About Jeff Schipper

Jeff Schipper is the global industry manager at Proto Labs. He has more than 10 years of experience in plastics,which has led to a specialized focus within key manufacturing industries including the medical, automotive, aerospace and lighting industries.

The New Automotive Disrupters: Tech Giants

The automotive industry has stood as the life blood of American manufacturing for decades. It is the heart of the Detroit economy and in recent years has faced many challenges, but some of the greatest challenges have just begun. Tech giants such as Google, Apple and Tesla, to name a few, are poised to drive new levels of competition. It’s fair to say these companies qualify as a Big Bang disruption that is a major industry change instigated by non-traditional players in the market.

Most of us still think of the automobile primarily as a tool to bring us from point A to point B, but cars and trucks have become so more than just transportation. Many modern cars are a fully connected infotainment system that just happen to be on four wheels. The automobile has become a mobile conglomerate of computer and technology devices — a true command center supporting the driver with much more than just driving.

Another way to look at this shift is with the electronic device industry. A decade ago, the handheld GPS was a very common and useful tool. Today, GPS navigation is almost an afterthought on your smartphone since it’s as simple as downloading a user-friendly app. This is just one of many seismic digital shifts in the past 10 years.

However, while the technology-based companies leading the electronic infiltration into the automotive world certainly have the computing chops, the knowledge, depth and infrastructure that comes with manufacturing electronic components for the automotive industry is still developing. These tech giants must acclimate to model years and multi-year platforms compared to frequent software updates — two fundamentally different ideologies colliding.

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INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: Evolving Health Care Demands and the Impact on Product Development

While there are a handful of major players in the medical and health care industries, there are actually more than 6,500 active medical device companies in the United States — most of which are smaller firms with fewer than 50 employees. There is little doubt that, with the combined industry efforts, research and development in the medical device space will continue to innovate and grow for years to come.

What drives innovation at these companies ranges from economic indicators to technology advancements to government regulations. But some of the most interesting factors driving development right now can be found in demographics and consumer behavior.

So, what does is mean? The fluctuation in demographics will translate to an increased demand for devices supporting later life care as the baby boomers enters their 70s. This includes everything from surgical devices to support orthoscopic procedures to at-home glucose measurement equipment. Furthermore, we’ll start to see an upward trend in births as Gen Yers move into their 30s and start families. These factors will start to shape how thousands of medical and health care companies re-imagine existing products and development new ones.

As a result, there is a heightened need to launch products and devices to market quickly. Iterative development of medical components and devices will reply on various rapid manufacturing processes and materials to ensure products have best chance at successful medical submissions and market trials. And because these products need to pass a significant number of functional tests before being approved for the market, prototypes need to be produced as close as possible to the finished product. This will mean using similar, if not identical, engineering-grade materials and manufacturing methods for prototypes as for production parts.

From metal 3D printing of extremely small surgical components to low-volume injection molding of optical silicone, Proto Labs is equipped to help large and small medical companies tackle the impending changes in the American demographic landscape.

INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: Carmakers Drive Innovation with Lightweighting, Powertrains

Auto fact #1: About 50 percent of a modern car’s volume is plastic yet it only accounts for 10 percent of its weight

Auto fact #2: 43-year-old men purchase more cars than anyone else.

Stats like this bring to life the changes taking place in the evolution of the automotive industry, as research and development move at a pace faster than ever.

Two major factors are driving these changes: regulations and market demands. We are all familiar with automobile safety regulations, but may be less familiar with CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards. These standards set mileage requirements for an automaker’s fleet. The 2025 target is 54.5 miles per gallon.

Now think of the 40-something guy that represents the largest demographic who are purchasing cars. Is this individual willing to give up performance, e.g., acceleration or leather seats or integrated entertainment systems, so that his new ride meets mileage and safety requirements. Probably not. Innovation is often times driven by necessity and the automotive industry is responding.

BMW started using magnesium for its N52 six-cylinder crankcases and cylinder head covers in 2005.

In recent years, there has been a major push around lightweighting to help address mileage requirements. Weight reduction is one proven method to improve fuel economy and minimize the impact on performance. This can achieved through the use of engineering-grade resins that possess physical properties well beyond what the average consumer thinks is possible.

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