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.

EYE ON INNOVATION: Regrowing Damaged Nerves Using 3D Printing Technology

A national team of researchers has developed a 3D-printed guide or pathway that helps regrow complex injured or damaged nerves, and successfully tested the guide in rats.

Researchers say that this groundbreaking research holds the potential to help more than 200,000 people annually who experience nerve injuries or disease. The researchers are from the University of Minnesota, Virginia Tech, University of Maryland, Princeton University and Johns Hopkins University. The team’s study was published this month in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Image courtesy of Michael McAlpine, University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering.

Researchers used a combination of 3D imaging and 3D printing techniques to create a custom silicone guide or pathway implanted with biochemical cues to help nerve regeneration. Continue reading

TIPS WITH TONY: Fine-Tuning Your Additive Resolution

When you’re watching an epic movie filled with sweeping cinematography, you probably want the highest on-screen resolution possible with, say, a Blu-ray disc or high-definition stream. But if your children are watching old Disney movies in the playroom while arguing with each other over Legos, a standard picture from a classic DVD will probably suffice. The point: Don’t overpay for something that isn’t really necessary.

Normal resolution.

Normal Res
The same thought can be applied during 3D printing when you’re prototyping with stereolithography (SL). Proto Labs uses three resolutions that range in cosmetics and functionality. Normal resolution (NR) provides the lowest cost, but lacks fine detail. With NR you get a layer thickness of 0.004 in. with a minimum feature size of 0.010 in. — but that might be all you need in early prototyping.

High resolution.

High Res
If your part requires an elevated level of precision, there’s high resolution (HR). Here, you get a layer thickness (0.002 in.) and minimum feature size (0.004 in.) half of NR. It costs more, but the boosting the part quality may be well worth it depending on your intended application.

Micro resolution.

 

Micro Res
You can even step up to a higher level of precision, which most manufacturers are unable to provide. Micro resolution (MR) — the Blu-ray of additive resolutions, if you will — can provide optimal part detail on the smallest of part features. With MR, you get a layer thickness of 0.001 in. and minimum feature size of 0.002 in. Yes, that is an actual life-sized ant (not an evil oversized ant) atop a microscopic chess board. You can even see the staircase inside the rook!

Continue reading

How Digital Manufacturing is Changing the Industry Forever

Our current issue of the Proto Labs Journal looks at the convergence of complex software and automated hardware bringing rise to the digital age of manufacturing. Follow the thread of a 3D CAD model from upload to digital analysis to final part, and the massive compute cluster that’s powering it all.

Along with our cover story, read about leveraging low-volume injection molding, the latest in innovative technology we’ve mined from the Internet  and new service offerings at Proto Labs.

Read the full Journal now.