INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: Carmakers Drive Innovation with Lightweighting, Powertrains

Auto fact #1: About 50 percent of a modern car’s volume is plastic yet it only accounts for 10 percent of its weight

Auto fact #2: 43-year-old men purchase more cars than anyone else.

Stats like this bring to life the changes taking place in the evolution of the automotive industry, as research and development move at a pace faster than ever.

Two major factors are driving these changes: regulations and market demands. We are all familiar with automobile safety regulations, but may be less familiar with CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards. These standards set mileage requirements for an automaker’s fleet. The 2025 target is 54.5 miles per gallon.

Now think of the 40-something guy that represents the largest demographic who are purchasing cars. Is this individual willing to give up performance, e.g., acceleration or leather seats or integrated entertainment systems, so that his new ride meets mileage and safety requirements. Probably not. Innovation is often times driven by necessity and the automotive industry is responding.

BMW started using magnesium for its N52 six-cylinder crankcases and cylinder head covers in 2005.

In recent years, there has been a major push around lightweighting to help address mileage requirements. Weight reduction is one proven method to improve fuel economy and minimize the impact on performance. This can achieved through the use of engineering-grade resins that possess physical properties well beyond what the average consumer thinks is possible.

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Proto Labs Quoting System Helps Lockheed Martin Drone Take Off

The commercial-grade Indago Quadcopter unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone, from Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin, is soaring in popularity with law enforcement agencies, defense customers, firefighters, real estate firms, farmers and construction companies.

The high demand stems mostly from the drone’s versatility, range and small, 5-pound, fold-up size, says Miguel Perez, an engineer for Lockheed’s Procerus subsidiary, which developed the drone with prototyping and low-volume production help from Proto Labs.

Lockheed Martin’s Indago drone is a small, 5-pound, fold-up quadcopter capable of work at various ranges — up to 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) using integrated antenna solutions — from its ground controller.

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TIPS WITH TONY: The Material Properties of Machined Plastic

If your ultimate product development plan involves a move to injection molding, CNC machining offers a material selection conducive to a transition into increased molded quantities. Proto Labs has more than 30 engineering-grade thermoplastic materials with various benefits.

To illustrate the material properties better (Figure 1), we took four frequently used thermoplastics — ABS, polycarbonate (PC), polypropylene (PP) and nylon polyamide (PA) — and compared the maximum heat deflection, tensile strength and elongation at break that occurs within injection molding, machining and 3D printing.

ABS Molded

ABS Machined

ABS-like SL

Heat Deflection




Tensile Strength

6,091 psi

6,100 psi

7,800 psi

Elongation at Break




PC Molded

PC Machined

PC-like SL

Heat Deflection




Tensile Strength


8,000 psi

11,300 psi

Elongation at Break




PP Molded

PP Machined

PP-like SL

Heat Deflection




Tensile Strength

5,801 psi

4,800 psi

7,250 psi

Elongation at Break




PA Molded

PA Machined


Heat Deflection




Tensile Strength

16,500 psi

10,000 psi

6,946 psi

Elongation at Break




Figure 1: Thermoplastic material properties compared between different manufacturing processes. Properties are dependent on actual material selected, part thickness and geometry. Please review each material data sheet individually as these are estimates.

Translation: CNC machining is ideal for functional prototyping and end-use production parts, and readies your design for an eventual move to injection molding. We have a full staff of technical experts that can answer any machining questions you have at or 877-479-3680. For more information on 3D printing, CNC machining or injection molding at Proto Labs, head over to

THE SHORT LIST: 6 Ways to Get the Most Out of a Trade Show

As you add to your calendar the various trade shows you’ll be attending in 2016, we offer you this list of a half-dozen quick tips for making the most of those shows.

Check your email; free is good. For many trade shows, you can get a free exhibit hall or expo pass from various companies exhibiting at the show. Watch for emails ahead of the shows with promo codes for these passes from vendors. (See Proto Labs’ code list below).

Proto Labs’ industry specialist, Jeff Schipper, discusses rapid manufacturing at LightFair 2015.

Plan ahead. For large trade shows, look at the event’s website ahead of time to scope out the show’s floor plan, check the exhibitor list and review specific program-track lineups. Some shows are massive, so this advance prep will make your time at these shows more efficient and productive. Continue reading

Honey, I Shrunk the Pyramids: Met Museum, Proto Labs Create Model of Ancient Egypt

For the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition, “Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom,” on view at the New York museum through Jan. 24, 2016, exhibit planners decided to reconstruct the pyramid complex of King Senwosret III in both a virtual and physical model.

The scale model of the pyramid site is displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s galleries.

The physical 1:150-scaled model of the site is based on a 3D virtual model that was produced first, and modeled after 3D-printed prototype parts that were created by Proto Labs. For perspective, the main pyramid of the original complex was more than 206-ft.high. In the scaled model, it is 1.5 feet. The creation of the model, which is intended to bring this important Middle Kingdom era to life for visitors to the exhibition, involved a process that was an intriguing blend of traditional and digital methods. This process included traditional sculpting, model-making, mold-making, casting, carpentry and faux painting, plus digital methods of fabrication, specifically 3D printing. The additive manufacturing process by Proto Labs served as the Met’s prototyping phase that helped replicate the unique parts of the model. Continue reading