INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: Commercial 3D Printing for Production Parts

Technology in the 3D printing space is advancing at the speed of light—everything from support structure software to material options and properties to ever improving processes. Some simply take these advancements as small steps in the overall progress of 3D printing, but these improvements are significant attributes that add value across industries and applications. 

Nylon handheld device 3D printed with SLS.

Medical and Health Care Development
Industries are adopting this technology for varying applications at very different paces. The health care industry has embraced nearly all forms of printing, but has particularly grasped onto direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). As we discussed last month, DMLS has a solid advantage over other 3D printing processes since it produces functional, production-quality parts from metal powder.  When plastics are concerned, selective laser sintering (SLS) is another additive manufacturing process with production in mind.

Product developers, designers and engineers in the medical and health care industries use many different types of 3D printing technologies, but why?

  • concept modeling and prototyping during early phases of product and device development
  • iterating design often to get parts in hand fast
  • reducing financial and design risks
  • building high-quality assemblies for end users to evaluate and influence human factor designs

CASE STUDY: Brain-Machine Robotics System May Help Paraplegics Walk Again

Proto Labs is helping researchers at the University of Houston move a science fiction concept to a real-world application that may help paraplegics walk again.

A University of Houston research lab is developing a powered exoskeleton that will be part of a futuristic brain-machine robotics system. Proto Labs is helping by providing custom-machined aluminum-joint housings.

Photo Courtesy: University of Houston

A multidisciplinary research team that includes engineers, neuroscientists, health professionals, and students is working to create, from scratch, a powered wearable robotic device that allows those with lower-limb paralysis from spinal injury, disease, or stroke to regain mobility without a walker or canes.

A sci-fi element lives on in the project, which is taking place at the university’s Laboratory for Noninvasive Brain-Machine Interface Systems. As the lab’s futuristic name suggests, the ultimate goal is to allow users to control the exoskeleton—commanding it to go forward or backward, to turn, sit, or stand—using their thoughts instead of a joystick, switches, or external operator typical of other devices.


Proto Labs Garners Top Workplace Honor for 6th Straight Year

For the sixth consecutive year, Proto Labs has been recognized as a Top Workplace by Workplace Dynamics, a national survey firm that researches participating companies through confidential employee surveys.

The firm looks at individual factors such as employee wages and management, but also aspects that include career potential and a company’s future. The survey is conducted in 50 U.S. markets and local results are compiled by Minneapolis’ Star Tribune.

Welcome to the “Code Cave,” a new collaboration area inside renovated office space at Proto Labs’ Maple Plain, Minn. headquarters.

Our company is one of 110 Minnesota-based employers that scored high enough to qualify as a Top Workplace against Workplace Dynamics’ national benchmark.

On a related note, providing employees with a work environment that supports productivity and nurtures innovation is a key aspect of being a top workplace. Along these lines, the vacated production area on the lower floor of Proto Labs’ headquarters building in Maple Plain was recently renovated and converted into office space. That office area is now home to software engineers, web developers, and other technology-based roles. High-tech conference centers are sprinkled throughout and there’s even a “Code Cave” (see photo). Additionally, we’ve opened a new, larger 3D-printing facility in Cary, N.C.

Though the Workplace Dynamics survey covered only Minnesota employees, Proto Labs globally now includes 1,600 employees in 12 locations in eight countries.

TIPS WITH TONY: New Silicone Rubber Materials

We’ve expanded our selection of liquid silicone rubber (LSR) materials, which have some distinct elastic and optical advantages over certain thermoplastics. In addition to three durometers of general-use Elastosil LSR, and medical- and optical-grade Dow Corning materials, we now have two new durometers of Elastosil and a fuel-resistant flourosilicone material at Proto Labs.

Elastosil LSR
Elastosil LSR is a great general-use material that has good moldability characteristics, a good overall appearance and is transparent until colorant is added. Shore A durometers of 40 and 60 have been added our current offering of 30, 50, and 70 durometers.

Technical specs:

  • 40 durometer Elastosil has a tensile strength of 10.0 N/mm² with a tear strength of 33 N/mm and an elongation break of 610%.
  • 60 durometer Elastosil has a tensile strength of 9.40 N/mm² with a tear strength of 27 N/mm and an elongation break of 340%.

THE SHORT LIST: 4 Ways to Leverage Rapid Overmolding

Rapid Overmolding is the latest addition to our injection molding service. Now, you have a fast way to create injection-molded parts with two different materials. We use a pick ‘n place method.

rapid overmolding services sample

That means we follow a two-step process. First we mold the substrate part. Then we place the substrate part into the mold and a second material is injected to form the final, two-material part.

Here are a few benefits of rapid overmolding.

Vibration dampening: Dampen vibration by adding liquid silicone rubber to parts made of hard plastic, like ABS, or if it’s a handhold device (think toothbrush), it can even be used to improve grip.

rapid overmolding services sample orange partMulti-color aesthetics: Add a stylistic flair to your product with overmolding. Using two materials, means two colors for high-quality looking products and can enhance your product’s design.

Fast, flexible volumes: Often, manufacturers will not process low-volume overmolding orders, but now you have the ability to manufacture 25 to 10,000+ overmolded parts within just a few weeks.

Simplify multi-part assemblies: Reduce cost and save time spent assembling parts by combining two materials in one molded part.

For information on rapid overmolding like designing mechanical interlocks or understanding chemical bonding compatibility, visit our rapid overmolding service page to see overmolding design guidelines and get free DFM feedback.