Happy Holidays from Proto Labs

As 2015 comes to an end, here’s to beautiful holiday gatherings and ugly holiday sweaters: Happy Holidays!

From all of us at Proto Labs in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Finland and Japan, we wish you a productive and profitable 2016!

A group of employees at Proto Labs’ headquarters in Maple Plain, Minnesota recently gathered to show off a variety of ugly sweaters to ring in the holiday season.


TIPS WITH TONY: Mixing It Up with Plastic Colorants

Proto Labs’ material selection and available color options for thermoplastics can be found online at protolabs.com.

You may require colored resin or transparent coloring for your injection-molded parts, but exactly how much colorant is added and what consistency can you achieve?

Salt-and-Pepper Mix
Proto Labs offers colorant at no charge to most natural, white or clear materials. In most cases, we do this by adding a 3 percent salt-and-pepper mixture of colorant based on weight to the base resin, but on occasion, less colorant is added to transparent resins like polycarbonate.

A 3 percent salt-and-pepper colorant mix is typically used.


Since we hand mix the colorant and base resin, you may have a higher or lower concentrate of colorant throughout the order. The injection molding press does a good job of mixing the colorant and base resin when it melts and grinds the resin in the barrel before molding, but it isn’t 100 percent.

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EYE ON INNOVATION: New Balance Steps Up With 3D-Printed Customized Soles

We’ve blogged about sneaker technology in the past, highlighting Converse’s new Chuck II shoe.

Photo: New Balance

Now New Balance is stepping up with a new concept for a shoe that uses 3D-printed midsoles customized to an individual’s stride.

As Wired recently reported, most running shoes have midsoles that are resilient but are typically just a uniform piece of rubber foam. This foam doesn’t really account for the fact that every person’s foot impacts the ground differently, such as mid-strike runners or those who land on their heels first, etc. Researchers at New Balance are looking to make a midsole that’s “both resilient and smart.”

Photo: New Balance

The shoe company is working with Boston-based design studio Nervous System to create a 3D-printed midsole that can be customized based on an individual’s stride. Wired: “The goal is to extend customization beyond aesthetics, creating a shoe designed with biomechanical data that gives its wearer an optimized running experience.”

This 3D-printed footwear appears to be a trend. Companies such as Nike, Adidas and Jimmy Choo are increasingly exploring the applications of additive manufacturing in their design processes, creating everything from 3D-printed football cleats to 3D-printed haute couture shoes.

New Balance’s 3D-printed midsoles are “squishy,” lightweight and strong, and made of DuraForm Flex TPU, a proprietary elastomer.

Still early in the process, it is unclear if customized soles will actually improve the running experience, and help with elements such as reducing injuries, speeding recovery and enhancing overall endurance.

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: Prototyping with Hard Metals

Last week we discussed prototyping with soft metals like aluminum, copper and brass, so this week we turn our attention to hard metals and processes (3D printing, CNC machining and injection molding) used for rapid prototyping in low volumes.


SS 316

SS 17-4

SS 304

Nickel Steel

Steel Alloy



Cobalt Chrome




























Hard metals that are offered in three different manufacturing processes at Proto Labs: direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), CNC machining (CNC) and metal injection molding (MIM).

Stainless Steel
Stainless steel (SS) is one of the most widely used metals in our material library and is available in three different grades and all three services: 3D printing, machining and molding.

  • 304L is only available for machined parts and offers a higher tensile strength and good corrosion resistance while offering a slightly lower price than other stainless steel materials.
  • 316L is available in machining, industrial 3D printing through direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) and metal injection molding (MIM). 316 offers an improved corrosion and chemical resistance over 304 while offering a high temperature tolerance.
  • 17-4PH is also available in all three manufacturing methods and offers a higher yield and tensile strength with good resistances to corrosion. 17-4 also offers a higher magnetism of all our SS offerings.

EYE ON INNOVATION: ‘Attack’ of the Drones to Prompt Regulations

The buzz on drones is getting louder.

More than 700,000 drones are expected to be sold nationwide in 2015, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Drones are a hot holiday gift item this year. Nearly 400 drone-related products and projects are currently listed in active crowdfunding campaigns at Kickstarter.com and Indiegogo.com.

Photo: Madpac.nl

Even the winner of the most recent Proto Labs Cool Idea! Award was a drone — the ultraportable Sprite, made by Ascent AeroSystems.

Hovering over all of this drone proliferation, inevitably, are potential regulations. In November, the New York Times reported that the Federal Aviation Administration released a list of recommendations for how to better monitor recreational use of the machines. Under the proposal, most drone owners would have to register their drones with the federal government, which would place the information in a national database, the first such requirements. New York Times: “The recommendations, from a task force created by the agency, would be the biggest step yet by the government to deal with the proliferation of recreational drones, which are usually used for harmless purposes but have also been tools for mischief and serious wrongdoing, and pose a risk to airborne jets.” Continue reading