3D Printing Boosts Rocket Project for Engineering Students

University of Minnesota engineering students are readying a 3D-printed rocket engine for launch sometime later this year, with help from Proto Labs.

This cutaway view of the engine shows the cooling channel, which is one long tube that spirals down inside the wall.

David Deng, a senior aerospace engineering student at the U of M’s Twin Cities campus, is leading the extracurricular effort to design, build, and eventually fly a liquid-propellant rocket as project manager of LPRD Rocketry. The group’s name, pronounced “leopard,” is an acronym for Liquid Propellant Rocketry Design. The group includes aerospace engineering students and others studying electrical engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering, and materials science.

The primary design challenges the group faced included the small overall size of the engine itself, and the need to also somehow incorporate a cooling system inside the engine.

David Deng (right), and the University of Minnesota student group LPRD Rocketry (left).

“The manufacturing of [the rocket engine] is incredibly difficult using conventional methods, especially for a very small engine,” Deng said. “The struggle was how do we [add] a single cooling channel through this entire engine, coiling around the side of it? That’s where Proto Labs came in. 3D printing is essentially the only way to get regenerative cooling on an engine this small and have it be a single channel.”


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.


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.


CASE STUDY: Brain-Machine Robotics System May Help Paraplegics Walk Again

Proto Labs is helping researchers at the University of Houston move a science fiction concept to a real-world application that may help paraplegics walk again.

A University of Houston research lab is developing a powered exoskeleton that will be part of a futuristic brain-machine robotics system. Proto Labs is helping by providing custom-machined aluminum-joint housings.

Photo Courtesy: University of Houston

A multidisciplinary research team that includes engineers, neuroscientists, health professionals, and students is working to create, from scratch, a powered wearable robotic device that allows those with lower-limb paralysis from spinal injury, disease, or stroke to regain mobility without a walker or canes.

A sci-fi element lives on in the project, which is taking place at the university’s Laboratory for Noninvasive Brain-Machine Interface Systems. As the lab’s futuristic name suggests, the ultimate goal is to allow users to control the exoskeleton—commanding it to go forward or backward, to turn, sit, or stand—using their thoughts instead of a joystick, switches, or external operator typical of other devices.


CASE STUDY: A Sea Change for Sailboat Winches

The story of how Proto Labs helped a French company with a revolutionary sailboat winch design started with a daring adventure at sea.

Pontos, the Saint Malo, France firm that’s reinventing sailboat winches, was co-founded by Michel Chenon and Darryl Spurling in 2010 after, as they describe it, a “hair-raising” close call that brought their sailboat dangerously close to the rocky outcrops of the narrow straits off the island of Brehat, France.

On the high seas, Pontos’ winch models have proven their worth in a variety of yacht races and regattas worldwide. Photo Courtesy: Pontos

The boat was equipped with a winch for the hoisting and furling of the sails that proved to be too physically challenging for the inexperienced crew to use.

This adventure led the two, along with a research and development team, to spend an intense three years creating and perfecting — with the help of Proto Labs’ rapid manufacturing services — the design of what would become a game-changing new line of sailboat winches. These now award-winning winches would also eventually be used on sailboats that would win or be competitive in several notable yacht races and regattas worldwide.