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.


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


HP Selects Proto Labs to Test New 3D Printing Technology

HP Inc. made its announcement Tuesday morning at RAPID, the 3D printing trade show underway this week in Orlando. Here’s a glimpse of HP’s booth at RAPID.

Proto Labs has been selected by HP Inc. as a product testing site for the printing and PC giant’s new HP Multi Jet Fusion technology for industrial-grade 3D printing.

HP announced its new technology today at RAPID, a 3D printing and additive manufacturing trade show underway in Orlando, Florida through May 19. Proto Labs is at RAPID. You can find us at booth #443 to talk with a customer service engineer about our industrial-grade 3D printing services.

We’re excited to test drive this new technology that looks to be a dramatic leap ahead in 3D printing. We are looking forward to collaborating with HP on this new platform that promises to be faster and more economical than currently available 3D printing options.

Proto Labs’ staffers take a short photo break during RAPID underway all week in Orlando. From left, Joe Cretella, Greg Thompson, Rob Connelly and Thomas Davis. Visit Proto Labs at booth #443.

Proto Labs is one of several companies HP is working with as part of the company’s Early Customer Engagement Program, which conducts product testing and garners user feedback.

We were chosen because of our extensive experience as a prime user of industrial-grade 3D printing technology (also known as additive manufacturing) for our prototyping and low-volume manufacturing services.


Design Rules Revolution: DMLS Requires New Thought Process

By Heather Thompson, Senior Editor, Medical Design and Outsourcing

As product development speeds up, the design rules are changing. Nowhere is this more apparent when looking at the industrial 3D printing process of direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). Direct metal laser sintering is an additive manufacturing technology with significant potential in the medical device space. But it requires a new way of thinking even at the early design phases. In many ways it represents the transition designers must face when looking at new technologies to make medical device design and manufacturing faster and more innovative. 

Internal channels that are impossible to machine are achievable with DMLS.

There are several benefits of DMLS explains Tommy Lynch, metals project manager at Proto Labs Inc., primarily that designers can prototype designs in unusual shapes at both time and cost savings. “DMLS is different from other 3D printing because you are using real metal. Many of these materials have been used for industrial applications for decades.”

Lynch says designers like the process because they can experiment with organic shapes that can’t be readily machined. For example, one intriguing opportunity is the ability to build implantable body parts that are custom fit to the recipient. “These implants would normally need to be delicately built on a 5-axis machine at a high expense,” he says. “Technology exists to scan a person’s actual bone structure, and print a direct DMLS replacement.”

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DESIGN TIP: Improving Part Design with Uniform Wall Thickness

Designing parts with consistent wall thickness is a fundamental rule of plastic injection molding, and ignoring it can lead to sink, warp and inaccurate or non-functional parts. Yet the functional requirements of consumer, medical, aerospace and industrial products often leave designers little consideration for the material flow and fill properties of plastic, both of which are at least partially determined by wall thickness.

Pay close attention to rib-to-wall thickness ratios. To prevent sink, the thickness of the rib should be about half of the thickness of the wall.

This month’s tip discusses:

  • Guidelines to avoid cosmetic defects associated with thin and thick features
  • Material alternatives to improve wall thickness consistency
  • Important questions to ask about material properties
  • The benefits of design for manufacturability analysis