TIPS WITH TONY: Prototyping with Hard Metals

Last week we discussed prototyping with soft metals like aluminum, copper and brass, so this week we turn our attention to hard metals and processes (3D printing, CNC machining and injection molding) used for rapid prototyping in low volumes.


SS 316

SS 17-4

SS 304

Nickel Steel

Steel Alloy



Cobalt Chrome




























Hard metals that are offered in three different manufacturing processes at Proto Labs: direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), CNC machining (CNC) and metal injection molding (MIM).

Stainless Steel
Stainless steel (SS) is one of the most widely used metals in our material library and is available in three different grades and all three services: 3D printing, machining and molding.

  • 304L is only available for machined parts and offers a higher tensile strength and good corrosion resistance while offering a slightly lower price than other stainless steel materials.
  • 316L is available in machining, industrial 3D printing through direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) and metal injection molding (MIM). 316 offers an improved corrosion and chemical resistance over 304 while offering a high temperature tolerance.
  • 17-4PH is also available in all three manufacturing methods and offers a higher yield and tensile strength with good resistances to corrosion. 17-4 also offers a higher magnetism of all our SS offerings.

EYE ON INNOVATION: ‘Attack’ of the Drones to Prompt Regulations

The buzz on drones is getting louder.

More than 700,000 drones are expected to be sold nationwide in 2015, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Drones are a hot holiday gift item this year. Nearly 400 drone-related products and projects are currently listed in active crowdfunding campaigns at and


Even the winner of the most recent Proto Labs Cool Idea! Award was a drone — the ultraportable Sprite, made by Ascent AeroSystems.

Hovering over all of this drone proliferation, inevitably, are potential regulations. In November, the New York Times reported that the Federal Aviation Administration released a list of recommendations for how to better monitor recreational use of the machines. Under the proposal, most drone owners would have to register their drones with the federal government, which would place the information in a national database, the first such requirements. New York Times: “The recommendations, from a task force created by the agency, would be the biggest step yet by the government to deal with the proliferation of recreational drones, which are usually used for harmless purposes but have also been tools for mischief and serious wrongdoing, and pose a risk to airborne jets.” Continue reading

Proto Labs Foundation Supports STEM, Other Causes

’Tis the season of giving, and, at this time of year, we’re delighted to show how our employees’ generosity, through the Proto Labs Foundation, has supported the foundation’s targeted focus — science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education — and other charitable causes.

So far in 2015, thanks to the foundation’s Big Giving program, employee monetary and volunteer contributions, and the accompanying matching funds the foundation provides, more than $186,000 has been contributed to a variety of charitable organizations in Minnesota and North Carolina (for now, the foundation is available to U.S. employees of Proto Labs).

The Reve Academy in Minneapolis is one of several programs that receives funds from the Proto Labs Foundation.

The financial support is provided to nonprofit organizations that Proto Labs employees are passionate about, and through the Big Giving program for programs and initiatives that support STEM education. Large grants have included: Breakthrough Twin Cities, Code Savvy, Reve Academy, Minneapolis Community and Technical College Foundation, St. Catherine’s University, Hiawatha Academies, YWCA, High Tech Kids, Christo Rey Jesuit High School and Genesys Works.

Because the manufacturing industry needs future generations of diverse engineers and scientists, Proto Labs supports these educational programs to help bolster STEM interest and talent among youth.

In addition, we recognize the disparities in achievement between white students and students of color, and between low-income and higher-income students in measures of proficiency in STEM academic disciplines. The overall goal is that our large grants to organizations focus on transforming students’ interest in STEM fields and will provide those students with the resources and opportunities that will help foster and support this interest.

Beyond the STEM focus, employees are invited to contribute to charitable organizations through the foundation’s Good Ideas program and volunteering. The Proto Labs Foundation matches monetary and volunteer time investments to augment this giving. The foundation has organized structured opportunities to give back as well — earlier this fall, employees participated in helping build a Habitat for Humanity house.

Since 2014, the Proto Labs Foundation has provided nearly $350,000 in large grants to STEM-related education programs, and more than $450,000 overall.

TIPS WITH TONY: Prototyping with Soft Metals

Soft metals — aluminum, magnesium, brass, copper — are available in different grades at Proto Labs depending on the 3D printing, CNC machining and injection molding service chosen. Quantities range from 1 to 5,000+ parts in 1 to 15 business days.

Aluminum engine bracket 3D printed through DMLS.

At Proto Labs, we use the industrial 3D printing process of direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) to build parts from soft (and hard) materials like aluminum.

DMLS-built aluminum provides parts with excellent strength-to-weight ratios, temperature and corrosion resistance, and provides good tensile, fatigue creep and rupture strength. With a tensile strength of 37.7 ksi (260 MPa) and a hardness of 47.2 HRB, for example, you are able to have parts produced in nearly any part geometry with features like internal channels or complex undercuts that can’t be manufactured through any other method. And, final parts are still up to 98% dense.

You can also get aluminum parts using CNC machining in 6061 and 7075 grades. 6061 can provide you with improved corrosion resistance and can be welded while 7075 provides you a part that has a higher tensile strength and is harder than 6061.

Do you need a prototype of an aluminum die-cast part? We can mimic aluminum die casting using our stereolithography (SL) process and SLArmor technology. SLArmor uses our DSM Somos (NanoTool) material, applying a nickel metal coating that gives the look and feel of metal without the added strength or weight.


Continue reading

NEW JOURNAL: Pitting Manufacturing Processes Against One Another

In the cover story of our current issue of the Proto Labs Journal, we pit manufacturing processes against one another.

As you know, the manufacturing industry is peppered with prototyping and production processes that share some common attributes, but also some notable differences. Our manufacturing “bouts” explore how several of these processes — big and small — compare. The fight card includes:

  • Magnesium Injection Molding vs. Magnesium Die Casting
  • Stereolithography vs. Fused Deposition Modeling
  • Direct Metal Laser Sintering vs. CNC Machining vs. Metal Injection Molding

Beyond our cover story, read about Sean Doan, a long-time Proto Labs employee who is the go-to person in our R & D division; the latest in innovation and advanced technology we’ve mined from the Internet; and new service offerings at Proto Labs.

Read the full Journal now.