advantages //

Tool Geometry

  • Routing options for cooling channels are almost infinite. This makes it possible to create an ideal cooling channel with a well-defined distance to the cavity. A conventional drilled cooling mechanism cannot achieve this.
  • Cooling channel cross sections can take almost any shape (e.g., oval vs. round). Turbulence of the coolant within the system can thus be controlled by actively choosing different cross sections and by switching between different cross sections. As a result, turbulence inside of the coolant is generated close to the cavity along the entire channel path.
  • Changing cross sections or forking the cooling channel can be done easily without splitting up the form. This allows for additional heat/cooling advantages in areas that cannot be reached by conventional methods.

Injection Molding Process

  • Effective mold temperature control systems save time and production costs.
  • Improved quality of injection molded parts through better control of the injection molding process.
  • Minimize warping and sink marks by evenly cooling the injected plastics which also minimizes internal stress.
    • Reduce or eliminate scrap rates.
  • Avoid internal stresses in order to produce better parts with the same amount of required material—certain geometries can only achieve required quality standards with conformal cooling.
    • Combined systems with separate cooling and heating channels are also possible. The split between main systems for the control of the global temperature, and specific systems for the handling of close to cavity critical temperatures, can be performed with DMLS.


  • Expand heating/cooling ability at critical parts inside the tool, which cannot – or only hardly – be reached by conventional methods (e.g., long and lean cores, areas around hot-runners or small sliders).
  • Use of special copper heat conductors or other complex measures becomes obsolete.
    • Under-cool mold cavities to reach optimal cycle times by minimizing cool down times in tooling cavities.
    • Even temperature levels can help to improve tool life time—especially relevant in die casting tools that are exposed to extreme temperature variations.

Injection Molding Disadvantages

  • Cavity to cooling channel distance differs as only straight-line drilling channels are possible causing non-uniform heat dissipation.
  • Uneven temperature levels on the cavity surface.
  • Uneven cooling-down processes resulting in internal stresses that negatively impact part quality (warpage).
  • Actively influencing cooling-down processes inside the melt often cannot be achieved.

Design for Conformal Cooling

The distance from cavity to cooling channel differs as only straight line drilling channels are possible in top figure, and as a consequence, the heat dissipation cannot take place uniformly in the material. This results in //

  • Uneven temperature levels can occur on the cavity surface.
  • Uneven cooling-down processes can result in internal stresses and causes a negative impact on quality (warp).
  • Actively influencing the cooling-down process inside the melt can often not be achieved.
  • On top clogging of dead drilling ends creates areas with zero flow velocity thus facilitating dirt agglomeration.

The drilling procedure itself is not without certain risks. In the case of deep drilling there is always a danger to hit ejector holes (wandering drill) or the drill could break. As a consequence, the whole insert could be unusable.

Design recommendations for the layout of heating/cooling channels with DMLS are the same as the ones given for conventionally designed channels as both are based on the plastic recrystallization and heat conductivity theories. In order to achieve a constant temperature level, the channel diameter should be chosen depending on the distance between the heating/cooling channel and cavity.

Depending on the design of the product, the optimal diameter should be chosen between 4-12 mm. Some inserts, such as closely placed ejector pins or parts with thin walls, make it difficult to adhere to this rule. DMLS can build channels down to 1 mm when using specially treated fluids to avoid clogging. Simulation software can be an especially useful resource to prepare your part for printing.

With DMLS, it is possible to vary the channel cross section shape of the manufactured tool inserts for a variety of complex shapes. The feasibility criterion supposes a self-supporting cross section, which means the angle of overhanging areas should be above 40° to horizontal.

On the last picture the cooling performance can be increased due to the ribbed shape and the increased turbulence in the channel.

References //

  • Mike Shellabear
  • Joseph Weilhammer
  • Tooling Applications With EOSINT
  • Olaf Zollner

Customer Case Study

DMLS opens new frontiers for the implementation of very efficient heat/cooling systems and also offers design possibilities for the manufacturing of high-performance tools without having to consider the limitations which can characterize conventional processes. The real challenge is designing the correct channels during the first steps of the project. The manufacturing process of the mold inserts is not influenced by the complexity of the chosen cooling solution. This is because the DMLS machine simply builds the channels at the same time, without having any major impact regarding production time.

If you have a product which requires injection molding tooling, steel/aluminum molds, or production manufacturing, talk to a Fathom expert today.

Comprehensive Capabilities for Rapid Manufacturing

At Fathom we offer a unique advantage of speed and agility-our experts help companies go from concept to prototype to manufacturing in ways not previously possible. 

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10K Parts / / 10 days
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3 & 5 Axis Milling & Turning
(Plastics, Composites and Metals)

Tolerance Accuracy Range
from +/-0.001″ to 0.005″

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Injection Molding Adjacent
without High Costs of Metal Tools

Most Commonly Used for High-Volume
Prototyping & Bridge to Production

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Assembling, Including Embedded Electronic
Components, Threaded Inserts, and More

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