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: 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.

READ THE FULL CASE STUDY

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.”

READ THE PRESS RELEASE HERE.

HAVE AN INNOVATIVE PRODUCT DESIGN? APPLY FOR THE COOL IDEA! AWARD TODAY!

 

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.

READ FULL CASE STUDY

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