THE ENGINEERIST: Mitigating Production Risk with Prototypes

Editor’s Note: The Engineerist is a three-part blog series written by Michael Corr, founder of Los Angeles-based manufacturing consulting firm, DuroLabs. This is part one.

Startup companies have limited time and money, and, rightfully so, treat them as precious resources. There is constant pressure to get products out to the market fast, and when cash is limited, there is little margin for mistakes.

As an engineering manager, my responsibility is to ensure that the development processes being used by my team to bring parts to production are reliable, repeatable, and properly mitigate risk. For high-volume production, injection molding is the best option for plastic parts but it can be expensive and time consuming—two factors that can severely impact the success of a product launch if there are mistakes.

Waiting 12 to 16 weeks for first articles off a steel mold can be an eternity for a company pressured to get products into production in a shortened nine-month time frame. Any delays only compound the issue, adding pressure on myself, my team, and the company as a whole.

CAD model

Analysts at Proto Labs prepare CAD models for manufacturing.

Automated Quoting
When I was first introduced to Proto Labs almost 10 years ago, I was impressed with its commitment to leveraging modern technology. Its quoting process was simple and quick due to automated online tools. This allowed me to independently configure part options without having to go back and forth with a sales rep to update quotes and lead times. The automation saves hours, if not days, in evaluating various options. Additionally, the design for manufacturability feedback tools, which automatically highlight problems and areas of concern in the parts, save days to weeks of time and potentially hundreds to thousands of dollars by alleviating the risk of re-spinning due to an erroneous part. Again, with time being a limited commodity and a close watch on development dollars, these attentions to detail were very important to me.

The Case for Milled Prototypes
Prototyping before production is necessary to mitigate this risk but it can potentially cost money and take time to produce parts, so it’s important to choose your prototype runs wisely. One risk-mitigating technique I’ve incorporated into my mechanical engineering team’s process is to always produce a CNC-milled prototype of any part that is identified to be injection molded for production. This seems like trite advice, but I was amazed at how often engineering teams overlook the value of this step. Even 3D printing, another valuable prototyping tool, is often not as effective as a milled part if a move to molding is imminent. The advantage of the milled part is a closer approximation to the final molded material properties—not only in strength but also look, feel, and toughness when handled.

CNC machining

Proto Labs has hundreds of CNC machines, which enable quick-turn milling of functional prototypes and production parts.

I have now built several dozen parts with Proto Labs, so I can attest to the quality and expediency of the parts. In just a few days and not much investment, one can have several milled parts in-hand and ready for evaluation. Proto Labs’ extensive library of material options has also allowed me to select the same exact plastic to be used in the eventual injection-molded parts. This flexibility paired with comparable tolerances and resolution to final injection-molded parts, allows me to reliably use milled prototypes for a full form and fit check. In many cases, I can even use the parts for structural and environmental performance tests, so we can evaluate and make any final tweaks before cutting steel without having to cross our fingers that nothing goes wrong.

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3D Printing Experts Discuss Technology’s Future

3D printing is the topic of conversation in our latest Journal issue, which focuses on the technology’s next dimension—how additive manufacturing is poised to make a giant leap forward in capabilities.3D printing

The cover story includes interviews with three leaders from the 3D printing industry who offer insight on a variety of topics, such as advancements in new machines and materials, a growing demand for 3D printing for production parts, and notable trends in software.

Another feature, “A Cloud-Based Future for CAD,” explores how 3D CAD design software is increasingly moving to cloud-based models, a trend with benefits for both product developers and manufacturers.

Elsewhere in the Journal, our Eye on Innovation column features a driverless bus, a 3D GoPro, and a DIY Bluetooth.

Read the entire Journal here.

We’re always on the hunt for though-provoking content, so send your cool project or article idea to our editor at angelo.gentile@protolabs.com.

Thanks and enjoy the issue!

DFM Analysis, Injection Molding Help Spring Company Reduce Costs

An Illinois-based steel-spring manufacturer recently called on Proto Labs to help reduce component count and save time and money on a device the company uses to market its services to the aerospace, automotive, oil and gas, and medical industries.

Smalley has long equipped its sales force with a small demo device, a handheld “comparator” that shows the relative size and performance of a wave spring—which Smalley manufactures—compared with a coil spring.

The company turned to Proto Labs for help with solving a cost issue when Smalley considered redesigning the comparator to “use them as ‘giveaways’ to prospective customers,” explained Lane Persky, Smalley marketing manager. “We were looking to go from about 20 of the original comparators, which each cost about $100 to produce, to an initial run of 1,000 redesigned comparators at a target cost of about $15 each.”

Proto Labs’ design for manufacturability (DFM) analysis, and its injection molding service, helped Smalley designers create a new comparator, which would require just seven parts. The original comparators each consisted of 23 parts.

“We chose Proto Labs for the company’s reputation and ability to do both advanced 3D printing for prototyping and affordable, rapid injection molding” for low-volume production, said Persky.

READ FULL CASE STUDY

CASE STUDY: Sea Ray Charts New Course with Production Help from Proto Labs

Brunswick Corp.’s Sea Ray luxury boat brand is known for its high-end, opulent yachts that often command seven-figure sales tags. As you might expect, no detail is considered too small, not even something as seemingly mundane as the air-conditioning drainage system on Sea Ray’s L650 Fly model (pictured).

So, when the boat builder redesigned its AC drain-line arrangement, and then extended that new design from the L650 Fly to two other Sea Ray models, the company created a significant supply challenge, which Proto Labs was called on to meet.

The grill was manufactured in a durable, corrosion-resistant ABS plastic at Proto Labs.

“Proto Labs was definitely able to help us more seamlessly go from prototype to production, which is important in our market, to be able to make that transition quickly,” said Randy Hasson, project leader with Brunswick’s recreational boat group in Merritt Island, Florida.

READ FULL CASE STUDY

WEBINAR: Accelerate Design Validation with Proto Labs, Autodesk

There’s still time to register for the webinar, “Accelerating Design Validation with Instant DFM and Pricing Feedback,” set for 3 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25. Jointly hosted by CAD software maker Autodesk, and Proto Labs, this free webinar shows you how to:

  • Reduce design risks with design for manufacturability (DFM) feedback
  • Slash weeks or months off your prototyping phase
  • Validate your designs early and often with DFM analysis and pricing feedback
  • Use a seamless system of CAD software and online quoting

Autodesk’s Fusion 360 CAD software has Proto Labs’ instant online quoting feature with DFM analysis integrated into its application. This session teaches you how these capabilities work together.

REGISTER NOW TO ATTEND