INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: Autonomous-Car Tech Already Drives Existing Products

When most of us hear the phrase autonomous vehicles, our thoughts jump right to driverless cars. Some individuals more connected to this space will think about buses, taxis, and shuttle services. But far fewer will actually know that this driverless technology has been implemented successfully for years.

The basic concept of autonomous vehicles is to support charted courses using technology, e.g. software and sensors, to minimize or eliminate the human intervention. One of many examples is Uber’s self-driving fleet that caught a fair amount of attention a few months ago.

Tracking technology and guidance systems from John Deere have been in use by farmers for some time. Photo Courtesy: John Deere

What the general population does not realize is how long the foundation of this technology has been around and how long it has been in service. Large equipment manufacturers like John Deere have been using partial self-driving and/or guidance systems for some time. The operator is able to plot a course for the tracker to follow. For example, farmers have the ability to map out their route to pick a corn field, which could help reduce losses in missed crops and inefficient driver choices.

Another space where similar technology is currently being used is in marine applications, trolling motors for fishing boats.  Minn Kota’s i-pilot is programmable for following a charted route, chasing contours and structure of a lake, holding a single location regardless of factors like wind or current and the ability to retrace is steps. It even contains settings like shallow or deep water warnings—this sounds very similar to lane detection in a car.

The basics for autonomous vehicles are all around us, and well adopted. It is very safe to say product development across industries will have many opportunities to benefit from the tech movement heavily funded by the auto industry. The winners will be defined by who can creatively use this expanding technology packaged in a solution the consumer base desires.  Putting these new products in customer’s hands first will be a key to successful product launches.

How to Design 4 Common Metal 3D Printing Features

Click to watch an on-demand webinar on how to design for direct metal laser sintering (DMLS).

Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) is not intended to replace traditional metal manufacturing like casting, metal injection molding, or machining. Rather, it’s a product development tool that opens up new design possibilities. Product designers and engineers commonly rely on metal 3D printing to manufacture complex geometries, reduce the number of components in an assembly, or even lightweight objects.

Here’s a look at how to design 4 common features found in metal 3D-printed parts.

1. Self-Supporting Angles
A self-supporting angle describes the feature’s angle relative to the build plate. The lower the angle, the less the likely it is to support itself.

Support angles built with direct metal laser sintering

Designing support angles no less than 45 degrees will ensure a quality surface finish and detail.

Each material will perform slightly different, but the general rule of thumb is to avoid designing a self-supporting feature that is less than 45 degrees. This tip will serve you well across all available materials. As you can see in the picture above, as the angle decreases, the part’s surface finish becomes rougher and eventually the part will fail if the angle is reduced too far. Continue reading

THE ENGINEERIST: Designing with Moldability in Mind

Editor’s Note: The Engineerist is a three-part blog series written by Michael Corr, founder of Los Angeles-based manufacturing consulting firm, DuroLabs. This is part three. The first two installments can be found here.

Intelligence does not automatically equate to experience, and in hardware, product development experience goes a long way.

I was recently hired to take over management of an engineering team at an early-stage company. A team of mechanical, electrical, and firmware engineers was already in place, and while I noticed they were younger than most teams I’ve managed before, I was incredibly impressed with their intelligence and creativity. That energy of young and enthusiastic engineers was a convincing factor for me to accept the position.

An Introduction to Manufacturability
Since the team had already released products to customers, I took a passive approach and just observed the established processes while they worked on the next version of the product. I injected comments and feedback on occasion, but trusted them to repeat their existing methods as they prepared for production. However, the more I got involved in reviewing the designs, I realized there was a common theme across the younger engineers—moldability was not factored into their designs. Many of the mechanical prototype parts coming off the Stratasys desktop 3D printer were designed to satisfy the performance requirements, but would at best, be expensive to manufacture, and at worst, impossible.

Adding draft angles to design helps facilitate ejection of a part from a mold, and improves overall moldability. The exact degrees of draft angles are dependent on part geometries.

I took several of the MEs aside and asked a few direct questions challenging them on how they envisioned an injection mold being designed for their parts. Blank stares were the only answers I received. I pointed out that one design had an undercut and another had no draft angles for clean part ejection. Again, blank stares. That’s when I realized that these engineers had become trained on producing parts using 3D printing tools only. While 3D printing has a made tremendous impact in prototyping and even production-grade parts, it also has its caveats. Continue reading

Overmolding: Chemical and Mechanical Bonding

Learn more about overmolding in our free webinar we’re hosting with RTP Company on Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 1 p.m. CT. REGISTER TODAY!

Overmolding is not a new manufacturing technology, but there is still some confusion about how to design for the two-part process. One of the largest areas to consider? Bonding. A number of materials can be used to overmold components together, but without a chemical bond or mechanical interlock, some overmolded parts won’t stand the test of time.

Chemical Bonding
This bonding process involves two chemically compatible materials that are molded together to form a strong bond with each other. It’s important to note that not all materials play well with one another.

The compatibility chart below indicate whether a chemical or mechanical bond is recommended for key thermoplastic and thermoset materials.

mechanical bonding

Three types of mechanical bonding techniques.

Mechanical Interlocking
What happens when your materials are not compatible, the desired bonding strength cannot be achieved, or you want to ensure your materials don’t peel apart from repeated use? This is where designing a mechanical interlock, which physically holds the overmolded material to the substrate, makes sense. There are many ways to design these into parts (see example), so discuss the options with your manufacturer.

Overmoling

Learn more about overmolding in our free webinar we’re hosting with RTP Company on Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 1 p.m. CT. REGISTER TODAY!

If you have further questions regarding rapid overmolding at Proto Labs, contact one of our application engineers at 877.479.3680 or customerservice@protolabs.com.

‘Strange Lenses’ Art Project Captures Cool Idea! Award

Call it digital manufacturing meets art.

Proto Labs’ latest Cool Idea! Award grant helped artist and engineer Robb Godshaw create the art installation “Strange Lenses.”

The project uses injection-molded optical liquid silicone rubber (LSR) lenses—designed by Godshaw and manufactured by Proto Labs—to create geometric distortions of people’s faces (similar to funhouse mirrors) when viewed from the other side. At the same time, the lenses created connections between strangers when they viewed each other through these distortions at the Strange Lenses art installation.

Photos Courtesy: Strange Lenses

Strange Lenses was a part of The Market Street Prototyping Festival, which occurred earlier this month in San Francisco, and will remain on display on the streets of San Francisco for two years as part of a public-art installation.

The Proto Labs award allowed Godshaw, who is also an Artist in Residence at Autodesk’s Pier 9 in San Francisco, to create the LSR lenses quickly, efficiently, and in time for the prototyping festival.

“I had tried 3D printing some lenses with other manufacturers, but the optical quality just wasn’t there,” Godshaw said. “When I met Proto Labs, I was blown away by its optical LSR—especially the speed and clarity.”

In addition, Godshaw said, “Optical LSR is robust and durable. You can’t scratch it, crack it, or melt it, so it’s perfect for my installation and for the millions of people who will interact with it over the next two years.”

READ PRESS RELEASE