On-Demand Injection Molding Helps Med Device Firm Bring Vision to Blind

Helping blind people gain a sense of vision—and doing so through their tongues—sounds like pure science fiction.

Wicab Inc.’s BrainPort V100 is a wearable device for the blind that enables users to process visual images with their tongues.

It’s now a reality, however, thanks to the BrainPort V100, a wearable medical device developed with help from Proto Labs’ injection molding production process. The device enables users to process visual images with their tongues, and users say the effect is like having “streaming images drawn on their tongue with small bubbles,” according to Wicab Inc., the BrainPort’s Wisconsin-based maker.

That comes from the vibrations or tingling that users feel on the surface of their tongue as information about their environment—captured by a small video camera on the BrainPort headset—gets converted into patterns of electronic stimulation through a small, electrode-embedded mouthpiece.

The BrainPort V100, already for sale in Europe and Canada, achieved a breakthrough recently when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it as an assistive device for the blind and visually impaired to use in conjunction with other aids such as a white cane or guide dog.

Wicab turned to Proto Labs for on-demand injection molding production components to develop and launch this technology, including the existing BrainPort V100, and a new model now in development, the next generation BrainPort Vision Pro.

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INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: Robotics Drive the Factory of the Future

Each generation will define how it interprets the term Robotics. I happen to fall at the tail end of Gen X and grew up with an understanding that robotics were simply for automating mundane tasks and the most exciting and truly useful applications were closer to sci-fi than reality.

These days, the reality is that some of the most practical and exciting developments in robotics have and are taking place in manufacturing. Yes, these tools of the trade are used to automate mundane tasks, reduce labor costs, and accelerate throughput. What most people do not know is what is fueling these advancements. It is technology driven, more on the virtual/software side than on the mechanical. This is the grounding of internet of things (IoT).

Manufacturing is an extremely savvy business that focuses on metrics such as Return on Investment (ROI), Return on Investment Capital (ROIC), and relationships between top and bottom line growth like no other. Mix this focus on financial metrics with mechanical intuition and then layer on some technology and now you have the factory of the future.

Follow the digital thread at Proto Labs (click to enlarge).

IoT and factory of the future are built on the concept of the digital thread (see graphic above). It is the electronic path and communication medium that is the backbone of state-of-the-art facilities. Let’s begin with an example we are all familiar with. The garage door opener is an awesome tool—when it’s raining you don’t have to get out of the car to close the door. But if your kids leave after you do, you have to ask yourself if they shut the door. Thanks to IoT, I can now get on my smartphone and verify that they closed the door at 7:10 a.m., in time to catch the school bus.

Now let’s bring this to robotics in a factory. End-of-arm tooling supporting post-secondary operations in an injection molding cell may pick a part, pass it to a laser scanner for physical inspection, and then place it into a pad printing fixture. This operation is quite simple and had been around for years, but today you have the ability to track each activity remotely, receive feedback, and collect data on performance.

Many companies that are focusing their efforts on the technology side of these improvements to their factories are in need of more custom real parts than ever before. This technology is driving the need for unique parts that can be 3D printed or machined.  Proto Labs is a leader in digital manufacturing and a crucial supplier for unique parts to support this growing business sector.

See how digital manufacturing is changing the industry in our recent Journal cover story. Read here.

Webinar: How to Design Efficient Parts for Rapid CNC Machining

Join us for a live webinar on rapid CNC machining. The presentation, hosted by our technical specialist Tony Holtz, will share how to design quality, machined parts.

During the webinar, you will learn how to:

  • Reduce manufacturing costs by simplifying part design
  • Select materials to improve part functionality
  • Design with moldability in mind to better prepare for injection molding

In addition to general design considerations, we’ll discuss how to leverage rapid manufacturing processes for accelerated product development.

TITLE: Designing for CNC Machining
PRESENTER: Tony Holtz, Technical Specialist at Proto Labs
DATE: Thursday, December 1 at 1 p.m. CST
RSVP: Click here to sign up

If you can’t attend the live event, you can still register to receive an on-demand recording afterward. And, if you have any colleagues that may interested, please feel free to forward this invite.

Webinar Round-Up: Overmolding Principles, Designing for Machining, and More

In our most recent webinar, we looked at 12 key factors to help you design durable overmolded parts. If you missed the live presentation, it’s now available on-demand. The webinar covers the overmolding process and design principles that determine the quality of flexible-to-rigid bonds.

Learn how to design for overmolding.

Upcoming Webinars
Join us Thursday, Dec. 1, to learn about designing for CNC machining including material considerations that can reduce machining costs and lead to higher quality parts. Click here to sign up.

Additionally, on Thursday, Dec. 15, we will present on selecting the correct 3D printing material for your part. We’ll cover the entire spectrum of materials—from ABS-like plastics to fully dense metals. Click here to sign up.

Proto Labs’ On-Demand Webinars 
Interested in learning more about rapid manufacturing? Below you’ll find a complete archive of our past webinars (click the title to view).

Designing for 3D Printing: Selective Laser Sintering

  • SLS material considerations
  • Design guidelines for functional prototypes and production parts

How to Choose the Right Thermoplastic Material

  • Factors in thermoplastic material selection
  • Overview of common thermoplastics including the effects of additives

Designing for 3D Printing: Direct Metal Laser Sintering

  •  DMLS design considerations including surface finishes, internal features, stresses, and support requirements.
  • Reducing multi-part assemblies into a single component

Proto Labs Receives Tekne Award for Advanced Manufacturing

Vicki Holt, Proto Labs CEO, accepts the Tekne Award for Advanced Manufacturing.

Each year, the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) brings together the Minnesota technology community for the Tekne Awards. The awards highlight advancements in science and technology in Minnesota—ranging from innovations in cyber security to agriculture.

Last night, we were honored to take home a Tekne Award for the Advanced Manufacturing category. The nomination was based on our technology-enabled manufacturing that accelerates product development and provides a low-volume, on-demand solution for production parts.

Other notable winners include:

We are proud to have been nominated alongside other innovative manufacturing companies like Ecolab and Uponor. And, we are truly grateful to be a part of the thriving tech community in the Twin Cities. Here’s to another year of innovation!