10 Random Things About Proto Labs

A CAPACITY FOR GROWTH
Proto Labs started in 1999 in a garage in Long Lake, Minnesota with a single injection molding press. At last count, we’re at more than 600 machines: roughly 400 CNC mills, 150 presses and 50 3D printers.

Injection molding presses line Proto Labs’ production floor.

SORRY ANTARCTICA!
We currently serve more than 160 countries (out of 195) on six continents.

PRO(TO) TIP
Psst. You can get up to 10,000 injection-molded parts with aluminum tooling at Proto Labs, but there’s a good chance we’ll be able to produce part runs well beyond that depending on material and geometry. Just sayin’.

A part built by stereolithography, a 3D printing process we added in 2014.

PERFECT 10
Up until 2014, we had two manufacturing processes: plastic injection molding and CNC milling. By the end of 2015, we’ll have added another EIGHT: three 3D printing processes (stereolithography, selective laser sintering, direct metal laser sintering), CNC turning and injection molding processes for steel, magnesium, liquid silicone rubber and one in the pipeline. It has been a busy two years.

20.5 TFLOPS
The total amount of computing muscle at Proto Labs. What’s a TFLOP? One TFLOP equals a trillion floating point operations per second.

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EYE ON INNOVATION: Smart Glasses For Cyclists, Runners Sprint Beyond Funding Goal

A consumer version of innovative eyewear for cyclists and runners, originally created for U.S. Special Forces, is setting a breakaway funding pace on Indiegogo, the global crowdfunding site.

Ctrl, a Dutch-subsidiary of Kent, Ohio-based AlphaMicron, has been seeking funding via Indiegogo to develop Ctrl One, a pair of sleek cycling and running “smart glasses” that can change tint from dark to transparent in a fraction of a second, automatically adapting to surrounding lighting conditions.

And just how popular are these glasses on Indiegogo? As of the end of August, $389,982 in pre-sales funding had been raised. That surpasses an initial modest funding goal of $20,000. Continue reading

EYE ON INNOVATION: Nebia Shower Uses Less Water, Makes Big Splash

Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet (Google) Chairman Eric Schmidt are early backers of an eco-friendly shower system that transforms water into a kind of mist-and-water combo in an effort to reduce water consumption.

As Entrepreneur Magazine reports, the shower-head system, from San Francisco-based startup Nebia, is “blowing up on Kickstarter.” You think? As of mid-August, the project had received more than $2.1 million in pledged funds, from nearly 6,000 backers. The original goal was a modest $100,000. The Kickstarter campaign closes September 11.

How does it work? On its website, Nebia explains that its technology “atomizes water” into millions of droplets to create 10 times more surface area than a regular shower, giving you “the best of a steam room and an invigorating shower … you’ve taken thousands of showers, but never one like this.” Nebia claims that those who use the shower system will use 70 percent less water.

Harrison Weber, executive editor of VentureBeat.com, looking a little skeptical (okay, scared), recently agreed to “review” an early Nebia prototype.

As Wired Magazine recently reported, the science behind Nebia is more closely related to how farmers water their fields than how we clean ourselves every day, which, basically, is just a faucet that allows gravity to do all of the work.

Nebia designers repurposed nozzles that are typically used for agriculture, rocket engines, combination engines and other industrial means. The challenge was keeping the mist warm. Many prototypes later, this challenge was met through incorporating a code used for rockets. Designers began using modeling software from the aerospace and automotive industries. Indeed, it may not be just hyperbole when one reviewer of the shower claimed that Nebia’s product “blasts a steamy mist with the force of a miniaturized jet engine.”

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EYE ON INNOVATION: From Phones to Drones with Motorola’s ‘Flying Robots’

In 1973, Motorola demonstrated a prototype of the world’s first portable cellular telephone. By 2004, the company commemorated manufacturing its 30-millionth cell phone.

These days, Chicago-based (Schaumburg) Motorola Solutions, the direct successor to Motorola, Inc., is focusing its business on meeting a growing demand from law enforcement, military and other governmental agencies for high-tech intelligence and data-gathering tools. One prime example: Motorola is getting into the drone biz.

USA Today recently reported that Motorola is partnering with Danvers, Mass.-based CyPhy Works, a developer of tethered drones. These are drones that use a “microfilament tether,” allowing them to be powered through a generator or another power source on the ground and to stay in the air indefinitely.

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It’s Gaming System Meets Med Device for Latest Cool Idea! Award

Recovering from respiratory ailments such as pneumonia is not exactly fun and games. A new, innovative respiratory therapy system, however, which helps patients with respiratory therapy, is designed to be exactly that — a fun game.

Memphis-based Compliant Games, which has developed a respiratory therapy system that uses video games as part of the system, and helps pediatric and nursing home patients comply with respiratory therapy requirements, has been presented with the latest Proto Labs Cool Idea! Award.

Compliant Games is “channeling the healing power of children’s video games,” say the developers, with a system that improves adherence to respiratory therapies by patients. The system transforms common respiratory therapy tools into low-cost telemetry (wireless transmission and monitoring) instruments for doctors and their patients.

How does it work? The patient watches and follows along with a video game exercise on an iPad or other computer tablet. When prompted, the patient breathes through an air tube that wirelessly interacts with the game. Active, in-game feedback reinforces correct technique for the patient.

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