Proto Labs Receives Tekne Award for Advanced Manufacturing

Vicki Holt, Proto Labs CEO, accepts the Tekne Award for Advanced Manufacturing.

Each year, the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) brings together the Minnesota technology community for the Tekne Awards. The awards highlight advancements in science and technology in Minnesota—ranging from innovations in cyber security to agriculture.

Last night, we were honored to take home a Tekne Award for the Advanced Manufacturing category. The nomination was based on our technology-enabled manufacturing that accelerates product development and provides a low-volume, on-demand solution for production parts.

Other notable winners include:

We are proud to have been nominated alongside other innovative manufacturing companies like Ecolab and Uponor. And, we are truly grateful to be a part of the thriving tech community in the Twin Cities. Here’s to another year of innovation!

A Cloud-Based Future for 3D CAD

3D CAD Design software is increasingly moving to cloud-based models, greatly benefitting product developers and manufacturers alike.

The tools available to designers have changed mightily over the last few decades. Long gone are drafting boards, replaced by progressively more intelligent software and cloud-based collaboration platforms. This new and improved design landscape offers designers, engineers, and OEMs lower development costs and faster time to market, and is an integral part of any digital manufacturing environment.

What’s new in computer-aided design (CAD)? Plenty. Pick any leading CAD software on the market today: Aside from greater intelligence, usability, mobility, and a plethora of cool features that were unavailable even a few years ago, virtually all providers offer or will soon offer cloud-based deployment for their customers.

Case in Point
One of these is PTC Inc., developers of the Creo design suite, WindChill PLM, and a range of other manufacturing software solutions. Paul Sagar, PTC’s vice president of product management, said his company will be offering cloud versions of many of its products by year end, and that moving to the cloud is a logical step for companies struggling with routine maintenance of large software deployments, or needing to invest in new hardware every few years. “High-end cloud solutions eliminate all that effort and expense, while still providing the power associated with on premise CAD installations,” he explained. That power is about to get much stronger as PTC and other CAD providers tighten their embrace of digital manufacturing. For example, ThingWorx, PTC’s industrial internet of things (IIoT) development platform, has been adopted by General Electric and others as part of an industry-wide push toward smarter shop floors, more connected CAD systems, and greater transparency throughout the supply chain.

“From a design perspective, the IIoT and digital manufacturing are going to significantly change the way we do things,” Sagar said. Currently, “we design products in a vacuum. We start with a basic set of requirements, collate whatever historical knowledge is available, and then make assumptions. Those assumptions might cost the business a lot of money.” Continue reading

Webinar: Designing for Overmolding

Join us for a webinar alongside RTP Company as we address common questions related to overmolding. We’ll discuss how to design more durable overmolded parts and what it takes to achieve strong adhesion between your part’s two materials.

gasket-overmolding

Overmolding produces two-material, plastic parts.

The presentation will include the following:

  • 12 key overmolding materials
  • Design factors that determine quality of flexible-to-rigid bonds
  • Methodology used to measure bonding strength
  • Differences between low- and high-volume overmolding

TITLE: Overmolding: TPE Multi-Material Molding, Achieving Melt Adhesion
PRESENTER: Steve Brenno, Sr. Product Development Engineer, RTP Company
DATE: Tuesday, November 15 at 1 p.m. CDT
REGISTER: Click here to sign up

And, if you can’t attend, you can still register and receive an on-demand version. Also, feel free to forward this invite to your colleagues.

THE ENGINEERIST: Mitigating Production Risk with Prototypes

Editor’s Note: The Engineerist is a three-part blog series written by Michael Corr, founder of Los Angeles-based manufacturing consulting firm, DuroLabs. This is part one.

Startup companies have limited time and money, and, rightfully so, treat them as precious resources. There is constant pressure to get products out to the market fast, and when cash is limited, there is little margin for mistakes.

As an engineering manager, my responsibility is to ensure that the development processes being used by my team to bring parts to production are reliable, repeatable, and properly mitigate risk. For high-volume production, injection molding is the best option for plastic parts but it can be expensive and time consuming—two factors that can severely impact the success of a product launch if there are mistakes.

Waiting 12 to 16 weeks for first articles off a steel mold can be an eternity for a company pressured to get products into production in a shortened nine-month time frame. Any delays only compound the issue, adding pressure on myself, my team, and the company as a whole.

CAD model

Analysts at Proto Labs prepare CAD models for manufacturing.

Automated Quoting
When I was first introduced to Proto Labs almost 10 years ago, I was impressed with its commitment to leveraging modern technology. Its quoting process was simple and quick due to automated online tools. This allowed me to independently configure part options without having to go back and forth with a sales rep to update quotes and lead times. The automation saves hours, if not days, in evaluating various options. Additionally, the design for manufacturability feedback tools, which automatically highlight problems and areas of concern in the parts, save days to weeks of time and potentially hundreds to thousands of dollars by alleviating the risk of re-spinning due to an erroneous part. Again, with time being a limited commodity and a close watch on development dollars, these attentions to detail were very important to me.

The Case for Milled Prototypes
Prototyping before production is necessary to mitigate this risk but it can potentially cost money and take time to produce parts, so it’s important to choose your prototype runs wisely. One risk-mitigating technique I’ve incorporated into my mechanical engineering team’s process is to always produce a CNC-milled prototype of any part that is identified to be injection molded for production. This seems like trite advice, but I was amazed at how often engineering teams overlook the value of this step. Even 3D printing, another valuable prototyping tool, is often not as effective as a milled part if a move to molding is imminent. The advantage of the milled part is a closer approximation to the final molded material properties—not only in strength but also look, feel, and toughness when handled.

CNC machining

Proto Labs has hundreds of CNC machines, which enable quick-turn milling of functional prototypes and production parts.

I have now built several dozen parts with Proto Labs, so I can attest to the quality and expediency of the parts. In just a few days and not much investment, one can have several milled parts in-hand and ready for evaluation. Proto Labs’ extensive library of material options has also allowed me to select the same exact plastic to be used in the eventual injection-molded parts. This flexibility paired with comparable tolerances and resolution to final injection-molded parts, allows me to reliably use milled prototypes for a full form and fit check. In many cases, I can even use the parts for structural and environmental performance tests, so we can evaluate and make any final tweaks before cutting steel without having to cross our fingers that nothing goes wrong.

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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