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.

Photo: Werd.com

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 Werd.com 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.

3D Printing Fully Functional Parts with Selective Laser Sintering

Selective laser sintering (SLS) is an industrial-grade 3D printing process. It builds durable nylon prototypes and functional parts using a laser that “draws” slices of a CAD model in a bed of material, fusing micron-sized particles one layer at a time. The result is fully functional plastic parts that might have been otherwise challenging to manufacture using machining or injection molding.
This month’s tip discusses:

  • Properties and applications of various nylon materials
  • Managing the SLS build process
  • Design elements to improve eventual moldability
  • Surface finishes and post-processing
  • Maximum part size, achievable tolerances and other considerations.

Read the full design tip here.

TIPS WITH TONY: LSR Offers Design Flexibility

There are many reasons why you should be looking at liquid silicone rubber (LSR) — I’ll highlight a few big ones in order to get you thinking about this versatile thermoset.

For a deeper dive into LSR and how it’s used in the lighting industry, please attend my free tech talk webinar hosted by Tech Briefs.

LSR Molding
LSR parts are formed in process similar to that of conventional plastic injection molding with one main difference. LSR is a thermoset material that compounds two liquids together, which is then heat cured in the mold to produce a part. The material delivery system is cooled and only the mold is heated. This is unlike thermoplastic molding, which begins with the melting of plastic pellets that are injected into a heated mold.

Optical LSR is highly flexible and can replace glass in many lighting applications.

LSR Advantages
LSR parts are strong, elastic, chemical resistant, serializable and biocompatible, and have a range of operating temperatures. The benefits of LSR lend itself well to the automotive, medical and lighting industries where gaskets, seals and lighting lenses are frequently used.

LSR parts have a very good temperature resistance, ranging between -49°F to 392°F; they are non-yellowing, UV stable and optical LSR has up to 94 percent light transmission; they offer good vibration control and offer up to 400 percent flexibility along with excellent part memory.

The chart pretty much speaks for itself when comparing LSR to PC, PMMA and glass when looking at replacing the traditional materials with LSR.

Design Flexibility
Traditional thinking of part design needs to be considered, but many can be broken:

  • Part thicknesses greater than 1 in. and less than 0.020 in. are achievable with little to no concern of any unsightly sinks or internal voids.
  • No ejector pins are used to remove parts from the mold as they are all hand-removed.
  • Gates are nearly invisible, barely thicker than flash. LSR flows like water, so the gate needs to be very shallow, but wide.
  • Negative draft angles or increased undercuts are a possibility with up to 400 percent part flexibility and part memory.
  • Ability to fill fine details or voids.
  • Ability to combine components reducing number of parts to assemble, e.g., combining a lens and seal for lighting applications.

For more information on LSR, please download our white paper or listen in to my tech talk presentation mentioned at the top of the tip. You can also visit our website at protolabs.com or contact one of our customer service engineers at customerservice@protolabs.com or 877.479.3680 with additional questions on any of our services.

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