About Angelo Gentile

A marketing communications writer for Proto Labs, Angelo puts together our monthly Eye on Innovation post among other regular blog features. He has previously worked as an automotive editor, business journalist, magazine editor and corporate communications professional.

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.


NEW JOURNAL: How Technology is Transforming Injection Molding

The new issue of Proto Labs Journal is out and includes a cover story focusing on the digital transformation of injection molding. A related, second feature story explores the pros and cons of printed plastic molds.

The cover story reports on how automating the front-end of the manufacturing process has reinvented injection molding, and served as a game-changer for the entire industry.

The related feature, “3D-Printed Molds,” advises product designers, engineers and developers to take a careful look at part finish, size, design capabilities, mold longevity considerations and cost when comparing printed plastic molds to aluminum tooling.

Elsewhere in the Journal, look for our Eye on Innovation feature, which highlights cool new products and technology you should know about.

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!

CASE STUDY: A Sea Change for Sailboat Winches

The story of how Proto Labs helped a French company with a revolutionary sailboat winch design started with a daring adventure at sea.

Pontos, the Saint Malo, France firm that’s reinventing sailboat winches, was co-founded by Michel Chenon and Darryl Spurling in 2010 after, as they describe it, a “hair-raising” close call that brought their sailboat dangerously close to the rocky outcrops of the narrow straits off the island of Brehat, France.

On the high seas, Pontos’ winch models have proven their worth in a variety of yacht races and regattas worldwide. Photo Courtesy: Pontos

The boat was equipped with a winch for the hoisting and furling of the sails that proved to be too physically challenging for the inexperienced crew to use.

This adventure led the two, along with a research and development team, to spend an intense three years creating and perfecting — with the help of Proto Labs’ rapid manufacturing services — the design of what would become a game-changing new line of sailboat winches. These now award-winning winches would also eventually be used on sailboats that would win or be competitive in several notable yacht races and regattas worldwide.


IoT-Enabled Water-Management System Wins Cool Idea! Award

The developers of AgPulse, a water-management system that uses wireless technology and the internet of things to optimize watering and irrigation for farms, have been presented with the latest Proto Labs Cool Idea! Award, a service grant given to innovative companies.

This AgPulse sprinkler control system is set up in a vineyard. Photo Courtesy: Mist Labs/AgPulse

AgPulse, developed by California-based Mist Labs, Inc., uses a set of wireless soil sensors to continuously monitor and optimize farm, vineyard or orchard irrigation, though it can also be used for backyards and gardens.

Mist Labs used the Cool Idea! Award grant from Proto Labs to manufacture its custom-designed components that were injection molded using high-strength polycarbonate in order to withstand the conditions of an agricultural environment.

“Water is a valuable commodity,” says Proto Labs founder Larry Lukis. “This product will help conserve this important natural resource and help all of us, whether we’re large-scale farmers or backyard gardeners, to use water more efficiently.”




CASE STUDY: Robots Do Battle on ABC with Help from Proto Labs

Network television may seem an unlikely source for manufacturing innovation, but don’t say that to the designers of the robots competing in season two of ABC-TV’s BattleBots (a 10-episode run starts Thursday, June 23).

The Ringmaster (left) in action on ABC-TV’s BattleBots.
Photo Courtesy: ABC-TV

Two competitors in the show turned to Proto Labs recently for prototyping and end-use parts for their warrior robots.

California-based freelance product designer Hal Rucker created The Ringmaster robot, using Proto Labs’ 3D printing for plastic prototypes and production parts, and CNC machining for magnesium end-use parts.

Independent product developer Christian Carlberg, also of California, and his 13-year-old daughter Carissa, designed The Overdrive robot using Proto Labs’ CNC machining to fabricate two sets of parts for Overdrive’s weapon pulley system.

Overdrive’s designers looked to Proto Labs for help with parts for the weapon pulley system.
Photo Courtesy: Christian Carlberg

And who ultimately claimed victory in this clash of the robot titans? BattleBot designers were sworn to secrecy, so we’ll just have to tune in to see who won.