About Will Martin

Will is the communications manager at Proto Labs. He writes about rapid manufacturing. A lot. Will enjoys baseball on the radio, pretentious French cinema and Tom Waits.

WHITE PAPER: Aluminum Tooling for Optical Moldable Silicone

Dow Corning recently published a comprehensive white paper on the use of aluminum tooling for moldable optical silicone. It examines two big questions:

  1. To achieve a high-quality finish on the molded parts, what type of optical-grade surface finish is required for the tooling used to mold the silicone optics?
  2. Can this be achieved with an aluminum injection mold or is tool steel required to provide parts with an optical finish?

Proto Labs’ aluminum tooling is a reliable indicator of future optical silicone moldability.

Read why integrating optical silicone into your development cycle with rapid injection molding is an effective strategy, and why aluminum tooling is a reliable indicator of future moldability.


Why use optical moldable silicone? It’s a relatively new material to the market, but it is quickly gaining popularity as a replacement for glass components in many optical and lighting applications. Its benefits include:

  • clarity
  • heat resistance
  • durability for use in outdoor and automotive applications
  • design flexibility for fine features
  • an ability to combine multiple parts into a single unit

Learn more about optical silicone with our “14 Reasons Why Optical LSR is Good for Lighting Applications” design tip.

WATCH: ProtoQuote with Design Analysis

Our automated, interactive ProtoQuotes with real-time pricing information and free design for manufacturability (DFM) analysis are one of the most valuable tools you can get at Proto Labs. You can upload a 3D CAD model online at any time to receive a quote within hours.

The DFM analysis helps eliminate potential problems like sink, challenging undercuts or walls that are too thin or thick. Once a part design is ready and a quote approved, production begins almost immediately.

See how easy it is to navigate ProtoQuote with our quick video.


Upload a part today for a ProtoQuote with design analysis.

WATCH: How Draft Makes Your Drink Cold

We’re kicking off an animated series that takes a quirky look at the fundamentals of molding. The first short video is on draft, one of the most important consideration during injection molding part design.

Check it out:

For more information on designing with draft, read our recent tip on 5 ways to improve part moldability with draft.

10 Random Things About Proto Labs

Proto Labs started in 1999 in a garage in Long Lake, Minnesota with a single injection molding press. At last count, we’re at more than 600 machines: roughly 400 CNC mills, 150 presses and 50 3D printers.

Injection molding presses line Proto Labs’ production floor.

We currently serve more than 160 countries (out of 195) on six continents.

Psst. You can get up to 10,000 injection-molded parts with aluminum tooling at Proto Labs, but there’s a good chance we’ll be able to produce part runs well beyond that depending on material and geometry. Just sayin’.

A part built by stereolithography, a 3D printing process we added in 2014.

Up until 2014, we had two manufacturing processes: plastic injection molding and CNC milling. By the end of 2015, we’ll have added another EIGHT: three 3D printing processes (stereolithography, selective laser sintering, direct metal laser sintering), CNC turning and injection molding processes for steel, magnesium, liquid silicone rubber and one in the pipeline. It has been a busy two years.

The total amount of computing muscle at Proto Labs. What’s a TFLOP? One TFLOP equals a trillion floating point operations per second.

Continue reading

Sportech Uses Quick-Turn Machining for Design Validation

From frozen trails to rugged desert valleys and muddy creeks, power-sports vehicle drivers put their machines to the test. Producing custom parts for many of those snowmobiles, utility vehicles and motorcycles — on short production cycles and with manufacturers gearing up for large-scale production — is another sort of test for Minnesota-based Sportech, Inc.

Sportech prototyped durable nylon clips and hooks with CNC machining.

Sportech is a product development partner to seven of the eight largest power-sports vehicle makers. The company specializes in full-service design, development and production of custom parts and accessories, going from concept or rough sketches to 3D CAD modeling and rapid prototyping. Its services include thermoforming, drape forming, CNC routing and integrated assembly. Products include windshields, body panels and screen-printed parts for motorcycles, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and utility vehicles (UTVs).

While Sportech has grown into a leading product developer for original equipment manufacturers, what hasn’t changed since the company’s early days is the challenge of meeting tight product development deadlines.

In our latest case study, read how Sportech used quick-turn CNC machining at Proto Labs to validate the design of components before shifting to large-scale production.