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.

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CASE STUDY: Robots Do Battle on ABC with Help from Proto Labs

Network television may seem an unlikely source for manufacturing innovation, but don’t say that to the designers of the robots competing in season two of ABC-TV’s BattleBots (a 10-episode run starts Thursday, June 23).

The Ringmaster (left) in action on ABC-TV’s BattleBots.
Photo Courtesy: ABC-TV

Two competitors in the show turned to Proto Labs recently for prototyping and end-use parts for their warrior robots.

California-based freelance product designer Hal Rucker created The Ringmaster robot, using Proto Labs’ 3D printing for plastic prototypes and production parts, and CNC machining for magnesium end-use parts.

Independent product developer Christian Carlberg, also of California, and his 13-year-old daughter Carissa, designed The Overdrive robot using Proto Labs’ CNC machining to fabricate two sets of parts for Overdrive’s weapon pulley system.

Overdrive’s designers looked to Proto Labs for help with parts for the weapon pulley system.
Photo Courtesy: Christian Carlberg

And who ultimately claimed victory in this clash of the robot titans? BattleBot designers were sworn to secrecy, so we’ll just have to tune in to see who won.

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Eyeing the Future of Wearable Fitness Tracking

California-based eyewear maker VSP Global is using Proto Labs’ rapid injection molding services to accelerate the design, prototyping and testing phase of a new product, a pair of glasses that includes a health-tracking capability.

Photo: VSP Global

The glasses have a fitness tracker built in, a prototype design concept that VSP Global calls Project Genesis. A vision care company, VSP Global includes an eyewear manufacturing and design division, plus a vision insurance plan that encompasses more than 80 million members and a network of 34,000 eye doctors in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia.

Wearable technology is a hot trend right now, and, as VSP Global explained in a recent press release, though “some [wearables] could be considered hype, some…could be considered the start of a personalized medicine revolution.” Continue reading

Innovative Catalytic Reactor Incorporates Metal 3D Printing

Minnesota-based start-up Activated Research Company recently launched its flagship product, the Polyarc™ catalytic reactor — built in part with Proto Labs’ 3D printing process of direct metal laser sintering (DMLS).

A DMLS stainless steel block that attaches to a gas chromatograph, the reactor accelerates the process of analyzing the composition of matter and is useful in industries ranging from fuel to pharmaceuticals, according to Andrew Jones, a chemical engineer, who, along with former Proto Labs CEO Brad Cleveland, founded Activated Research in 2014.

The Polyarc™ microreactor was 3D printed in stainless steel with direct metal laser sintering technology.

Fans of TV’s “CSI” are likely familiar with a gas chromatograph. The evidence from the crime being investigated goes into the crime lab’s gas chromatograph, the high-tech machine quickly identifies whatever is in it and a dramatic arrest ensues.

That’s great for a TV crime series, but the show glosses over how, in reality, as Jones explains, the chemical or composition analysis is quite expensive and time-consuming.

That’s where the Polyarc™ reactor comes in. It can quickly quantify carbon-containing chemicals in a sample without the slow, costly calibrations of existing methods.

The idea for what would become the Polyarc™ reactor originated with researchers at the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation led by Paul Dauenhauer, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Minnesota. Dauenhauer’s group published a paper proposing a “quantitative carbon detector” based on their research, which received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences.

For more details on how Proto Labs provided prototypes and production parts for this project, read the complete case study here.

Proto Labs Quoting System Helps Lockheed Martin Drone Take Off

The commercial-grade Indago Quadcopter unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone, from Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin, is soaring in popularity with law enforcement agencies, defense customers, firefighters, real estate firms, farmers and construction companies.

The high demand stems mostly from the drone’s versatility, range and small, 5-pound, fold-up size, says Miguel Perez, an engineer for Lockheed’s Procerus subsidiary, which developed the drone with prototyping and low-volume production help from Proto Labs.

Lockheed Martin’s Indago drone is a small, 5-pound, fold-up quadcopter capable of work at various ranges — up to 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) using integrated antenna solutions — from its ground controller.

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