NEW JOURNAL: Trends, Drones and High Heels

The new issue of Proto Labs Journal is out. In our cover story, we look at industry macrotrends in manufacturing for 2016, from automotive lightweighting to human-factors engineering in health care.

The story reports on factors that are driving automotive innovation, trends keeping the aerospace industry aloft and forces such as an aging population that are influencing medical applications. And speaking of med tech, the Journal also includes an informative infographic on rapid manufacturing for medical device development.

Elsewhere in the new Journal, look for stories on high-tech high heels, smart luggage and a new drone we worked on for Lockheed Martin.

Read the entire Journal here.

We’re always on the hunt for thought-provoking content, so send your cool project or article idea to our editor at

Thanks and enjoy the issue!

3D Printing Methods for Medtech Prototypes

Being able to quickly produce prototype parts is critical to creating an environment of innovation that can lead to medical device market success. By removing inefficiencies, manufacturers should expect to have prototype parts in a few days, not months. The prototype method must be fast enough to allow multiple iterations in a condensed time frame, and possess the scale to allow for multiple iterations at the same time.

Click to enlarge:

Rapid manufacturing methods like 3D printing are leveraged to help drastically reduce development time for medical devices.

Additive manufacturing (AM), also called 3D printing, enables quick evaluation of new medical product designs without making compromises due to complex part geometries. Using AM offers easier design changes and at a low cost. When prototyping via 3D printing, designers should not expect a finished part, although it should be noted 3D printing processes can yield finalized products. Stereolithography, for example, has a number of post-secondary finishing processes and direct metal laser sintering produces fully dense end-use metal parts.

There may be limits to color and texture choices, and in certain instances, thermoplastic-like materials will differ from the final production material used in process like molding and machining. If the surface finish, texture, color and coefficient of friction vary from the end material, it is difficult to accurately assess the subtle needs and benefits of these properties.

The main advantage of 3D printing is that it provides accurate form and fit testing. The build process of additive technology can accurately produce the form and size of the desired part, making it very useful for early evaluation of new medical parts. It is best used to identify design flaws, make changes, and then make second-generation machined parts or invest in tooling to create injection-molded parts. This article reviews that various AM printing methods commonly used in prototyping.

Continue reading

Happy Holidays from Proto Labs

As 2015 comes to an end, here’s to beautiful holiday gatherings and ugly holiday sweaters: Happy Holidays!

From all of us at Proto Labs in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Finland and Japan, we wish you a productive and profitable 2016!

A group of employees at Proto Labs’ headquarters in Maple Plain, Minnesota recently gathered to show off a variety of ugly sweaters to ring in the holiday season.


Proto Labs Foundation Supports STEM, Other Causes

’Tis the season of giving, and, at this time of year, we’re delighted to show how our employees’ generosity, through the Proto Labs Foundation, has supported the foundation’s targeted focus — science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education — and other charitable causes.

So far in 2015, thanks to the foundation’s Big Giving program, employee monetary and volunteer contributions, and the accompanying matching funds the foundation provides, more than $186,000 has been contributed to a variety of charitable organizations in Minnesota and North Carolina (for now, the foundation is available to U.S. employees of Proto Labs).

The Reve Academy in Minneapolis is one of several programs that receives funds from the Proto Labs Foundation.

The financial support is provided to nonprofit organizations that Proto Labs employees are passionate about, and through the Big Giving program for programs and initiatives that support STEM education. Large grants have included: Breakthrough Twin Cities, Code Savvy, Reve Academy, Minneapolis Community and Technical College Foundation, St. Catherine’s University, Hiawatha Academies, YWCA, High Tech Kids, Christo Rey Jesuit High School and Genesys Works.

Because the manufacturing industry needs future generations of diverse engineers and scientists, Proto Labs supports these educational programs to help bolster STEM interest and talent among youth.

In addition, we recognize the disparities in achievement between white students and students of color, and between low-income and higher-income students in measures of proficiency in STEM academic disciplines. The overall goal is that our large grants to organizations focus on transforming students’ interest in STEM fields and will provide those students with the resources and opportunities that will help foster and support this interest.

Beyond the STEM focus, employees are invited to contribute to charitable organizations through the foundation’s Good Ideas program and volunteering. The Proto Labs Foundation matches monetary and volunteer time investments to augment this giving. The foundation has organized structured opportunities to give back as well — earlier this fall, employees participated in helping build a Habitat for Humanity house.

Since 2014, the Proto Labs Foundation has provided nearly $350,000 in large grants to STEM-related education programs, and more than $450,000 overall.

NEW JOURNAL: Pitting Manufacturing Processes Against One Another

In the cover story of our current issue of the Proto Labs Journal, we pit manufacturing processes against one another.

As you know, the manufacturing industry is peppered with prototyping and production processes that share some common attributes, but also some notable differences. Our manufacturing “bouts” explore how several of these processes — big and small — compare. The fight card includes:

  • Magnesium Injection Molding vs. Magnesium Die Casting
  • Stereolithography vs. Fused Deposition Modeling
  • Direct Metal Laser Sintering vs. CNC Machining vs. Metal Injection Molding

Beyond our cover story, read about Sean Doan, a long-time Proto Labs employee who is the go-to person in our R & D division; the latest in innovation and advanced technology we’ve mined from the Internet; and new service offerings at Proto Labs.

Read the full Journal now.