EYE ON INNOVATION: Proto Labs Salutes ‘Smart’ Companies on MIT List

The 50 Smartest Companies for 2016, as compiled by MIT Technology Review in its recent annual list, combine cutting-edge technology with effective business models.

In our on-going quest to seek out and identify innovation in manufacturing and technology, we salute these companies that, as the MIT folks say, “are ‘smart’ in the way they create new opportunities.”

In fact, we’re pleased to serve as a prototyping and low-volumes production parts supplier for a number of these companies (though non-disclosure considerations prevent us from identifying which ones we work with). We do take satisfaction in knowing that our digital manufacturing prowess has, in key ways, helped nurture the innovation these companies are being recognized for.

As the Review reports, some of this year’s stars are giant corporations like Amazon and Alphabet, which, “are using digital technologies to redefine industries.

Others are wrestling with technological changes: companies like Microsoft, Bosch…and Intel.” Automotive leaders such as Toyota and Tesla Motors are also on the list. Plus, you’ll find ambitious startups too, such as 23andMe, an innovator in consumer-accessible DNA testing.

SEE THE MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW LIST HERE.

Eye on Innovation is a monthly look at new technology and products.

EYE ON INNOVATION: 3D Printer Boldly Goes Where No Printer Has Gone Before

3D printing continues to break the bonds of traditional manufacturing methods. Now, a private company collaborating with NASA is breaking Earth’s bonds by taking 3D printing into space.

In April, at the International Space Station, NASA successfully tested a zero-gravity 3D printer that’s been in development for several years from California-based Made in Space.

Photo Courtesy: NASA

NASA found that the specially designed, zero-gravity 3D printer could in fact manufacture parts and tools on-site and on-demand. As NASA points out on its website, this on-site, in-orbit manufacturing ability would be a huge benefit for long-term, deep-space missions with restrictions on weight and room for cargo. The tests on board the space station included successfully printing items such as wrenches. So far, more than 25 objects have been produced.

As Gizmag.com reports, the zero-gravity printer is an extrusion printer that, like other 3D printers, builds up layers of hot liquefied ABS thermoplastic to create an object. However, a number of factors had to be taken into consideration for designing it to work in a zero-gravity environment. Components that might previously have been partly held in place by gravity had to be redesigned, thermal processes had to be recalculated and the layering process had to be reconsidered. The printing functions were then all integrated into what is called the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG), part of an overall platform dubbed the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF).

Photo Courtesy: Made in Space

As a spokesman for Made in Space says in a promotional video: “The goal…is pretty simple, but audacious…to develop the necessary technologies to allow humanity to move beyond Earth and live on other planets.”

Meanwhile, more down-to-earth considerations include, as Wonderfulengineering.com reports, Made in Space’s announcement this week that it is “going commercial and inviting the public [to purchase parts] made in the unique presence of zero gravity.”

Eye on Innovation is a monthly look at new technology and products.

EYE ON INNOVATION: Technology Lights Up Annual Met Fashion Gala

Fashion and technology converged earlier this week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2016 Gala.

At the event Monday night, actress Claire Danes wore a gown that had 30 mini-battery packs sewn into layers of fiber optic woven organza that made the dress glow in the dark (see below).

Photos: CBC

Another highlight, a “cognitive dress,” was the creation of the fashion house Marchesa and IBM’s Watson. It analyzed tweets for the emotion of fans watching the Gala’s red carpet show on social media, and lit up embedded LED lights in corresponding colors.

These and other fashion statements embraced this year’s theme and the title of an exhibit that continues through August 14 at The Met: “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology.”

The so-called “cognitive dress,” created by designer Marchesa and IBM technology. Photo: Getty Images

The Met’s Costume Institute exhibit explores how fashion designers are reconciling the handmade and the machine-made in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready to wear.

More than 170 items, dating from the early 20th century to the present, will feature handmade elements of fashion such as embroidery, pleating, lacework and leather work, alongside versions that incorporate innovative processes, such as 3D printing, computer modeling, bonding and laminating, laser cutting and ultrasonic welding. Continue reading

EYE ON INNOVATION: Watch the Final Four in VR? A Slam Dunk, Almost.

So your office pool NCAA tournament bracket has long been busted. And March Madness has just made you Mad in March. At this point, you may not even care who wins this weekend.

Photo: Associated Press

Well, here’s a cool way to break out of your funk: Watch the Final Four in virtual reality. The NCAA announced earlier this week that this weekend’s Final Four and National Championship games will be, for the first time ever, live-streamed in virtual reality, including a virtual scoreboard with live stats, game commentary and arena sounds.

Sweet, right? Well, mostly sweet. As TheVerge.com notes, the NCAA is using the term “virtual reality” a bit liberally. First, basketball fans will need to get hold of a Samsung Gear VR to download the NCAA March Madness Live app in the Oculus Store. Second, the streamed video will only occupy 180 degrees — not the full 360-degree sphere. Finally, if you don’t have a Gear VR, the NCAA is making a 2D version of the 180-degree stream available on the web, and 360-degree highlight footage will be posted to the NCAA March Madness page on Facebook.  Continue reading

EYE ON INNOVATION: Vertebrae Implants More Proof of 3D Printing’s Place in Med Tech

3D printing and other rapid manufacturing methods continue to transform the med tech industry, as illustrated recently by an Australian neurosurgeon who, in late 2015, removed cancerous vertebrae in a patient and implanted, in their place, printed vertebrae.

The 3D-printed part that would replace the patient’s cancer-ridden vertebrae. Photo: Dailymail.co.uk and ABC News.

Dr. Ralph Mobbs, a neurosurgeon at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney, called the procedure a “world first.” The surgery was performed on a patient with chordoma, a rare form of cancer that occurs in the bone of the skull and spine. As Wired UK reports, the 60-year-old patient was affected in the two vertebrae responsible for turning the head — meaning that, if the 15-hour surgery had failed, he would have been left paralyzed.

Because of the position and function of these vertebrae, however, they’re extremely hard to replace — they must be an exact fit. Mobbs decided to 3D print the replacements instead, and worked with Anatomics, an Australian medical device manufacturer, to design and build the implants, which were made from titanium. The company also printed exact anatomical models of the patient’s head for Mobbs to practice on before the surgery. Continue reading