The automotive industry has stood as the life blood of American manufacturing for decades. It is the heart of the Detroit economy and in recent years has faced many challenges, but some of the greatest challenges have just begun. Tech giants such as Google, Apple and Tesla, to name a few, are poised to drive new levels of competition. It’s fair to say these companies qualify as a Big Bang disruption that is a major industry change instigated by non-traditional players in the market.
Most of us still think of the automobile primarily as a tool to bring us from point A to point B, but cars and trucks have become so more than just transportation. Many modern cars are a fully connected infotainment system that just happen to be on four wheels. The automobile has become a mobile conglomerate of computer and technology devices — a true command center supporting the driver with much more than just driving.
Another way to look at this shift is with the electronic device industry. A decade ago, the handheld GPS was a very common and useful tool. Today, GPS navigation is almost an afterthought on your smartphone since it’s as simple as downloading a user-friendly app. This is just one of many seismic digital shifts in the past 10 years.
However, while the technology-based companies leading the electronic infiltration into the automotive world certainly have the computing chops, the knowledge, depth and infrastructure that comes with manufacturing electronic components for the automotive industry is still developing. These tech giants must acclimate to model years and multi-year platforms compared to frequent software updates — two fundamentally different ideologies colliding.
Proto Labs and its employees have been lucky enough to receive recent awards from one national organization and two Minnesota-based publications.
Manufacturing Leadership Award
We took home Frost & Sullivan’s Manufacturing Leadership Award in the Customer Value category. The nomination was based on the customer value created through Proto Labs’ interactive quoting system with DFM analysis. Other winners in the same category include Cisco Systems, Diebold, Lexmark and Dow Chemical.
Community Impact Award
Minnesota Business Magazine presented us with a 2016 Community Impact Award in the Youth Initiative category for the efforts of the Proto Labs Foundation and its contributions to STEM programming. Since 2014, the Foundation has provided nearly $350,000 in large grants to nonprofit organizations, like Code Savvy, for their programs and initiatives that support STEM education.
Titans of Technology
Proto Labs’ EVP and CTO Don Krantz was selected by Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal as an honoree at its 2016 Titans of Technology awards, which celebrates outstanding technology professionals. Krantz was recognized in the CIO/CTO category, which honors a top IT executive of a public, private or nonprofit company.
To decrease weight and potentially cost, you can replace metal with plastic on certain parts through 3D printing and injection molding. At Proto Labs, we use industrial 3D printing process stereolithography (SL) to produce thermoplastic-like parts that have a nickel coating on the surface. This offers the increased strength of aluminum die-cast components, without the weight. With injection molding, the introduction of thermally conductive plastics has broken new ground when looking for heat dissipation of expensive heat sinks.
Stereolithography parts built with SLArmor have a metal coating applied over a thermoplastic-like base.
SLArmor involves a ceramic-filled DSM Somos material, which has a metal coating applied to achieve the look, feel and, most importantly, comparable strength of aluminum without added weight. SL is a cost-effective prototyping method for initial parts that mimic metal before moving to higher volumes of die-casted parts.
The material properties of SLArmor are greatly improved in regards to heat deflection, tensile strength, elongation at break and elasticity. The chart below shows exactly how the material relates to die-cast aluminum in three different thicknesses that can be applied based on geometry of SL parts. Note that the thickness of the nickel plating may vary on each part due to the ability to apply the coatings.
Dow Corning recently published a comprehensive white paper on the use of aluminum tooling for moldable optical silicone. It examines two big questions:
- To achieve a high-quality finish on the molded parts, what type of optical-grade surface finish is required for the tooling used to mold the silicone optics?
- Can this be achieved with an aluminum injection mold or is tool steel required to provide parts with an optical finish?
Proto Labs’ aluminum tooling is a reliable indicator of future optical silicone moldability.
Read why integrating optical silicone into your development cycle with rapid injection molding is an effective strategy, and why aluminum tooling is a reliable indicator of future moldability.
DOWNLOAD WHITE PAPER HERE.
Why use optical moldable silicone? It’s a relatively new material to the market, but it is quickly gaining popularity as a replacement for glass components in many optical and lighting applications. Its benefits include:
- heat resistance
- durability for use in outdoor and automotive applications
- design flexibility for fine features
- an ability to combine multiple parts into a single unit
Learn more about optical silicone with our “14 Reasons Why Optical LSR is Good for Lighting Applications” design tip.
Companies in automotive, aerospace, med tech, lighting and a range of other industries are using digital manufacturers for their prototyping and low-volume production supply partners.
Here are five reasons why:
Speed to Market
Depending on the supplier you use, you should be able to get short turnaround times that support multiple design iterations, which is crucial in those early, prototyping stages of a product’s development.
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Automated Quoting Systems
Partner with a manufacturer that offers a helpful quoting system. Our interactive quoting system at Proto Labs provides free, automated design for manufacturability (DFM) analysis, typically in an hour or two. Miguel Perez, a designer with Lockheed Martin, recently commented on our DFM feedback: “The auto-quoting system is amazing. Within a day, you get an answer as to whether you can make the part, whether you need to make changes, etc.” Continue reading