Online Manufacturing for Metal parts and Plastic Parts, XTJ Precision Mfg Ltd

Mobile: +86 17704021786

What is Bladder molding:Molds, Materials,Types And Application

Bladder Molding

Bladder molding is an interesting fabrication process for molding composite materials and is best suited to make hollow components that have a complex shape. This process is ideal for items such as bicycle frames, small wind turbine blades, and sports equipment like racquets. Bladder molding also gives a very good surface finish over the whole part. However, it does require female clamshell molds to be made up, and bladders to be fabricated to suit the molds.

This article will discuss the details of the bladder molding process, the molds and materials used, as well as its applications.

What Is Bladder Molding?

Bladder molding is a process used for forming hollow components from composite materials. It is typically used for creating carbon fiber components in complex shapes. To create these shapes, inflatable bladders are arranged in approximately the desired shape. Pre-preg (woven fibers pre-impregnated with resin) is laid over the bladders. The bladders are then placed in a mold and inflated, forcing the pre-preg into the shape of the mold. Heat is then used to cure the resin in the molded shape.

What Is Bladder Molding For?

Bladder molding is a manufacturing process for hollow composite components such as carbon fiber bicycle frames. It is a relatively low-cost method for forming composites, and it is capable of manufacturing complex shapes. It is used for making hollow components, as the composite pre-preg material is laid over the inflatable bladders, which are inflated to press the composite into the mold, and then the bladders are removed once the resin has cured. This system with inflatable bladders also means that complex shapes can be made by using different bladder geometries and molds. It is also lower cost as the curing can take place in an oven, rather than needing an autoclave.

How Is Bladder Molding Used in Manufacturing?

Bladder molding is a manufacturing process used primarily in the production of composite parts, particularly to manufacture hollow components that may have complex shapes. Bladder molding is also a relatively cheap method of manufacturing with composites such as carbon fiber, as it requires only an oven, rather than an expensive autoclave. Due to the bladder forcing the composite layup into the mold, it also results in a very good surface finish on the component. Therefore bladder molding is an important process for manufacturing with composites, giving flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and a good surface finish.

How Does Bladder Molding Work?
Bladder molding works by using an inflatable bladder to force pre-preg composite layups (fiber and resin) to accurately take on the shape of the mold. Bladder molding therefore requires a bladder to be made up for the component, as well as a mold. The layup is done on the bladder which is inserted into the mold, and the mold is bolted together. The bladder is then inflated, pushing the composite layup into all the contours and details of the mold. This pressure in the bladder forces the composite to take on an accurate impression of the mold. With the bladder inflated, the mold is heated — this cures the resin in the composite, hardening it in the desired shape. Once curing is complete, the bladder is deflated and removed, and the molded component can be removed from the mold and cleaned up.

What Is the Process of Bladder Molding?

Bladder molding is a relatively simple process, which generally follows the steps below:

Prepare the mold for the component and ensure it is clean and without blemish. Apply a mold release agent.
Fit the pre-preg layup into one side of the mold.
Prepare and clean the bladder for the component to ensure no blemishes or contaminants. The bladder can then be placed onto the pre-preg that has been laid in the mold.
The rest of the layup is placed over the bladder, ensuring a complete seal around the bladder to complete the part.
Close and secure the mold (it is commonly bolted) to ensure proper and complete mating between the upper and lower molds.
Inflate the bladder with pressurized nitrogen to force the material into the details of the mold. The mold is then heated, either through plates or in an oven, to cure the resin.
Once the curing is complete, the mold is cooled, and opened, and the component is removed. Excess resin is also removed.
How Long Does the Bladder Molding Process Take?
The bladder molding process would typically take several hours to complete a single part. The longest part of the process is the curing of the resin within the composite by heating it in an oven. This typically would take in the region of six hours or longer. Depending on the size and complexity of the component, another time-consuming step in the process can be the preparation of the pre-preg and completing the layup in the molds.

How Does Bladder Molding Differ From Other Procedures of Molding Types?

Bladder molding is well-matched for a specific combination of needs — complex shape, relatively low cost, and high surface-finish quality. However, it is still a relatively manual process and is not suited to high-volume production. Compression molding is a composite fabrication method that is used for high-volume runs. It typically uses hydraulic presses to force the composite to conform to the geometry of the mold. A different type of molding is vacuum bagging. This arrangement is more similar to bladder molding but utilizes the opposite approach — using a vacuum to pull the material against the mold. Finally, another type of molding for composites is resin transfer molding, in which resin is injected into a mold containing the dry fiber layup. This is quite different from bladder molding, which relies on the manual layup of pre-pregs.

To learn more, see our full guide on Procedures of Molding Types.

Is Bladder Molding the Same As Composite Molding?
No, bladder molding is not the same as composite molding, but there are some similarities. Molds are used for both manufacturing methods, but in bladder molding, the parts are to be hollow, with the bladder used to force the composite layup into the surface details of the mold. In conventional composite molding, a mold is used, but the parts are not hollow, and the layup against the mold surface is done only by hand, without the assistance of pressure from a bladder. Composite molding can also be used with an open mold (only one side of the mold, not two pieces that are closed), against which the resin cures while exposed to air.

What Molds Are Used for Bladder Molding?
Female clamshell molds, fabricated of materials such as aluminum, are the typical molds used for bladder molding. Clamshell molds allow for the bladder to be put in place, with all the layup completed before closing up the mold. The nature of bladder molding is that outward positive pressure is applied by the bladder, pushing the composite into the mold, which matches well with using two female molds. The material may vary, but the mold needs to be strong enough to restrain the pressure within the bladder, rigid enough to resist any deformation for a good quality part, and also heat conductive for curing the resin. Aluminum is a popular choice of material from which to make these molds.

What Are the Materials Used for Bladder Molding?

Several different materials are used in the process of bladder molding. An explanation of each is given below:

Composite Materials: The final result of bladder molding is the working component. The most common bladder molding materials are molding composites—in other words, a composite mixture of at least two different materials, such as a fiber and a resin.
Carbon Fibers: These composite molding materials use fibers for strength, and one of the strongest is carbon fiber. These thin black filaments are relatively stiff and have a high tensile strength. They are commonly used in woven mats.
Glass Fibers: Another common material used in composites. These fine strands of silica glass are cheaper than carbon fibers but have similar properties.
Thermoset Resins: These resins form the matrix that holds the fibers in a rigid structure. Thermoset plastics form a solid irreversibly—they do not melt to a liquid on heating. Composites with thermoset matrices are widely used.
Thermoplastics: It is also possible to use composites with thermoplastic matrices. Thermoplastics melt to a liquid when heated, making their solidification reversible. Although thermoplastic matrices in composites are less common, they are growing in application.
Foams: Used in the bladder molding process for mandrels, which in turn are used to fabricate the unique bladders for use in the molds.
Silicone: A potential bladder material used in bladder molding. The silicone is molded in the required shape to suit the geometry of the hollow interior of the desired part. Materials other than silicone are also used for bladders, such as polymers like natural rubber latex or Viton™.
Is Carbon Fiber the Best Material for Bladder Molding?
Carbon fiber is the most common material used with bladder molding. However, bladder molding can be used with other composites such as fiberglass, so long as these are available as “pre-pregs.” Pre-pregs are sheets of fibers pre-impregnated with uncured resin. Pre-pregs tend to be more expensive, but much simpler to use than traditional hand layups. Pre-pregs are best for use with bladder molding, and they can be of various materials.

What Are the Applications of Bladder Molding?

Bladder molding is used in a wide range of applications such as:

Aerospace: Composite components are used widely throughout the aerospace industry, due to their low weight but high strength. Bladder molding is typically used to produce smaller parts such as: rotors, doors, and instrument enclosures.
Automotive: Composite parts and accessories are manufactured for vehicles, such as: spoilers, wing mirrors, and other body panels. Structural components such as struts can also be made of composite materials like carbon fiber. Bladder molding is used to manufacture smaller, hollow components for the automotive industry.
Sporting Goods: Composite materials are used extensively for high-end clubs, bats, and rackets, as they are lightweight but strong. The same is true of bicycle frames. Bladder molding provides equipment that is hollow and has an excellent surface finish.
Marine: Composite components are used in the marine industry primarily for weight-saving. Bladder molded components can include: masts, drive shafts, and propellers.
Wind Energy: Wind turbine blades can be fabricated using bladder molding.
Medical Devices: composite components are beginning to replace typically metallic insertable medical devices. Bladder molding gives the flexibility to create complex shapes for these implants.
What Is the Quality of Bladder Molded Products?
The quality of bladder molded products is good, particularly the surface finish. Bladder molding provides a very high-quality surface finish on all surfaces of the part. The overall mechanical quality is suitable for many products but does have some shortcomings. The use of the bladder to force the pre-preg composite material into the female molds can result in uneven wall thickness of the finished component, with some associated weakness. There is also the risk of a wrinkled surface if the bladder shape or elongation does not match the mold well.

How Long Do Bladder Molded Products Last?

Bladder molded products should have a long life span if they are fabricated correctly and matched well to their application. Composite materials are specifically chosen for their strength, and so long as the component is designed well, the fabrication process should not shorten its useful life. Bladder molded products can be expected to last at least 10 years, but ideally more than 30 years. However, this is heavily dependent on the quality of the material used, the correct design and application, and the correct procedure and parameters during manufacturing.

What Are the Advantages of Bladder Molding?

Bladder molding has several advantages over alternative composite fabrication methods, such as:

Is very well suited to fabricating components with complex shapes. Both the molds and the bladders can be made to suit complex geometries, and the process allows all external surfaces of that complex geometry to have a great finish.
Is relatively low-cost compared to other manufacturing methods for high-quality composite parts. In particular, an autoclave is not required, simple ovens are sufficient.
With the use of pre-pregs and two female molds, the external surfaces of bladder molded parts are very high quality, the joints are smooth and the finish is consistent over the whole surface.
What Are the Disadvantages of Bladder Molding?
Bladder molding does have some limitations. Some key disadvantages are explained below:

Has limited precision, and therefore is not well suited to making parts that may need high accuracy or repeatability.
Depending on how well the bladder is manufactured, and how it is inflated, elongation of the bladder can cause lateral movement of the composite material in the molds, forming wrinkles.
The inflated bladder can cause an uneven wall thickness of the part, which in turn may limit its overall mechanical strength.
Is Bladder Molding Cheap?
Bladder molding is more cost-effective than other composite molding techniques, particularly considering the surface finish achievable. This is primarily because it does not require expensive equipment such as an autoclave. However, on small components, it is more expensive than manufacturing via wet layup (hand layup), particularly because bladder molding requires pre-pregs, which can add cost.

Is Bladder Molding Cheaper Than Pressure Forming?

No, bladder molding should not be considered cheaper than pressure forming. However, it is difficult to compare the costs of bladder molding and pressure forming because they are used with fundamentally different materials. Bladder molding is typically used with composites such as carbon fiber, whereas pressure forming is used with plastic materials such as ABS and HDPE, which are significantly cheaper. Pressure forming is known to be a cost-effective manufacturing method for components of these materials, for small to medium batches. The tooling for pressure-formed components is cheaper than for bladder molding.

What Is the Future of Bladder Molding?
The future of bladder molding is likely to involve continued innovation and evolution in response to the need for higher precision and consistent quality. There are some modern improvements to traditional bladder molding, such as Bladder-Assisted Composite Manufacturing (BACM). This process aims to optimize heat application during heating. Another growing variation is the use of shape memory polymers that are rigid at room temperature rather than inflatable bladders. These rigid memory polymers make the layup much simpler and can give more consistent quality between units.


XTJ is always committed to being a professional plastic prototype manufacturer that can offer cost-effective CNC plastic machining services for global customers. Learn more about our plastic prototyping, you can easily upload your CAD files there today for a free quotation.


XTJ is a leading OEM Manufacturer that is dedicated to providing one-stop manufacturing solutions  from prototype to production. We are proud to be an ISO 9001 certified system quality management company and we are determined to create value in every customer relationship. We do that through collaboration, innovation, process improvements, and exceptional workmanship.




Make the best product possible with the help of our international team of experts. When you’re ready for a project review, contact us for a free quote.

Contact Form Demo (#3)