TIPS WITH TONY: Additive Manufacturing for Microfluidics

Prototyping small volumes of microfluidic parts has traditionally been difficult using CNC machining or injection molding, but Proto Labs offers microfluidic fabrication through additive manufacturing (3D printing) for just this purpose.

Microfluidics typically requires very flat surfaces, and clear and thin/shallow features that are difficult to produce in a mold that is milled and hand polished. These tiny features are not easily distinguishable, requiring careful polishing and injection molding pressures can sometimes role the edges even further, not to mention the effect that the ejector pins have on the part surface. Ejector pins play a huge factor in removing the part from the mold and can cosmetically impact microfluidic parts that are molded. We will continue to injection mold microfluidics, but please first discuss these projects with a customer service engineer at Proto Labs.

Additive Approach
Additive microfluidics changes all of this as ejector pins are a non-factor. We use stereolithography (SL) to produce parts using an ultraviolet laser drawing on the surface of a thermoset resin, primarily our Somos WaterShed XC 11122 material. High-resolution SL is able to produce features as thin as 0.002 in. layers to provide the fine detail that microfluidics require. We recommend channel sizes of 0.025 in. square cross sections with a minimum wall thickness of 0.004 in. for X and Y dimensions and 0.016 in. for the Z dimension. Of course, we can produce features smaller than this, but it would need to be carefully reviewed by our engineers before the build begins.

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EYE ON INNOVATION: EPA Rules Fuel Inventive New Gas Can

As a homeowner, have you ever noticed how frequently you’re filling up your gas can in order to fuel your lawn mowers, leaf blowers, snow blowers, chainsaws and more?

The spill-proof SureCan works to make this chore less messy and way more environmentally friendly

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As a reviewer from recently raved, SureCan is “the best gas can I have ever used. It is a gas can that doesn’t leak and doesn’t spill, even when you are trying to use a heavy, full gas can to fill a small chainsaw tank.”

This spill-proofing is especially important these days, given that the EPA has strict new rules regarding gas cans to cut down on spillage and the venting of gas fumes into the atmosphere. again: “With these new regulations, the EPA made the cheap and common plastic gas can a thing of the past, which had the side effect of putting some gas can manufacturers out of business. If you have had a hard time finding a cheap gas can, this is why.”

The durable, six-layer, high-density polyethylene container features stainless steel springs, aluminum rivets, viton seals and a self-ventilating feature. SureCan calls its product the greenest red can on the market.

Prices vary: 2.2 gallon can, $37; 5 gallon can, $45.

Eye on Innovation is a weekly look at cool technology, products and scientific advancements that we’ve mined from crowdsourcing sites and other corners of the Internet.


TIPS WITH TONY: Lessen the Load with Lightweighting

Is weight a concern in your product’s design or functionality? If so, there are a number of ways we can help you reduce component weight by looking at material selection and the method(s) of manufacturing used to produce the parts. You might even save some production dollars.

To learn more about rapid manufacturing’s role in lightweighting for automotive applications, download our free white paper today.

As you probably know, weight reduction is extremely valuable in every industry but more so in automotive, aerospace and electronics industries. The carbon footprint that vehicles of all sizes leave behind is being closely regulated by CAFE Standards — a reduction of 110 lbs., for example, can improve fuel efficiency by 2 percent. With increasingly more electronics becoming mobile, product needs to become lighter while providing the same performance, or improved performance, as their predecessors. Once-heavy laptops or cellphones would not be in their current lightweight, mobile state without advanced materials and technology advancements.

Magnesium offers a weight reduction of 65 percent over steel and 25 percent over aluminum, which seems pretty huge — and it is. This is large reason why automotive and aerospace industries are beginning to introduce magnesium into assemblies. Besides reducing weight, magnesium is non-magnetic, electrically and thermally conductivity, and offers EMI/RFI shielding.

You can either have magnesium parts CNC machined or injection molded at Proto Labs to cover all of your prototyping and low-volume production needs — 1 to 5,000+ parts in 15 days or less.

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EYE ON INNOVATION: Travel Light with Silicone Drinkware

If you’re a camper or day hiker, you’re constantly on the lookout for ultra-light gear for the trail. Add these silicone drinking cups to your pack list.


They look just like glass, but are unbreakable, won’t weigh down your pack and, yes, they’re made out of silicone.

Portland, Ore.-based outdoor gear manufacturer and outfitter Snow Peak offers these safe, food-grade cups that are, as comments on its website, quite versatile: “Hot tea, cold whiskey, they can handle it all.” These cups are available in various sizes, including a highball glass, stemless wine tumbler and rocks glass. Founded in 1958 by Japanese mountaineer Yukio Yamai, Snow Peak strives to, as its website states, “create products that inspire people to enjoy the outdoors, [seeking] harmony between people and nature.”

At Proto Labs, we’re familiar of course with silicone parts and products, because we offer our own quick-turn liquid silicone rubber (LSR) molding process, which can produce various durometers of standard, medical-grade and optically clear silicone parts and products, much like these drinking cups.

Price range for Snow Peak’s cups: $25 to $27.

Eye on Innovation is a weekly look at cool technology, products and scientific advancements that we’ve mined from crowdsourcing sites and other corners of the Internet.

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.