DESIGN TIP: Choosing Industrial 3D Printing for Production Parts

Using 3D printing for fully functional end-use metal and plastic parts is becoming increasingly common in rapid manufacturing with industrial-grade processes like direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) and selective laser sintering (SLS).

Industrial-grade 3D printing is well suited to produce organic shapes, like this nylon turbine (left) and end-use production parts such as this titanium drill component (right).

With an expanding material selection and improving material properties, designers and engineers have another good option for small quantities of production parts.

Accordingly, our monthly design tip covers this emerging trend.

This month’s tip discusses:

  • Choosing the best 3D printing process for your application
  • Selecting the right thermoplastic and metal materials
  • Designing part geometry for 3D printing
  • Using SL, SLS, and DMLS for end-use production parts

READ FULL DESIGN TIP

Proto Labs Garners Top Workplace Honor for 6th Straight Year

For the sixth consecutive year, Proto Labs has been recognized as a Top Workplace by Workplace Dynamics, a national survey firm that researches participating companies through confidential employee surveys.

The firm looks at individual factors such as employee wages and management, but also aspects that include career potential and a company’s future. The survey is conducted in 50 U.S. markets and local results are compiled by Minneapolis’ Star Tribune.

Welcome to the “Code Cave,” a new collaboration area inside renovated office space at Proto Labs’ Maple Plain, Minn. headquarters.

Our company is one of 110 Minnesota-based employers that scored high enough to qualify as a Top Workplace against Workplace Dynamics’ national benchmark.

On a related note, providing employees with a work environment that supports productivity and nurtures innovation is a key aspect of being a top workplace. Along these lines, the vacated production area on the lower floor of Proto Labs’ headquarters building in Maple Plain was recently renovated and converted into office space. That office area is now home to software engineers, web developers, and other technology-based roles. High-tech conference centers are sprinkled throughout and there’s even a “Code Cave” (see photo). Additionally, we’ve opened a new, larger 3D-printing facility in Cary, N.C.

Though the Workplace Dynamics survey covered only Minnesota employees, Proto Labs globally now includes 1,600 employees in 12 locations in eight countries.

DESIGN TIP: Cutting Corners on Injection-Molded Parts

Sharp corners definitely have their place in part design, but they often spell trouble when injection molding plastic parts. Accordingly, designers should be aware of the pitfalls associated with “being square” when developing parts. Indeed, part accuracy, strength, and aesthetics suffer without the right amount of corner rounding and filleting.

This month’s design tip explores ways to strengthen injection-molded parts while reducing costs with proper placement of corner radii and fillet. You’ll learn about:

  • Material selection. Some plastics are more forgiving of sharp-cornered parts. Choosing the right one for your application is a necessary step towards accurate, functional parts.
  • Wall thickness. Beefing up adjacent walls may absorb some of the stress associated with sharp internal corners, but can create other design challenges.
  • Part geometry. Some parts are simply more “moldable” than others. Achieving proper form, fit and function depends on sound part design, a large piece of which is appropriate corner radii.

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EYE ON INNOVATION: Proto Labs Salutes ‘Smart’ Companies on MIT List

The 50 Smartest Companies for 2016, as compiled by MIT Technology Review in its recent annual list, combine cutting-edge technology with effective business models.

In our on-going quest to seek out and identify innovation in manufacturing and technology, we salute these companies that, as the MIT folks say, “are ‘smart’ in the way they create new opportunities.”

In fact, we’re pleased to serve as a prototyping and low-volumes production parts supplier for a number of these companies (though non-disclosure considerations prevent us from identifying which ones we work with). We do take satisfaction in knowing that our digital manufacturing prowess has, in key ways, helped nurture the innovation these companies are being recognized for.

As the Review reports, some of this year’s stars are giant corporations like Amazon and Alphabet, which, “are using digital technologies to redefine industries.

Others are wrestling with technological changes: companies like Microsoft, Bosch…and Intel.” Automotive leaders such as Toyota and Tesla Motors are also on the list. Plus, you’ll find ambitious startups too, such as 23andMe, an innovator in consumer-accessible DNA testing.

SEE THE MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW LIST HERE.

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

DESIGN TIP: Metal 3D Printing Redefines Part Design

Metal 3D printing is helping to redefine part design, with capabilities to build ever-increasingly complex parts in less time and with little human intervention. Welcome to the industrial-grade 3D printing process of direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), which is the focus of our monthly design tip.

Med device developers are turning to industrial-grade metal 3D printing to produce a variety of prototype and end-use parts, including these components used for surgical instruments.

Through additive manufacturing technology, DMLS produces fully function metal prototypes and end-use parts, simplifies assembly by reducing component counts, offers virtually unlimited complexity with no additional cost, and works for a variety of industries, including the med device space (see part photo).

This month’s tip discusses:

  • A short overview of DMLS
  • Ways to avoid warping and curling with certain part features
  • Part orientation
  • Wall thickness considerations

READ FULL DESIGN TIP