TIPS WITH TONY: Replace Metal with Plastic to Save Weight, Cost

To decrease weight and potentially cost, you can replace metal with plastic on certain parts through 3D printing and injection molding. At Proto Labs, we use industrial 3D printing process stereolithography (SL) to produce thermoplastic-like parts that have a nickel coating on the surface. This offers the increased strength of aluminum die-cast components, without the weight. With injection molding, the introduction of thermally conductive plastics has broken new ground when looking for heat dissipation of expensive heat sinks.

Stereolithography parts built with SLArmor have a metal coating applied over a thermoplastic-like base.

SLArmor involves a ceramic-filled DSM Somos material, which has a metal coating applied to achieve the look, feel and, most importantly, comparable strength of aluminum without added weight. SL is a cost-effective prototyping method for initial parts that mimic metal before moving to higher volumes of die-casted parts.

The material properties of SLArmor are greatly improved in regards to heat deflection, tensile strength, elongation at break and elasticity. The chart below shows exactly how the material relates to die-cast aluminum in three different thicknesses that can be applied based on geometry of SL parts. Note that the thickness of the nickel plating may vary on each part due to the ability to apply the coatings.

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WHITE PAPER: Aluminum Tooling for Optical Moldable Silicone

Dow Corning recently published a comprehensive white paper on the use of aluminum tooling for moldable optical silicone. It examines two big questions:

  1. To achieve a high-quality finish on the molded parts, what type of optical-grade surface finish is required for the tooling used to mold the silicone optics?
  2. Can this be achieved with an aluminum injection mold or is tool steel required to provide parts with an optical finish?

Proto Labs’ aluminum tooling is a reliable indicator of future optical silicone moldability.

Read why integrating optical silicone into your development cycle with rapid injection molding is an effective strategy, and why aluminum tooling is a reliable indicator of future moldability.


Why use optical moldable silicone? It’s a relatively new material to the market, but it is quickly gaining popularity as a replacement for glass components in many optical and lighting applications. Its benefits include:

  • clarity
  • heat resistance
  • durability for use in outdoor and automotive applications
  • design flexibility for fine features
  • an ability to combine multiple parts into a single unit

Learn more about optical silicone with our “14 Reasons Why Optical LSR is Good for Lighting Applications” design tip.

THE SHORT LIST: 5 Reasons to Use Digital Manufacturing

Companies in automotive, aerospace, med tech, lighting and a range of other industries are using digital manufacturers for their prototyping and low-volume production supply partners.

Here are five reasons why:

Speed to Market
Depending on the supplier you use, you should be able to get short turnaround times that support multiple design iterations, which is crucial in those early, prototyping stages of a product’s development.


Automated Quoting Systems
Partner with a manufacturer that offers a helpful quoting system. Our interactive quoting system at Proto Labs provides free, automated design for manufacturability (DFM) analysis, typically in an hour or two. Miguel Perez, a designer with Lockheed Martin, recently commented on our DFM feedback: “The auto-quoting system is amazing. Within a day, you get an answer as to whether you can make the part, whether you need to make changes, etc.” Continue reading

Prototyping Engineered for an Aging Population

The growth of our country’s aging population is perhaps the most powerful force shaping today’s economy and the outlook for medical device companies in particular. For instance, the bulk of baby boomers now are 70 or older, while the U.S. Census Bureau projects the 65-and-over U.S. population to double to nearly 84 million by 2050.

The ways that rapid manufacturing companies such as Proto Labs can help med tech companies serve this aging population is the focus of a column by Rob Bodor, Proto Labs’ VP and GM of the Americas, in Med Device Online. Bodor’s column is the first in a four-part series, “Building Better Prototypes,” for the med tech website.

Bodor’s current column covers factors that drive rapid manufacturing’s viability in the med tech space, and explores the various processes and materials that med-device companies should consider.

You can read the entire column here.

NEW JOURNAL: Trends, Drones and High Heels

The new issue of Proto Labs Journal is out. In our cover story, we look at industry macrotrends in manufacturing for 2016, from automotive lightweighting to human-factors engineering in health care.

The story reports on factors that are driving automotive innovation, trends keeping the aerospace industry aloft and forces such as an aging population that are influencing medical applications. And speaking of med tech, the Journal also includes an informative infographic on rapid manufacturing for medical device development.

Elsewhere in the new Journal, look for stories on high-tech high heels, smart luggage and a new drone we worked on for Lockheed Martin.

Read the entire Journal here.

We’re always on the hunt for thought-provoking content, so send your cool project or article idea to our editor at

Thanks and enjoy the issue!