EYE ON INNOVATION: Mfg. Day Highlights Industry’s High-Tech Future

In a recent GE commercial, the parents of a young, bespectacled software developer, implore him to accept his “grandpappy’s” giant sledge hammer, now that he’s working in manufacturing for GE.

The flustered son tries to explain: “Yes, GE makes powerful machines. I’ll be writing the code that allows those machines to share information with each other.” The baffled parents just don’t get it. See for yourself:

The spot effectively shows the quantum leap manufacturing has taken. In fact, as the Huffington Post reports, the global manufacturing sector is in the midst of what many manufacturing experts regard as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, known globally as Industry 4.0. Continue reading

EYE ON INNOVATION: Regrowing Damaged Nerves Using 3D Printing Technology

A national team of researchers has developed a 3D-printed guide or pathway that helps regrow complex injured or damaged nerves, and successfully tested the guide in rats.

Researchers say that this groundbreaking research holds the potential to help more than 200,000 people annually who experience nerve injuries or disease. The researchers are from the University of Minnesota, Virginia Tech, University of Maryland, Princeton University and Johns Hopkins University. The team’s study was published this month in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Image courtesy of Michael McAlpine, University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering.

Researchers used a combination of 3D imaging and 3D printing techniques to create a custom silicone guide or pathway implanted with biochemical cues to help nerve regeneration. Continue reading

EYE ON INNOVATION: Five Tech Trends of 2015

As 2015’s Q4 nears, a brief look at the year’s technology trends is in order. This list includes innovations or trends that have recently arrived or will soon, and is an amalgam sourced from Forbes, MIT Technology Review, CNET and others. In various ways, Proto Labs touches each of these trends.

Computing Everywhere
Most computing these days is in your pocket or purse — that is, in your smartphone. As Forbes reports, “smartphones will be used in new contexts and environments. Along with wearables, smartphones will offer connected screens in the workplace and in public. User experience will be key.”

Smartphones also play a prime role in the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT). Along these lines, Proto Labs produces parts for companies serving this connectivity market. For example, Garageio, which is an app for smartphones that allows users to control and monitor their garage doors with their phones, is a past winner of our Cool Idea! Award.

A final note on smartphone use. Several news sources report that the majority of digital media consumption now takes place on mobile devices rather than desktop. Mobile usage as a whole — app and mobile web — totals more than 60 percent, versus less than 40 percent for desktop usage.

Smart Machines
This year, major brands such as Whirlpool, LG, GE and Samsung introduced their latest versions of smart home devices such as washing machines and refrigerators. Plus, we already have cars that help us park, navigate and stay in our lanes.

Proto Labs’ digitally connected manufacturing equipment is, in essence, a network of smart machines communicating with one another. This approach has helped us transform traditional manufacturing into an automated, digital enterprise.

CNET reports that smart machines will continue to evolve, and Forbes predicts that “the smart-machine era will be the most disruptive in the history of IT.”

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EYE ON INNOVATION: Smart Glasses For Cyclists, Runners Sprint Beyond Funding Goal

A consumer version of innovative eyewear for cyclists and runners, originally created for U.S. Special Forces, is setting a breakaway funding pace on Indiegogo, the global crowdfunding site.

Ctrl, a Dutch-subsidiary of Kent, Ohio-based AlphaMicron, has been seeking funding via Indiegogo to develop Ctrl One, a pair of sleek cycling and running “smart glasses” that can change tint from dark to transparent in a fraction of a second, automatically adapting to surrounding lighting conditions.

And just how popular are these glasses on Indiegogo? As of the end of August, $389,982 in pre-sales funding had been raised. That surpasses an initial modest funding goal of $20,000. Continue reading

EYE ON INNOVATION: Coffee Cup Made From Coffee Percolates With Investors

Nearly everyone loves coffee, right? But a coffee cup made from coffee? Really?

As it turns out, this cup is more about being green than any homage to coffee.

Fargo, North Dakota-based c2renew is seeking funds on Kickstarter for its c2cup: a travel coffee mug that’s made from a coffee biocomposite, using 30 percent recycled coffee grounds.

As of this week, the developers, who work out of a business and technology incubator at North Dakota State University, have garnered nearly $8,000 of a modest $20,000 goal, with a little more than a month remaining in the Kickstarter campaign.

We found this project intriguing because c2renew engineers are putting a twist on manufacturing processes like 3D printing and injection molding — and because we love coffee.

To develop the cup, the folks at c2renew created a biocomposite formula that is a hybrid of a bio-based resin and coffee waste. Developers claim that “this coffee biomass not only results in a greener plastic, it also cuts down on cost while maintaining the desired mechanical properties.”

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