EYE ON INNOVATION: Five Tech Trends of 2015

As 2015’s Q4 nears, a brief look at the year’s technology trends is in order. This list includes innovations or trends that have recently arrived or will soon, and is an amalgam sourced from Forbes, MIT Technology Review, CNET and others. In various ways, Proto Labs touches each of these trends.

Computing Everywhere
Most computing these days is in your pocket or purse — that is, in your smartphone. As Forbes reports, “smartphones will be used in new contexts and environments. Along with wearables, smartphones will offer connected screens in the workplace and in public. User experience will be key.”

Smartphones also play a prime role in the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT). Along these lines, Proto Labs produces parts for companies serving this connectivity market. For example, Garageio, which is an app for smartphones that allows users to control and monitor their garage doors with their phones, is a past winner of our Cool Idea! Award.

A final note on smartphone use. Several news sources report that the majority of digital media consumption now takes place on mobile devices rather than desktop. Mobile usage as a whole — app and mobile web — totals more than 60 percent, versus less than 40 percent for desktop usage.

Smart Machines
This year, major brands such as Whirlpool, LG, GE and Samsung introduced their latest versions of smart home devices such as washing machines and refrigerators. Plus, we already have cars that help us park, navigate and stay in our lanes.

Proto Labs’ digitally connected manufacturing equipment is, in essence, a network of smart machines communicating with one another. This approach has helped us transform traditional manufacturing into an automated, digital enterprise.

CNET reports that smart machines will continue to evolve, and Forbes predicts that “the smart-machine era will be the most disruptive in the history of IT.”

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Proto Labs Volunteers Hammer, Saw, Build for Habitat

Nearly 100 employees at Minnesota-based Proto Labs were swinging hammers, pounding nails, sawing, painting, installing floors and more at a new Habitat for Humanity house in the Jordan neighborhood of Minneapolis this week.

Different volunteer crews from various Proto Labs departments each day worked hard and had fun supporting the efforts of Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization that helps local families become homeowners for the first time.

Proto Labs volunteers paused for a photo on Thursday before getting back to work installing flooring at a new Habitat for Humanity house in Minneapolis.

10 Random Things About Proto Labs

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.

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

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.

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.

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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