Clear layered bonded manifold made from polycarbonate

Choosing the Best Plastics for Bonded Manifolds

Bonded manifolds offer a variety of benefits. Ease of design flexibility means manufacturers like Controlled Fluidics can create intricate channels in almost any configuration. Controlled Fluidics’ low pressure bonding technology means channels retain their shape throughout the bonding process. The strength of the bond itself is another advantage. Capable of handling pressures to 150 psi, the bond is permanent and difficult to detect with the naked eye. 

The best plastic for you will depend on the usage of your manifold. Here are some of our favorites.

Ultem

Due to its high performance and ease of manufacturing, Ultem® is an excellent choice for manifolds, electrical insulators, reusable machined components, electrical component housings, and aircraft instrumentation. This plastic combines exceptional strength and rigidity with superior thermal properties, such as outstanding heat resistance.  

Ultem provides higher performance for fluidic manifolds than polycarbonate, polysulfone, and acrylic manifolds, enjoying higher working temperatures and superior chemical resistance.  Ultem has a unique combination of thermal, chemically resistant, mechanical, and electrical properties, typically only found in higher-cost engineered plastic manifold applications. A broad cross-section of manufacturing industries use this type of plastic, including medical, pharmaceutical, electronics, semiconductor design, automotive, and aerospace.

Acrylic

With low cost and excellent clarity, acrylic is the most commonly used material for bonded device manifolds. It allows for a full inspection of all channels and passages and can be easily machined and bonded into assemblies. In addition, acrylic has good weathering ability and dimensional stability. An expert machinist can drill holes in acrylic straight and clear. Flame polishing, buffing, and optical machining are effective polishing processes; manufacturers often produce highly polished acrylic lenses by optical machining.

Acrylic is the closest plastic substitute for window glass. General purpose-grade cast and polished acrylic parts will block UV wavelengths up to 360 NM (for applications requiring transmittance of 280 NM and above, consider UVT grade). Acrylic also performs well in pneumatic and vacuum applications and can support operating pressures as high as 150 psi.

Radel

For rapid prototyping and manufacture, Radel plastic resin is a tough, stable performer. Medical devices often use Radel, primarily surgical and medical device handling applications. In its natural state, polished Radel® polyphenylsulfone (PPSU) is dark amber, similar to Ultem and PES. Radel responds well to vapor polishing and optical machining, and it offers long-term resistance to steam sterilization without stress cracking. Other sterilization methods for Radel include cold, radiation, and dry heat.

COC and COP

COC and COP provide many benefits compared to traditional amorphous plastics (such as acrylic, polycarbonate, and Ultem) used in fluidic manifolds. They retain their properties to near glass temperature. Best in class for transparency and light transmission, both COC and COP are suitable for optical applications. Industries like microfluidics and life sciences often use this plastic since they offer bio-compatibility and superior chemical resistance (Acids, alkalis, hydrolysis).

Polyvinyl Chloride

Lightweight, durable, and easy to process, Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is one of the most popular thermoplastic polymers in the world.  PVC is a low-cost material applicable for a wide variety of applications and industries. Capable of performing up to 140 F, PVC offers resistance to mild acids, alkalis, and solvents. PVC is available in a wide range of colors. 

Various industries use PVC, including healthcare, electronics, automobile manufacturing, packaging, and other sectors. Research demonstrates that PVC effectively protects the environment in terms of low greenhouse gas emissions and conservation of energy.

Polycarbonate

Polycarbonate bonded manifolds are quickly replacing acrylic as a baseline material, although it is modestly more expensive. A highly versatile, tough plastic that is easy to machine, polish, weld, and bond, polycarbonate supports higher temperatures and has better chemical resistance than acrylic. In addition, this transparent material offers high modules of elasticity without compromising its strength or structure.

Multi-layer laminated manifold configurations are possible with polycarbonate. Experts design manifolds with either D-shaped or full round channels rather than square ones. Channel spacing can be as close as .040 nearest feature size. The surface finish for valve mounting can be as good as 20 microinches.

When bonded, polycarbonate provides a very clear manifold. For pumps or valves with frequent assembly and disassembly, consider heat-staked threaded inserts over direct machined threads or helicoils since polycarbonate is stress sensitive to long-term loading in stress risers. Pullout strength and low stress on components make inserts the best choice for manifold design.

Polysulfone

Suitable for hot water applications, polysulfone has a high continuous service temperature of 300°F. In addition, it is resistant to water absorption and can tolerate steam sterilization up to 285°F. FDA-compliant devices often contain clear polysulfone components.

Double-sided full round or single-sided D-channel manifold designs are feasible. Full round bonded channels give the best flow and the least opportunity for unswept volume, although machining two sides do increase costs. The typical minimal channel size for polysulfone is .020 (.5 mm) with preferred channel spacing .040 apart.

Unlimited layers are theoretically possible with polysulfone, but costs rise with layer count. Multiple two-layer manifolds are a smarter choice in practice than a single large, highly complex, multi-layered manifold. General performance is higher with polysulfone than with acrylic and polycarbonate, but it is more expensive as a raw material. Staked-in threaded inserts are recommended over helicoils to avoid stress-cracking concerns.Trying to select a plastic for your bonded manifold needs? Contact Controlled Fluidics for advice.