Proto Labs Boosts Trinity University Research Project for NASA

A team of university students in engineering science recently turned to Proto Labs to manufacture metal parts for a research challenge project the group was working on for NASA.

The project centered on designing, building and testing an asteroid-sample retrieval and containment device for a simulated space mission. Heady stuff for the four first-year students at San Antonio-based Trinity University: Mel Du, Tanner Peterson, Davis Owen and Samy Abdallah.

Mel Du, left, Trinity University student, posed for a photo with Stan Love, right, NASA astronaut, who is holding the SHARC device.

The team had churned out several prototypes on a university-owned, production-model, fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printer. But, as Mel Du concluded, those 3D-printed plastic (ABS) parts would not be strong enough for actual use in space or even in NASA’s testing phase of the device. The retrieval device is basically a hand tool for astronauts to use.

Du and his team turned to Proto Labs’ industrial-grade prototyping. Proto Labs fabricated several SLS and machined parts for the students’ device, which they had dubbed the SHARC—Sampling Hardware for Asteroid Retrieval and Containment. These parts included retention pins, retention pin covers, a right arm for the device, a slide, a plate and handguard with a tether loop.

The testing occurred this past June in the simulated microgravity environment of the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (a giant swimming pool) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The testing was part of NASA’s Microgravity University. The SHARC worked well throughout all of the testing.

Read more details about how Proto Labs helped NASA and Trinity University in our latest case study.

Microscope ‘Game-Changer’ Garners Cool Idea! Award

The developers of a hybrid microscope — called the Revolve — which merges two microscopes into one, and replaces conventional eyepieces with an iPad, have been presented with the latest Proto Labs Cool Idea! Award.

In life sciences research, two types of microscopes are used — upright (for viewing glass slides) and inverted (for live samples in dishes). As a result, industry sources estimate that nearly 75 percent of labs today own both. The Revolve, developed by San Diego-based Echo Laboratories, is a hybrid microscope that transforms between these two configurations, eliminating the need to purchase two separate instruments. This frees up valuable lab space and offers cost savings, given that the Revolve costs about the same price as a traditional, research-grade microscope. Continue reading

Proto Labs Extends Additive Manufacturing Reach in Europe

Proto Labs’ corporate headquarters are in Maple Plain, Minn. (above). With the Alphaform acquisition, Proto Labs now has manufacturing plants in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Finland and Japan.

Proto Labs closed this week on the purchase of select assets and operations of German-based manufacturer Alphaform AG, which significantly extends its additive manufacturing (3D printing) capabilities across Europe.

Alphaform is a leading service bureau headquartered in Feldkirchen (Munich), Germany. The purchase includes Alphaform divisions operating in Germany, Finland and the United Kingdom. This acquisition will significantly expand Proto Labs’ recently launched additive manufacturing capabilities in Europe by adding selective laser sintering, direct metal laser sintering and additional stereolithography capabilities. The acquisition also includes the injection molding service currently offered by Alphaform Claho, in Eschenlohe, Germany. MediMet Precision Casting and Implants Technology GmbH, a 100 percent subsidiary of Alphaform AG, is not part of the transaction.

Proto Labs entered the additive manufacturing market last year with the purchase of Fineline in Raleigh, N.C. Proto Labs is spending $25 million to expand that plant, which is set to open in 2016.

You can read the full press release here.

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

Proto Labs Volunteers Hammer, Saw, Build for Habitat

Nearly 100 employees at Minnesota-based Proto Labs were swinging hammers, pounding nails, sawing, painting, installing floors and more at a new Habitat for Humanity house in the Jordan neighborhood of Minneapolis this week.

Different volunteer crews from various Proto Labs departments each day worked hard and had fun supporting the efforts of Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization that helps local families become homeowners for the first time.

Proto Labs volunteers paused for a photo on Thursday before getting back to work installing flooring at a new Habitat for Humanity house in Minneapolis.