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.

EYE ON INNOVATION: 3D Printer Boldly Goes Where No Printer Has Gone Before

3D printing continues to break the bonds of traditional manufacturing methods. Now, a private company collaborating with NASA is breaking Earth’s bonds by taking 3D printing into space.

In April, at the International Space Station, NASA successfully tested a zero-gravity 3D printer that’s been in development for several years from California-based Made in Space.

Photo Courtesy: NASA

NASA found that the specially designed, zero-gravity 3D printer could in fact manufacture parts and tools on-site and on-demand. As NASA points out on its website, this on-site, in-orbit manufacturing ability would be a huge benefit for long-term, deep-space missions with restrictions on weight and room for cargo. The tests on board the space station included successfully printing items such as wrenches. So far, more than 25 objects have been produced.

As Gizmag.com reports, the zero-gravity printer is an extrusion printer that, like other 3D printers, builds up layers of hot liquefied ABS thermoplastic to create an object. However, a number of factors had to be taken into consideration for designing it to work in a zero-gravity environment. Components that might previously have been partly held in place by gravity had to be redesigned, thermal processes had to be recalculated and the layering process had to be reconsidered. The printing functions were then all integrated into what is called the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG), part of an overall platform dubbed the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF).

Photo Courtesy: Made in Space

As a spokesman for Made in Space says in a promotional video: “The goal…is pretty simple, but audacious…to develop the necessary technologies to allow humanity to move beyond Earth and live on other planets.”

Meanwhile, more down-to-earth considerations include, as Wonderfulengineering.com reports, Made in Space’s announcement this week that it is “going commercial and inviting the public [to purchase parts] made in the unique presence of zero gravity.”

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

Eyeing the Future of Wearable Fitness Tracking

California-based eyewear maker VSP Global is using Proto Labs’ rapid injection molding services to accelerate the design, prototyping and testing phase of a new product, a pair of glasses that includes a health-tracking capability.

Photo: VSP Global

The glasses have a fitness tracker built in, a prototype design concept that VSP Global calls Project Genesis. A vision care company, VSP Global includes an eyewear manufacturing and design division, plus a vision insurance plan that encompasses more than 80 million members and a network of 34,000 eye doctors in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia.

Wearable technology is a hot trend right now, and, as VSP Global explained in a recent press release, though “some [wearables] could be considered hype, some…could be considered the start of a personalized medicine revolution.” Continue reading

EYE ON INNOVATION: Technology Lights Up Annual Met Fashion Gala

Fashion and technology converged earlier this week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2016 Gala.

At the event Monday night, actress Claire Danes wore a gown that had 30 mini-battery packs sewn into layers of fiber optic woven organza that made the dress glow in the dark (see below).

Photos: CBC

Another highlight, a “cognitive dress,” was the creation of the fashion house Marchesa and IBM’s Watson. It analyzed tweets for the emotion of fans watching the Gala’s red carpet show on social media, and lit up embedded LED lights in corresponding colors.

These and other fashion statements embraced this year’s theme and the title of an exhibit that continues through August 14 at The Met: “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology.”

The so-called “cognitive dress,” created by designer Marchesa and IBM technology. Photo: Getty Images

The Met’s Costume Institute exhibit explores how fashion designers are reconciling the handmade and the machine-made in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready to wear.

More than 170 items, dating from the early 20th century to the present, will feature handmade elements of fashion such as embroidery, pleating, lacework and leather work, alongside versions that incorporate innovative processes, such as 3D printing, computer modeling, bonding and laminating, laser cutting and ultrasonic welding. Continue reading

Innovative Catalytic Reactor Incorporates Metal 3D Printing

Minnesota-based start-up Activated Research Company recently launched its flagship product, the Polyarc™ catalytic reactor — built in part with Proto Labs’ 3D printing process of direct metal laser sintering (DMLS).

A DMLS stainless steel block that attaches to a gas chromatograph, the reactor accelerates the process of analyzing the composition of matter and is useful in industries ranging from fuel to pharmaceuticals, according to Andrew Jones, a chemical engineer, who, along with former Proto Labs CEO Brad Cleveland, founded Activated Research in 2014.

The Polyarc™ microreactor was 3D printed in stainless steel with direct metal laser sintering technology.

Fans of TV’s “CSI” are likely familiar with a gas chromatograph. The evidence from the crime being investigated goes into the crime lab’s gas chromatograph, the high-tech machine quickly identifies whatever is in it and a dramatic arrest ensues.

That’s great for a TV crime series, but the show glosses over how, in reality, as Jones explains, the chemical or composition analysis is quite expensive and time-consuming.

That’s where the Polyarc™ reactor comes in. It can quickly quantify carbon-containing chemicals in a sample without the slow, costly calibrations of existing methods.

The idea for what would become the Polyarc™ reactor originated with researchers at the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation led by Paul Dauenhauer, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Minnesota. Dauenhauer’s group published a paper proposing a “quantitative carbon detector” based on their research, which received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences.

For more details on how Proto Labs provided prototypes and production parts for this project, read the complete case study here.

EYE ON INNOVATION: Watch the Final Four in VR? A Slam Dunk, Almost.

So your office pool NCAA tournament bracket has long been busted. And March Madness has just made you Mad in March. At this point, you may not even care who wins this weekend.

Photo: Associated Press

Well, here’s a cool way to break out of your funk: Watch the Final Four in virtual reality. The NCAA announced earlier this week that this weekend’s Final Four and National Championship games will be, for the first time ever, live-streamed in virtual reality, including a virtual scoreboard with live stats, game commentary and arena sounds.

Sweet, right? Well, mostly sweet. As TheVerge.com notes, the NCAA is using the term “virtual reality” a bit liberally. First, basketball fans will need to get hold of a Samsung Gear VR to download the NCAA March Madness Live app in the Oculus Store. Second, the streamed video will only occupy 180 degrees — not the full 360-degree sphere. Finally, if you don’t have a Gear VR, the NCAA is making a 2D version of the 180-degree stream available on the web, and 360-degree highlight footage will be posted to the NCAA March Madness page on Facebook.  Continue reading