Innovative Catalytic Reactor Incorporates Metal 3D Printing

Minnesota-based start-up Activated Research Company recently launched its flagship product, the Polyarc™ catalytic reactor — built in part with Proto Labs’ 3D printing process of direct metal laser sintering (DMLS).

A DMLS stainless steel block that attaches to a gas chromatograph, the reactor accelerates the process of analyzing the composition of matter and is useful in industries ranging from fuel to pharmaceuticals, according to Andrew Jones, a chemical engineer, who, along with former Proto Labs CEO Brad Cleveland, founded Activated Research in 2014.

The Polyarc™ microreactor was 3D printed in stainless steel with direct metal laser sintering technology.

Fans of TV’s “CSI” are likely familiar with a gas chromatograph. The evidence from the crime being investigated goes into the crime lab’s gas chromatograph, the high-tech machine quickly identifies whatever is in it and a dramatic arrest ensues.

That’s great for a TV crime series, but the show glosses over how, in reality, as Jones explains, the chemical or composition analysis is quite expensive and time-consuming.

That’s where the Polyarc™ reactor comes in. It can quickly quantify carbon-containing chemicals in a sample without the slow, costly calibrations of existing methods.

The idea for what would become the Polyarc™ reactor originated with researchers at the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation led by Paul Dauenhauer, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Minnesota. Dauenhauer’s group published a paper proposing a “quantitative carbon detector” based on their research, which received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences.

For more details on how Proto Labs provided prototypes and production parts for this project, read the complete case study here.

On-Demand Webinar: Choosing the Right Rapid Manufacturing Method

We recently hosted a 30-minute webinar on: Choosing the Right Rapid Manufacturing Method for Plastic Parts. If you missed it, no worries. You can still watch it on-demand HERE.

What did you miss?
We discussed the benefits of rapid manufacturing for plastic components and how to select the correct manufacturing process:

  • 3D printing, machining and molding processes and specifications
  • Material selection and properties for each process
  • Advanced molding materials like thermally conductive plastic and liquid silicone rubber

Top 3 Questions Asked
How long will you keep a mold and do you inform the customer if you’re going to get rid of it?
We’ll store the mold for one year from the last order unless it is requested to keep in storage, and we’ll notify the customer of inactivity to if they would like the mold disposed of or retained in storage.

Is there any limit on volume for injection-molded parts?
No, you can get injection-molded parts in quantities of 25 to 10,000+ with several molds even surpassing 100,000 parts. We have the ability for single and multi-cavity molds dependent on size and complexity.

Can Proto Labs be used for light pipe assemblies in PC, PMMA and silicone?
Yes, we have molded countless parts in those materials for light pipe assemblies. Mold finish should be polished to a SPI-A2 with special attention made to the mold build for ejector pin location, gate location and parting lines.

Stay Tuned
Look for additional technical webinars throughout the year on various 3D printing, CNC machining or injection molding topics. The next webinar will discus how to navigate through Proto Labs’ design for manufacturability (DFM) feedback.

Automation, Data, Testing and Iteration Dominate IoT Fuse

The second annual IoT Fuse brought together the Minnesota tech community for a day full of everything technology. The sold out conference connected engineers, developers, 

entrepreneurs and technologists to share how Internet of Things (IoT) technology is changing businesses with hands-on workshops, panel discussions and case studies. Among more than 40 presentations, Proto Labs VP Rob Bodor, shared how digital manufacturing and automation is accelerating the development of IoT products.

The World is Not a Desktop
The day opened with a fitting keynote from Amber Case, a “cyborg anthropologist” and UX designer. She presented the idea of calm technologies ­— meaning technology that follows these principles:

  • Technology should require the smallest possible amount of attention
  • Technology should inform and calm
  • Technology should make use of the periphery
  • Technology should amplify the best of technology and the best of humanity
  • Technology can communicate, but doesn’t need to speak
  • Technology should work even when it fails
  • The right amount of technology is the minimum needed to solve the problem
  • Technology should respect social norms

Much of Case’s message centered on the idea that innovation is not synonymous with over-engineered devices. She described how just a minor change like adding a camera to our mobile phones can be revolutionary.

She also referenced the groundbreaking research from Xerox PARC innovation center during the 1970s and 80s where they created what is now know as the graphic interface. Her point being that you can innovate faster by understanding the previous work of others.

For more information on Amber Case’s work, visit calmtech.com.

Navigating Low-Fidelity and High-Fidelity Prototyping
Next, we heard from Eric Nyaribo, a design engineer at 3M automotive. He discussed strategies for prototyping and how engineers can use different types of prototyping to convey ideas and encourage interaction between team members.

He shared the concept of low-fidelity and high-fidelity prototyping and when one is more appropriate than the other.

A low-fidelity prototype is a rough concept or first iteration of an idea, it doesn’t have to be functional or pretty. Often a low-fidelity prototype is hacked together with spare parts.The main purpose of a low-fidelity prototype is to kick-off the product development process and inspire team members to share their ideas.

He defined a high-fidelity prototype as a product that is finalized with colors, design and is functional. As he said, “It’s that prototype you show to a customer and they want to keep it for themselves.”

One of Eric’s most valuable pieces of advice was that just because a prototype is closer to the final product doesn’t mean it’s the best kind of prototype for that point in the development cycle.

The value of a prototype isn’t in the model, it’s in the interactions, conversations and feedback they inspire. He also shared how prototyping helps reduce design risk since you can validate your design with small successes throughout the product development cycle. This helps gain support from key stakeholders and encourages the product team.

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TIPS WITH TONY: 3D Printing Living Hinges

Did you know that living hinges are possible with 3D printing? Here are a few things areas to keep in mind when designing hinge functions so your part’s functionality and integrity remain intact.

Process
We offer two processes for 3D printing thermoplastic or thermoplastic-like materials: selective laser sintering (SLS) and stereolithography (SL). But only SLS will produce parts with the functionality required for a living hinge.

An SLS part with living hinge functionality.

Material
Anytime we see the potential for a living hinge in a 3D-printed part, we will strongly guide you to SLS. SLS uses nylon thermoplastic, primarily PA 850 Black, which is a nylon 11 material. PA 850 has an increased EB of 14-51% followed by ALM PA 650 with an EB of 24%.

However, you can’t take a part that was produced in PA 850 or ALM PA 650 and expect it to function as a living hinge without a secondary process first. When you have a living hinge, we need to know what direction or the range of motion in which the hinge may function. This is critical as we anneal the part by heating it to 250-275°F and flex the hinge in the intended range of motion. This extends the life of the living hinge by stretching the material instead of fracturing the links of resin.

SL offers thermoplastic-like materials, but they are not be recommended for living hinge applications. Somos 9120 is our most flexible material of all SL resins with an elongation at break (EB) of 15-25%.

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Supplier Collaboration and On-Demand Manufacturing

Supply chain consolidation, value added manufacturing, vendor collaboration … terms we are all familiar with, but in today’s always on, always connected environment, manufacturers need something more. 

Just-in-time manufacturing (JIT) has been around for decades and was truly first implemented on a grand scale at Toyota. There is this mythology that was referred to as the Toyota Production System. The primary goal was to streamline operations including supplier activities and reduce inventories. In the 1990s, this concept transformed into lean manufacturing, literally meaning to remove waste. The most recent evolution of this fundamental thought process is on-demand manufacturing.

On-demand manufacturing simply brings the best of all of its predecessors together and is designed to supply components as needed with little notice, on time, every time. Think of it this way, you can procure custom parts nearly as easily as off-the-shelf fasteners, for example.

To do this, one must understand the supplier’s capabilities, limitations and areas of expertise, and how this complements the rest of their supply chain. Design for manufacturing is crucial. Not only does this give a customer valuable information about their parts or assemblies, but is emphasizes where the supplier will be able to add value on the project today and in the future.

Take note of the product life cycle image. It is all too common to have a sole supplier when a product moves to high-volume production — this can create unnecessary risks.

Click to enlarge:

We all know that developing dual sourcing can drive costs well above the comfort zone, but is often a necessary risk. Additional value is created when a supplier that helps develop prototype parts can also support future parts needs throughout the life of a product. When your prototyping suppliers can support low-volume orders reliably, the need for a traditional secondary production source is eliminated if production doesn’t exceed tens of thousands of parts. This also creates a nimble supply chain for fast turnaround without carrying costly inventory for bridge tooling, maturity demand spikes, and end-of-life or warranty support.

Read more about using rapid manufacturing for supply chain management in the white paper: Reducing Risk Through On-Demand Manufacturing