EYE ON INNOVATION [Black Friday Edition]: Nifty Gifts for Techies

The season for gift giving has arrived, kicked off today by the frenzied shopping event Black Friday. With the holiday season in mind, consider these items for that techie on your list.

Makr Shakr. This robotic bar can make any cocktail you want and a whole lot more — shake up a martini, mix a mojito, thin-slice a lemon garnish, etc. It was a huge hit at the recent Milan Design Week, where furniture usually takes center stage. Makr Shakr is a collaboration between MIT Senseable City Lab and Carlo Ratti, an Italian architecture firm.

Ninja Coffee Bar. Fully programmable, this coffee maker can do it all: automatically brews java by various amounts, strengths, personal tastes; creates cappuccinos, lattes; includes a milk frother; and even features an iced-coffee function.


Small Drones. Drones are popular gifts this year. The BLADE Nano QX RTF Quadcopter is rated by Tomsguide.com as Best Drone for the Money — it sells for about $80. As Tom’s Guide muses, the drone won’t break the bank “if you happen to misjudge the top of a tree and get it stuck out of reach.” Speaking of drones, a recent Proto Labs Cool Idea! Award winner is the developer of another drone, the ultra-portable Sprite.

WooBots. These wooden transformers make “old-school toys look cool again,” says Popular Mechanics. The WooBots include an 18-wheeler cab named “Truck,” and a transforming Beetle, bus, jet fighter and warship.


Eye on Innovation is a weekly look at new technology, products and scientific advancements that we’ve mined from crowdsourcing sites and other corners of the Internet.

TIPS WITH TONY: The Right Way to Text

In this week’s tip, we look at best practices for designing text on parts, and answer questions like raised or recessed, which fonts to use and alternative options.

Raised or Recessed?
Features can either be raised up or recessed in to part surfaces, but which way is best? Because molds are machined, we prefer to mill the actual text or logo instead of milling around those features. This allows for faster machining, easier polishing and eliminates very small mold features that may break off.

Please extrude the text/logo features by a minimum of 0.010 in. and a maximum of 0.020 in. This allows your text to be legible and not stick in the features while molding — any deeper and you risk having the text peel off and remain in the mold. So, design raised features on your CAD model to improve moldability during manufacturing and legibility on final parts.

Raised text on part is recommended.

If you must have recessed features on your part, many of the same guidelines still exist, but there is one additional concern that you will need to address in regards to the spacing between characters. Having text recessed on your part now means that the features in the mold are raised and we need to machine between each character. Features with less than 0.125 in. of clearance require spacing between each character at a minimum of 0.020 in. to properly remove all material to ensure the legibility of text.

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EYE ON INNOVATION: GPS Bike Computer Helps Riders Track Data, Stay Connected

Whether traversing a wooded trail on a mountain bike, or navigating an urban landscape on a more conventional road or touring bike, more riders than ever are using on-board bike computers.

The problem? There are hundreds of these GPS-equipped systems to choose from. Plus, as one reviewer commented on Bicycling.com, most of the units on the market are too complicated, “with intimidating button sequences and excessive bulk; I sensed that they were built for finding the nearest gas station, not accompanying cyclists to the tops of legendary peaks.”

One bike computer that seems to be simplifying things — though it’s not cheap — is the Elemnt GPS Bike Computer from Wahoo Fitness. As Wahoo boasts on its website, “No more confusing menus!” Riders will relate to that.

Photo from DCrainmaker.com

The Elemnt uses Bluetooth 4.0 and ANT+ dual-band technology to pair up with all of a rider’s other cycling sensors. It tracks speed, cadence and power, feeding the data to a companion app. Riders can then program all of their ride goals and metrics and instantly share that data. Additionally, it has an easy-to-read display screen, so riders can keep an eye on the trail or street ahead, rather than fiddling with the computer.

Price: $330.

Eye on Innovation is a weekly look at new technology, products and scientific advancements that we’ve mined from crowdsourcing sites and other corners of the Internet.



Compact Drone Wins Proto Labs’ Cool Idea! Award

The developers of the Sprite, a small, durable drone that offers an alternative to larger, generally more fragile quadcopter drones, have been presented with the latest Proto Labs Cool Idea! Award.

The popularity of drone aircraft for consumer use is surging. More than 700,000 drones are expected to be sold nationwide this year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Drones are also getting lots of buzz as a hot holiday gift item this year.

“Drones are already playing key roles in a variety of industries, and for military and public safety applications,” says Proto Labs founder Larry Lukis. “This particular drone is innovative because of its consumer-friendly design: a smaller size, greater durability and ease of use.” Continue reading

TIPS WITH TONY: Rapid Injection Molding vs. Conventional Molding

How do you know if you should use low-volume injection molding or traditional methods? What benefit does soft aluminum tooling provide? These are just a few questions we hear regularly, so we wanted to shed some light on these important molding considerations.

Before Proto Labs began in 1999, prototyping with injection molding was costly and took months to receive the very first sample parts. We took a low-volume approach to injection molding where it was possible to get a handful of parts in a few days rather than the large-scale approach that nearly all other manufacturers used that involved part minimum in the tens of thousands and full-scale production in the millions of parts.

Proto Labs specializes in aluminum molds that use high-speed CNC machines to create a standard single cavity mold in as fast as one business day with the ability to produce up to 10,000 parts or more. Complex parts are also possible by using pin-actuated slides as well as hand-loaded mold inserts. We try to take the difficulty out of injection molding design by simplifying it.

Conventional molding uses a much more complex molds that take weeks to design, where Proto Labs is highly automated. Complex multi-plate mold designs using lifters, collapsible cores and multi-cavities are able to produce much more complex parts at high volumes, and typically, mold creation for these molds take anywhere from four to 12 weeks.

Bridge Tooling
We discovered that there was a much greater need for low-volume manufacturing. Customers were placing additional orders for a few thousand parts that were being used to set-up production lines and even limited short-run production while the conventional tooling was being built.

Conventional tooling is your production mold. It’s difficult to have a bridge tool produced without having your production molder hold off on manufacturing while they create a bridge tool. Using both methods allows you to have two manufacturers producing molds side-by-side to ultimately have parts produced faster.

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