TIPS WITH TONY: Behind the Scenes with File Formats

Why can’t you read my CAD file? Wrong file format? What formats do you accept? In our latest tip, I’ll cover what file formats work best with each manufacturing service at Proto Labs and discuss common questions that occur.

Simply put, we accept several different file formats, but some work better than others. To begin, here’s our list of formats that can be uploaded to our website:

CAD Programs:

  • Solidworks (.sldprt)
  • Autodesk Inventor (.ipt)
  • AutoCad (3D .dwg)
  • PTC ProE/Creo (.prt)
  • CATIA (.catpart)
  • SpaceClaim (.scdoc)
  • SketchUp (.skp)

Neutral File Formats:

  • IGES
  • STEP
  • ASIS (.sat)
  • Stereolithography (.stl) — only available for additive and machining

Proprietary Software
We use proprietary software that is able to read or translate the file formats above. If you submit a format not listed, you’ll receive a no-quote and will need to upload a new file from the list of approved file formats in order to receive a quote. But if you submit a file from the list and you still receive a no-quote, there is a good possibility that the file was either corrupt or unable to be translated properly. In this case, we would suggest trying another file format, or multiple file formats, so we have options for translation. Or, reach out to one of our customer service engineers at customerservice@protolabs.com or 877.479.3680 to discuss a solution.

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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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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.

10 Random Things About Proto Labs

A CAPACITY FOR GROWTH
Proto Labs started in 1999 in a garage in Long Lake, Minnesota with a single injection molding press. At last count, we’re at more than 600 machines: roughly 400 CNC mills, 150 presses and 50 3D printers.

Injection molding presses line Proto Labs’ production floor.

SORRY ANTARCTICA!
We currently serve more than 160 countries (out of 195) on six continents.

PRO(TO) TIP
Psst. You can get up to 10,000 injection-molded parts with aluminum tooling at Proto Labs, but there’s a good chance we’ll be able to produce part runs well beyond that depending on material and geometry. Just sayin’.

A part built by stereolithography, a 3D printing process we added in 2014.

PERFECT 10
Up until 2014, we had two manufacturing processes: plastic injection molding and CNC milling. By the end of 2015, we’ll have added another EIGHT: three 3D printing processes (stereolithography, selective laser sintering, direct metal laser sintering), CNC turning and injection molding processes for steel, magnesium, liquid silicone rubber and one in the pipeline. It has been a busy two years.

20.5 TFLOPS
The total amount of computing muscle at Proto Labs. What’s a TFLOP? One TFLOP equals a trillion floating point operations per second.

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TIPS WITH TONY: Mold Flow Analysis

Last week we discussed wall thickness by resin types, where we learned the importance of uniform wall thickness and provided a guideline on thickness based on your material selection. Another very useful resource in selecting materials is a mold flow simulator, which tests different resins and how they fill using accurate molding pressure.

Melt Flow Index
All materials have a different melt flow index (MFI), but what does this exactly mean? MFI is a measurement taken on how well a material flows at a high temperature through a specified diameter during a 10 minute test. This measurement for MFI is calculated into grams per 10 mins. Typically, higher numbers mean you have a much better flowing material that can fill thin wall geometry easier. But that doesn’t tell the entire story as a higher MFI doesn’t always mean that you won’t encounter any issues on thin part geometries. All materials have varying melting temperatures, so compare MFI between different families of materials such as polyethylenes and polypropylenes, which have about a 40° difference in testing temperatures.

Knowing the Material
Work with Proto Labs’ customer service engineers (CSEs) as soon as you begin quoting your parts and tell them what material you are considering having the parts produced in. Having this information early allows them to properly analyze part geometry for appropriate wall thickness using the MFI of the selected material. Often times, a part that is too large or has features that are too thin for a selected material will require an increase in wall thickness or an alternative material to be chosen.

Simulation
How does a mold manufacturer know the selected material will work? This is where the software takes over. Proto Labs uses a proprietary ProtoFlow® fill analysis program that is truly unique to our molding technique. We have several available materials that can be tested using a resin’s MFI and your CAD geometry.

The ProtoFlow simulation shows the resin fill of a part through a single gate location at the end of the part and the color represents the part filling through to completion.

After your CAD model has been uploaded, gate location and quantity of gates are selected based on your part’s geometry and material. A simulation is then run by our mold designers to review:

  • gate location
  • knit lines
  • incomplete fill
  • balanced fill
  • and most importantly, fill pressure

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