EYE ON INNOVATION: Mfg. Day Highlights Industry’s High-Tech Future

In a recent GE commercial, the parents of a young, bespectacled software developer, implore him to accept his “grandpappy’s” giant sledge hammer, now that he’s working in manufacturing for GE.

The flustered son tries to explain: “Yes, GE makes powerful machines. I’ll be writing the code that allows those machines to share information with each other.” The baffled parents just don’t get it. See for yourself:

The spot effectively shows the quantum leap manufacturing has taken. In fact, as the Huffington Post reports, the global manufacturing sector is in the midst of what many manufacturing experts regard as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, known globally as Industry 4.0. Continue reading


Proto Labs has a knowledgeable support staff able to answer nearly any manufacturing question you toss their way. If you haven’t already spoken to them, you should get to know our customer service engineers (CSEs) who can help guide you on your next additive manufacturing, CNC machining and injection molding project.

This is Tony from the popular blog series, Tips with Tony. He was a CSE for years and is now Proto Labs’ go-to technical specialist.

It’s challenging to assemble the top five most frequently questions asked — it should be more like a top 100 questions asked on a daily basis. But, I whittled it down to the top questions our CSEs are most frequently asked.

5. How many parts can you produce and how fast can I get them?

Additive Manufacturing
SL, SLS and DMLS:  1 to 50+ parts in 1 to 7 days

CNC Machining
Milling and Turning:  1 to 200+ parts in 1 to 3 days

Injection Molding
Plastic: 25 to 500 sample parts in 1 to 15 days with low-volume production of 10,000+ parts available

Liquid Silicone Rubber (LSR): 25 to 500 sample parts in 1 to 15 days with low-volume production of 5,000+ parts available

Metal: 25 to 100 sample parts in 10 to 15 days with low-volume production of 5,000+ parts available

Magnesium: 25 to 100 sample parts in 15 days with low-volume production of 5,000+ parts available

Please note that lead times are dependent on part size and current workload. As such, not all parts are eligible for a one-day turn and expedite fees may be applied turnaround times faster than standard delivery.

4. What manufacturing method(s) should I use?
First, let me ask you these questions to help you decide:

  • How many parts do you need?
  • Are these functional, cosmetic or just something to hold in your hand?
  • Do you know the material you want?
  • What type of finish do you need?

If you have a part total in mind, you can begin narrowing down the manufacturing method to either injection molding (for higher volumes) or additive manufacturing or machining (for lower volumes). Identifying the material you need will then allow you to narrow down your decision even further. Beginning with any one of these questions will start you down the correct path towards the proper manufacturing method.

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EYE ON INNOVATION: Regrowing Damaged Nerves Using 3D Printing Technology

A national team of researchers has developed a 3D-printed guide or pathway that helps regrow complex injured or damaged nerves, and successfully tested the guide in rats.

Researchers say that this groundbreaking research holds the potential to help more than 200,000 people annually who experience nerve injuries or disease. The researchers are from the University of Minnesota, Virginia Tech, University of Maryland, Princeton University and Johns Hopkins University. The team’s study was published this month in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Image courtesy of Michael McAlpine, University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering.

Researchers used a combination of 3D imaging and 3D printing techniques to create a custom silicone guide or pathway implanted with biochemical cues to help nerve regeneration. Continue reading

TIPS WITH TONY: Behind the Scenes with File Formats

Why can’t you read my CAD file? Wrong file format? What formats do you accept? In our latest tip, I’ll cover what file formats work best with each manufacturing service at Proto Labs and discuss common questions that occur.

Simply put, we accept several different file formats, but some work better than others. To begin, here’s our list of formats that can be uploaded to our website:

CAD Programs:

  • Solidworks (.sldprt)
  • Autodesk Inventor (.ipt)
  • AutoCad (3D .dwg)
  • PTC ProE/Creo (.prt)
  • CATIA (.catpart)
  • SpaceClaim (.scdoc)
  • SketchUp (.skp)

Neutral File Formats:

  • IGES
  • STEP
  • ASIS (.sat)
  • Stereolithography (.stl) — only available for additive and machining

Proprietary Software
We use proprietary software that is able to read or translate the file formats above. If you submit a format not listed, you’ll receive a no-quote and will need to upload a new file from the list of approved file formats in order to receive a quote. But if you submit a file from the list and you still receive a no-quote, there is a good possibility that the file was either corrupt or unable to be translated properly. In this case, we would suggest trying another file format, or multiple file formats, so we have options for translation. Or, reach out to one of our customer service engineers at customerservice@protolabs.com or 877.479.3680 to discuss a solution.

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EYE ON INNOVATION: Five Tech Trends of 2015

As 2015’s Q4 nears, a brief look at the year’s technology trends is in order. This list includes innovations or trends that have recently arrived or will soon, and is an amalgam sourced from Forbes, MIT Technology Review, CNET and others. In various ways, Proto Labs touches each of these trends.

Computing Everywhere
Most computing these days is in your pocket or purse — that is, in your smartphone. As Forbes reports, “smartphones will be used in new contexts and environments. Along with wearables, smartphones will offer connected screens in the workplace and in public. User experience will be key.”

Smartphones also play a prime role in the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT). Along these lines, Proto Labs produces parts for companies serving this connectivity market. For example, Garageio, which is an app for smartphones that allows users to control and monitor their garage doors with their phones, is a past winner of our Cool Idea! Award.

A final note on smartphone use. Several news sources report that the majority of digital media consumption now takes place on mobile devices rather than desktop. Mobile usage as a whole — app and mobile web — totals more than 60 percent, versus less than 40 percent for desktop usage.

Smart Machines
This year, major brands such as Whirlpool, LG, GE and Samsung introduced their latest versions of smart home devices such as washing machines and refrigerators. Plus, we already have cars that help us park, navigate and stay in our lanes.

Proto Labs’ digitally connected manufacturing equipment is, in essence, a network of smart machines communicating with one another. This approach has helped us transform traditional manufacturing into an automated, digital enterprise.

CNET reports that smart machines will continue to evolve, and Forbes predicts that “the smart-machine era will be the most disruptive in the history of IT.”

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