About Tony Holtz

Tony is a technical specialist at Proto Labs with more than 10 years of experience ranging from CNC mill operator to mold designer to customer service engineer. While his formal education is in industrial machinery operations, he has extensive knowledge and experience in both traditional and advanced manufacturing processes and materials. Throughout his tenure at Proto Labs, Tony has worked with countless designers, engineers and product developers to improve the manufacturability of their parts.

TIPS WITH TONY: Additive Manufacturing for Microfluidics

Prototyping small volumes of microfluidic parts has traditionally been difficult using CNC machining or injection molding, but Proto Labs offers microfluidic fabrication through additive manufacturing (3D printing) for just this purpose.

Microfluidics typically requires very flat surfaces, and clear and thin/shallow features that are difficult to produce in a mold that is milled and hand polished. These tiny features are not easily distinguishable, requiring careful polishing and injection molding pressures can sometimes role the edges even further, not to mention the effect that the ejector pins have on the part surface. Ejector pins play a huge factor in removing the part from the mold and can cosmetically impact microfluidic parts that are molded. We will continue to injection mold microfluidics, but please first discuss these projects with a customer service engineer at Proto Labs.

Additive Approach
Additive microfluidics changes all of this as ejector pins are a non-factor. We use stereolithography (SL) to produce parts using an ultraviolet laser drawing on the surface of a thermoset resin, primarily our Somos WaterShed XC 11122 material. High-resolution SL is able to produce features as thin as 0.002 in. layers to provide the fine detail that microfluidics require. We recommend channel sizes of 0.025 in. square cross sections with a minimum wall thickness of 0.004 in. for X and Y dimensions and 0.016 in. for the Z dimension. Of course, we can produce features smaller than this, but it would need to be carefully reviewed by our engineers before the build begins.

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TIPS WITH TONY: Lessen the Load with Lightweighting

Is weight a concern in your product’s design or functionality? If so, there are a number of ways we can help you reduce component weight by looking at material selection and the method(s) of manufacturing used to produce the parts. You might even save some production dollars.

To learn more about rapid manufacturing’s role in lightweighting for automotive applications, download our free white paper today.

As you probably know, weight reduction is extremely valuable in every industry but more so in automotive, aerospace and electronics industries. The carbon footprint that vehicles of all sizes leave behind is being closely regulated by CAFE Standards — a reduction of 110 lbs., for example, can improve fuel efficiency by 2 percent. With increasingly more electronics becoming mobile, product needs to become lighter while providing the same performance, or improved performance, as their predecessors. Once-heavy laptops or cellphones would not be in their current lightweight, mobile state without advanced materials and technology advancements.

Magnesium
Magnesium offers a weight reduction of 65 percent over steel and 25 percent over aluminum, which seems pretty huge — and it is. This is large reason why automotive and aerospace industries are beginning to introduce magnesium into assemblies. Besides reducing weight, magnesium is non-magnetic, electrically and thermally conductivity, and offers EMI/RFI shielding.

You can either have magnesium parts CNC machined or injection molded at Proto Labs to cover all of your prototyping and low-volume production needs — 1 to 5,000+ parts in 15 days or less.

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TIPS WITH TONY: LSR Offers Design Flexibility

There are many reasons why you should be looking at liquid silicone rubber (LSR) — I’ll highlight a few big ones in order to get you thinking about this versatile thermoset.

For a deeper dive into LSR and how it’s used in the lighting industry, please attend my free tech talk webinar hosted by Tech Briefs.

LSR Molding
LSR parts are formed in process similar to that of conventional plastic injection molding with one main difference. LSR is a thermoset material that compounds two liquids together, which is then heat cured in the mold to produce a part. The material delivery system is cooled and only the mold is heated. This is unlike thermoplastic molding, which begins with the melting of plastic pellets that are injected into a heated mold.

Optical LSR is highly flexible and can replace glass in many lighting applications.

LSR Advantages
LSR parts are strong, elastic, chemical resistant, serializable and biocompatible, and have a range of operating temperatures. The benefits of LSR lend itself well to the automotive, medical and lighting industries where gaskets, seals and lighting lenses are frequently used.

LSR parts have a very good temperature resistance, ranging between -49°F to 392°F; they are non-yellowing, UV stable and optical LSR has up to 94 percent light transmission; they offer good vibration control and offer up to 400 percent flexibility along with excellent part memory.

The chart pretty much speaks for itself when comparing LSR to PC, PMMA and glass when looking at replacing the traditional materials with LSR.

Design Flexibility
Traditional thinking of part design needs to be considered, but many can be broken:

  • Part thicknesses greater than 1 in. and less than 0.020 in. are achievable with little to no concern of any unsightly sinks or internal voids.
  • No ejector pins are used to remove parts from the mold as they are all hand-removed.
  • Gates are nearly invisible, barely thicker than flash. LSR flows like water, so the gate needs to be very shallow, but wide.
  • Negative draft angles or increased undercuts are a possibility with up to 400 percent part flexibility and part memory.
  • Ability to fill fine details or voids.
  • Ability to combine components reducing number of parts to assemble, e.g., combining a lens and seal for lighting applications.

For more information on LSR, please download our white paper or listen in to my tech talk presentation mentioned at the top of the tip. You can also visit our website at protolabs.com or contact one of our customer service engineers at customerservice@protolabs.com or 877.479.3680 with additional questions on any of our services.

TIPS WITH TONY: Top 5 FAQs for CSEs

Proto Labs has a knowledgeable support staff able to answer nearly any manufacturing question you toss their way. If you haven’t already spoken to them, you should get to know our customer service engineers (CSEs) who can help guide you on your next additive manufacturing, CNC machining and injection molding project.

This is Tony from the popular blog series, Tips with Tony. He was a CSE for years and is now Proto Labs’ go-to technical specialist.

It’s challenging to assemble the top five most frequently questions asked — it should be more like a top 100 questions asked on a daily basis. But, I whittled it down to the top questions our CSEs are most frequently asked.

5. How many parts can you produce and how fast can I get them?

Additive Manufacturing
SL, SLS and DMLS:  1 to 50+ parts in 1 to 7 days

CNC Machining
Milling and Turning:  1 to 200+ parts in 1 to 3 days

Injection Molding
Plastic: 25 to 500 sample parts in 1 to 15 days with low-volume production of 10,000+ parts available

Liquid Silicone Rubber (LSR): 25 to 500 sample parts in 1 to 15 days with low-volume production of 5,000+ parts available

Metal: 25 to 100 sample parts in 10 to 15 days with low-volume production of 5,000+ parts available

Magnesium: 25 to 100 sample parts in 15 days with low-volume production of 5,000+ parts available

Please note that lead times are dependent on part size and current workload. As such, not all parts are eligible for a one-day turn and expedite fees may be applied turnaround times faster than standard delivery.

4. What manufacturing method(s) should I use?
First, let me ask you these questions to help you decide:

  • How many parts do you need?
  • Are these functional, cosmetic or just something to hold in your hand?
  • Do you know the material you want?
  • What type of finish do you need?

If you have a part total in mind, you can begin narrowing down the manufacturing method to either injection molding (for higher volumes) or additive manufacturing or machining (for lower volumes). Identifying the material you need will then allow you to narrow down your decision even further. Beginning with any one of these questions will start you down the correct path towards the proper manufacturing method.

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TIPS WITH TONY: Behind the Scenes with File Formats

Why can’t you read my CAD file? Wrong file format? What formats do you accept? In our latest tip, I’ll cover what file formats work best with each manufacturing service at Proto Labs and discuss common questions that occur.

Simply put, we accept several different file formats, but some work better than others. To begin, here’s our list of formats that can be uploaded to our website:

CAD Programs:

  • Solidworks (.sldprt)
  • Autodesk Inventor (.ipt)
  • AutoCad (3D .dwg)
  • PTC ProE/Creo (.prt)
  • CATIA (.catpart)
  • SpaceClaim (.scdoc)
  • SketchUp (.skp)

Neutral File Formats:

  • IGES
  • STEP
  • ASIS (.sat)
  • Stereolithography (.stl) — only available for additive and machining

Proprietary Software
We use proprietary software that is able to read or translate the file formats above. If you submit a format not listed, you’ll receive a no-quote and will need to upload a new file from the list of approved file formats in order to receive a quote. But if you submit a file from the list and you still receive a no-quote, there is a good possibility that the file was either corrupt or unable to be translated properly. In this case, we would suggest trying another file format, or multiple file formats, so we have options for translation. Or, reach out to one of our customer service engineers at customerservice@protolabs.com or 877.479.3680 to discuss a solution.

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