NEW JOURNAL: How Technology is Transforming Injection Molding

The new issue of Proto Labs Journal is out and includes a cover story focusing on the digital transformation of injection molding. A related, second feature story explores the pros and cons of printed plastic molds.

The cover story reports on how automating the front-end of the manufacturing process has reinvented injection molding, and served as a game-changer for the entire industry.

The related feature, “3D-Printed Molds,” advises product designers, engineers and developers to take a careful look at part finish, size, design capabilities, mold longevity considerations and cost when comparing printed plastic molds to aluminum tooling.

Elsewhere in the Journal, look for our Eye on Innovation feature, which highlights cool new products and technology you should know about.

Read the entire Journal here.

We’re always on the hunt for though-provoking content, so send your cool project or article idea to our editor at angelo.gentile@protolabs.com.

Thanks and enjoy the issue!

On-Demand Webinar: Designing for Stereolithography

Last week we kicked off our webinar series on designing for 3D printing. The first session focused on stereolithography (SL) and it’s available on-demand here.

Key Takeaways

  • Properties of commonly used stereolithography materials
  • The unique benefits of stereolithography such as feature resolution and recommended applications
  • General design tips for overhangs, support structures, finishes and more

Top Questions

Can you describe the resolution of SL parts in terms of microns?
There are 25 microns per 0.001 in. Normal resolution builds in 100 micron layers, high-resolution builds in 50 micron layers and micro-resolution builds in 25 micron layers.

The minimum X/Y resolution would be 250 microns in normal resolution, 100 microns in high-resolution and 50 microns in micro-resolution.

What’s the cost difference between normal- and high-resolution SL parts?
There’s no set number since it depends on the part’s geometry. But for parts under 1 in., customers will see a relatively low cost difference between normal- and high-resolutions.

Height is a primary driver of cost so once you start approaching 2 to 3 in. build heights it can start to differentiate more dramatically. But, with our instant quoting process it’s easy to compare these costs simply by clicking back and forth and comparing resolutions.

What’s the rule of thumb for wall thickness in hollow structures?
We try to stay above 0.03 in. and a general rule is 0.01 in. wall thickness per inch of the part. For example, a part that’s 8 in., you’ll want to shoot for 0.08 in. wall thickness for a well-supported hollow part.

More 3D printing webinars on the way…
The next webinar on our calendar will be on accelerating medical device development with rapid prototyping, which you can sign up for here. And, in the coming months we’ll have more 3D printing webinars that will focus on designing for selective laser sintering as well as direct metal laser sintering.

Automation, Data, Testing and Iteration Dominate IoT Fuse

The second annual IoT Fuse brought together the Minnesota tech community for a day full of everything technology. The sold out conference connected engineers, developers, 

entrepreneurs and technologists to share how Internet of Things (IoT) technology is changing businesses with hands-on workshops, panel discussions and case studies. Among more than 40 presentations, Proto Labs VP Rob Bodor, shared how digital manufacturing and automation is accelerating the development of IoT products.

The World is Not a Desktop
The day opened with a fitting keynote from Amber Case, a “cyborg anthropologist” and UX designer. She presented the idea of calm technologies ­— meaning technology that follows these principles:

  • Technology should require the smallest possible amount of attention
  • Technology should inform and calm
  • Technology should make use of the periphery
  • Technology should amplify the best of technology and the best of humanity
  • Technology can communicate, but doesn’t need to speak
  • Technology should work even when it fails
  • The right amount of technology is the minimum needed to solve the problem
  • Technology should respect social norms

Much of Case’s message centered on the idea that innovation is not synonymous with over-engineered devices. She described how just a minor change like adding a camera to our mobile phones can be revolutionary.

She also referenced the groundbreaking research from Xerox PARC innovation center during the 1970s and 80s where they created what is now know as the graphic interface. Her point being that you can innovate faster by understanding the previous work of others.

For more information on Amber Case’s work, visit calmtech.com.

Navigating Low-Fidelity and High-Fidelity Prototyping
Next, we heard from Eric Nyaribo, a design engineer at 3M automotive. He discussed strategies for prototyping and how engineers can use different types of prototyping to convey ideas and encourage interaction between team members.

He shared the concept of low-fidelity and high-fidelity prototyping and when one is more appropriate than the other.

A low-fidelity prototype is a rough concept or first iteration of an idea, it doesn’t have to be functional or pretty. Often a low-fidelity prototype is hacked together with spare parts.The main purpose of a low-fidelity prototype is to kick-off the product development process and inspire team members to share their ideas.

He defined a high-fidelity prototype as a product that is finalized with colors, design and is functional. As he said, “It’s that prototype you show to a customer and they want to keep it for themselves.”

One of Eric’s most valuable pieces of advice was that just because a prototype is closer to the final product doesn’t mean it’s the best kind of prototype for that point in the development cycle.

The value of a prototype isn’t in the model, it’s in the interactions, conversations and feedback they inspire. He also shared how prototyping helps reduce design risk since you can validate your design with small successes throughout the product development cycle. This helps gain support from key stakeholders and encourages the product team.

Continue reading

THE SHORT LIST: 5 Reasons to Use Digital Manufacturing

Companies in automotive, aerospace, med tech, lighting and a range of other industries are using digital manufacturers for their prototyping and low-volume production supply partners.

Here are five reasons why:

Speed to Market
Depending on the supplier you use, you should be able to get short turnaround times that support multiple design iterations, which is crucial in those early, prototyping stages of a product’s development.

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Automated Quoting Systems
Partner with a manufacturer that offers a helpful quoting system. Our interactive quoting system at Proto Labs provides free, automated design for manufacturability (DFM) analysis, typically in an hour or two. Miguel Perez, a designer with Lockheed Martin, recently commented on our DFM feedback: “The auto-quoting system is amazing. Within a day, you get an answer as to whether you can make the part, whether you need to make changes, etc.” Continue reading

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