TIPS WITH TONY: Prototyping with Hard Metals

Last week we discussed prototyping with soft metals like aluminum, copper and brass, so this week we turn our attention to hard metals and processes (3D printing, CNC machining and injection molding) used for rapid prototyping in low volumes.


SS 316

SS 17-4

SS 304

Nickel Steel

Steel Alloy



Cobalt Chrome




























Hard metals that are offered in three different manufacturing processes at Proto Labs: direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), CNC machining (CNC) and metal injection molding (MIM).

Stainless Steel
Stainless steel (SS) is one of the most widely used metals in our material library and is available in three different grades and all three services: 3D printing, machining and molding.

  • 304L is only available for machined parts and offers a higher tensile strength and good corrosion resistance while offering a slightly lower price than other stainless steel materials.
  • 316L is available in machining, industrial 3D printing through direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) and metal injection molding (MIM). 316 offers an improved corrosion and chemical resistance over 304 while offering a high temperature tolerance.
  • 17-4PH is also available in all three manufacturing methods and offers a higher yield and tensile strength with good resistances to corrosion. 17-4 also offers a higher magnetism of all our SS offerings.

NEW JOURNAL: Pitting Manufacturing Processes Against One Another

In the cover story of our current issue of the Proto Labs Journal, we pit manufacturing processes against one another.

As you know, the manufacturing industry is peppered with prototyping and production processes that share some common attributes, but also some notable differences. Our manufacturing “bouts” explore how several of these processes — big and small — compare. The fight card includes:

  • Magnesium Injection Molding vs. Magnesium Die Casting
  • Stereolithography vs. Fused Deposition Modeling
  • Direct Metal Laser Sintering vs. CNC Machining vs. Metal Injection Molding

Beyond our cover story, read about Sean Doan, a long-time Proto Labs employee who is the go-to person in our R & D division; the latest in innovation and advanced technology we’ve mined from the Internet; and new service offerings at Proto Labs.

Read the full Journal now.

TIPS WITH TONY: Machining Versus Molding for Magnesium Parts

In our latest tip, we’re talking about magnesium, and how to use it in product design for metal parts that need to be lightweight yet strong.

Magnesium works well for reducing component weight in place of steel or aluminum as it’s the lightest structural metal currently available. This lends itself well to a range of applications in the automotive, aerospace and electronics industries.

It’s heavily used in vehicle lightweighting to lower fuel consumption, reducing automakers overall carbon footprint. It’s also used to create lighter and thinner electronics or simply whenever a lightweight yet strong backbone material is needed in a part. Be sure to test and review magnesium’s material properties closely as it’s not always the proper substitute for other metal or plastic materials.

Magnesium versus




75% lighter

33% lighter

Greater stiffness

Thinner walls

Similar or greater mechanical properties

Improved strength and wear resistance

Consolidation of parts

Consolidation of parts

Higher temperature

Machines faster

Machines faster

Creep resistant

Reduced tooling costs

Improved corrosion resistance

Fewer supports needed

What manufacturing methods are there for magnesium? Proto Labs offers both CNC machining and injection molding for prototype and low-volume mag parts, though magnesium die casting also used in the industry.

How do I choose the right manufacturing method? Quantity, lead time, size and material properties will greatly impact which manufacturing method to use.

Continue reading

Sportech Uses Quick-Turn Machining for Design Validation

From frozen trails to rugged desert valleys and muddy creeks, power-sports vehicle drivers put their machines to the test. Producing custom parts for many of those snowmobiles, utility vehicles and motorcycles — on short production cycles and with manufacturers gearing up for large-scale production — is another sort of test for Minnesota-based Sportech, Inc.

Sportech prototyped durable nylon clips and hooks with CNC machining.

Sportech is a product development partner to seven of the eight largest power-sports vehicle makers. The company specializes in full-service design, development and production of custom parts and accessories, going from concept or rough sketches to 3D CAD modeling and rapid prototyping. Its services include thermoforming, drape forming, CNC routing and integrated assembly. Products include windshields, body panels and screen-printed parts for motorcycles, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and utility vehicles (UTVs).

While Sportech has grown into a leading product developer for original equipment manufacturers, what hasn’t changed since the company’s early days is the challenge of meeting tight product development deadlines.

In our latest case study, read how Sportech used quick-turn CNC machining at Proto Labs to validate the design of components before shifting to large-scale production.

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.