3D Printing Experts Discuss Technology’s Future

3D printing is the topic of conversation in our latest Journal issue, which focuses on the technology’s next dimension—how additive manufacturing is poised to make a giant leap forward in capabilities.3D printing

The cover story includes interviews with three leaders from the 3D printing industry who offer insight on a variety of topics, such as advancements in new machines and materials, a growing demand for 3D printing for production parts, and notable trends in software.

Another feature, “A Cloud-Based Future for CAD,” explores how 3D CAD design software is increasingly moving to cloud-based models, a trend with benefits for both product developers and manufacturers.

Elsewhere in the Journal, our Eye on Innovation column features a driverless bus, a 3D GoPro, and a DIY Bluetooth.

Read the entire Journal here.

We’re always on the hunt for though-provoking content, so send your cool project or article idea to our editor at angelo.gentile@protolabs.com.

Thanks and enjoy the issue!

DFM Analysis, Injection Molding Help Spring Company Reduce Costs

An Illinois-based steel-spring manufacturer recently called on Proto Labs to help reduce component count and save time and money on a device the company uses to market its services to the aerospace, automotive, oil and gas, and medical industries.

Smalley has long equipped its sales force with a small demo device, a handheld “comparator” that shows the relative size and performance of a wave spring—which Smalley manufactures—compared with a coil spring.

The company turned to Proto Labs for help with solving a cost issue when Smalley considered redesigning the comparator to “use them as ‘giveaways’ to prospective customers,” explained Lane Persky, Smalley marketing manager. “We were looking to go from about 20 of the original comparators, which each cost about $100 to produce, to an initial run of 1,000 redesigned comparators at a target cost of about $15 each.”

Proto Labs’ design for manufacturability (DFM) analysis, and its injection molding service, helped Smalley designers create a new comparator, which would require just seven parts. The original comparators each consisted of 23 parts.

“We chose Proto Labs for the company’s reputation and ability to do both advanced 3D printing for prototyping and affordable, rapid injection molding” for low-volume production, said Persky.

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Stereolithography: Sorting Out Surface Finishes

There are a number of factors—resolution, tolerance, material selection, surface finish—to consider when designing for the industrial 3D printing process of stereolithography (SL). For our latest tip, we’ll discuss the four stereolithography finishing options available at Proto Labs, and when it makes sense to use each.

Unfinished

Stereolithography (SL) technology uses a build platform that requires support structures for all features so they don’t float away or collapse during the build process. These support structures are removed after the build is complete, but they do leave visible markings on the part.

stereolithography proto labs

3D-printed parts are moved from the SL chamber after a build finishes. Supports are then removed, parts are UV cured, and a selected finish is applied.

In an unfinished state, after the support structures are removed, dots or nibs are noticeable where structures were attached to the part surfaces. So, when would leaving a part unfinished make the most sense?

  • When a clear part is desired with no custom finishing
  • If you have your own finishing capabilities, or have another shop that can perform post-build finishing
  • To achieve the best accuracy possible

Natural

A natural finish provides a surface finish that absent of dots or nibs, which leaves a more desirable cosmetic appearance. The surface is not as clear on the down-facing surfaces that had supporting structures, but the top surface would remain clear. When should you use a natural finish?

  • On small or delicate features that may be destroyed by additional finishing such as grit blasting
  • On clear parts where down-facing surfaces are not a cosmetic concern

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IMTS Showcases Manufacturing’s Diverse Landscape

Amar Hanspal, attending his first ever International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) at Chicago’s McCormick Place this week, tweeted that the event “is a digital manufacturing Disneyland.”

And really, it’s hard to argue with that assessment, based on the sheer numbers of attendees (more than 100,000 over the week-long event), exhibitors (over 2,000 companies), seminars, and innovative ideas being featured.

Tony Holtz, left, technical specialist for Proto Labs, discusses rapid overmolding at the International Manufacturing Technology Show Thursday in Chicago.

A stunning variety of participants are visiting the show: Company presidents, chief technology officers, engineers, designers, software developers, entrepreneurs, and college and high school students. This variety showed in the diverse wardrobe: Those in jackets and ties walked the same exhibit halls as those in flip-flops and shorts.

Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s mayor, showed up to tour the Association for Manufacturing Technology’s Emerging Technology Center, which featured research and development projects from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Those projects included a 3D-printed SUV and the “additive bionic human,” showing additive manufactured medical implants and body parts.

Various special focus areas showcased 3D printing/additive manufacturing, machining, controls and CAD/CAM, fabricating and lasers, and more.

At the Proto Labs booth, staffers answered an array of questions, including queries about our new rapid overmolding service, the trend of using 3D printing for production parts, and the finer points of five-axis machining, another new Proto Labs service.

EYE ON INNOVATION: ‘Smart’ Backpack Geared For Travelers, Students

More than 35 million Americans are expected to travel this Labor Day weekend. Plus, more than 77 million schoolchildren and college-age students will be getting ready to return to classrooms. The omnipresent backpack—great for traveling and for students—will likely be along for the ride.

These days, backpacks are doing more than just carrying your stuff. Take the iBackPack, which will enable you to connect to the internet, charge your devices, and track your location.

Photo Courtesy: iBackPack

As Gizmo Times reports, the iBackPack includes:

  • Tesla-style battery systems
  • Personal Wi-Fi hot spot that connects to 3G/4G networks
  • Retractable power USB cord
  • GPS tracking system
  • Bluetooth proximity locator—making it easier to find your bag in airports or other crowded locations
  • Bluetooth speaker system
  • Multiple USB connections to charge multiple devices at once.

Storage compartments abound to keep laptops, smart phones, tablets, and documents secure. Plus, it’s water and abrasion resistant, and TSA- and Department of Transportation-compliant.

Photo Courtesy: iBackPack

The product’s crowdfunding success at Indiegogo has been over the top, with nearly $700,000 raised, which is 892 percent of its original funding goal. Funding also has come from Kickstarter and other sources.

Several models of the product are expected to be available by December, ranging in price from $170-$350.

Eye on Innovation is a monthly look at new technology and products.