Creating highly articulated miniature structures requires assembling a large number of small parts. This is a very challenging task and increases cost of mechanical assemblies. Insert molding presents the possibility of creating a highly articulated structure in a single molding step. This can be accomplished by placing multiple metallic bearings in the mold and injecting plastic on top of them. In theory, this idea can generate a multi degree of freedom structures in just one processing step without requiring any post molding assembly operations. However, the polymer material has a tendency to shrink on top of the metal bearings and hence jam the joints. Hence, until now insert molding has not been used to create articulated structures. This paper presents a theoretical model for estimating the extent of joint jamming that occurs due to the shrinkage of the polymer on top of the metal bearings. The level of joint jamming is seen as the effective torque needed to overcome the friction in the revolute joints formed by insert molding. We then use this model to select the optimum design parameters which can be used to fabricate functional, highly articulating assemblies while meeting manufacturing constraints. Our analysis shows that the strength of weld-lines formed during the in-mold assembly process play a significant role in determining the minimum joint dimensions necessary for fabricating functional revolute joints. We have used the models and methods described in this paper to successfully fabricate the structure for a minimally invasive medical robot prototype with potential applications in neurosurgery. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of building an articulated structure with multiple degrees of freedom using insert molding.

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