Proto Labs Boosts Trinity University Research Project for NASA

A team of university students in engineering science recently turned to Proto Labs to manufacture metal parts for a research challenge project the group was working on for NASA.

The project centered on designing, building and testing an asteroid-sample retrieval and containment device for a simulated space mission. Heady stuff for the four first-year students at San Antonio-based Trinity University: Mel Du, Tanner Peterson, Davis Owen and Samy Abdallah.

Mel Du, left, Trinity University student, posed for a photo with Stan Love, right, NASA astronaut, who is holding the SHARC device.

The team had churned out several prototypes on a university-owned, production-model, fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printer. But, as Mel Du concluded, those 3D-printed plastic (ABS) parts would not be strong enough for actual use in space or even in NASA’s testing phase of the device. The retrieval device is basically a hand tool for astronauts to use.

Du and his team turned to Proto Labs’ industrial-grade prototyping. Proto Labs fabricated several SLS and machined parts for the students’ device, which they had dubbed the SHARC—Sampling Hardware for Asteroid Retrieval and Containment. These parts included retention pins, retention pin covers, a right arm for the device, a slide, a plate and handguard with a tether loop.

The testing occurred this past June in the simulated microgravity environment of the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (a giant swimming pool) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The testing was part of NASA’s Microgravity University. The SHARC worked well throughout all of the testing.

Read more details about how Proto Labs helped NASA and Trinity University in our latest case study.

EYE ON INNOVATION: Travel Light with Silicone Drinkware

If you’re a camper or day hiker, you’re constantly on the lookout for ultra-light gear for the trail. Add these silicone drinking cups to your pack list.

Photo: Werd.com

They look just like glass, but are unbreakable, won’t weigh down your pack and, yes, they’re made out of silicone.

Portland, Ore.-based outdoor gear manufacturer and outfitter Snow Peak offers these safe, food-grade cups that are, as Werd.com comments on its website, quite versatile: “Hot tea, cold whiskey, they can handle it all.” These cups are available in various sizes, including a highball glass, stemless wine tumbler and rocks glass. Founded in 1958 by Japanese mountaineer Yukio Yamai, Snow Peak strives to, as its website states, “create products that inspire people to enjoy the outdoors, [seeking] harmony between people and nature.”

At Proto Labs, we’re familiar of course with silicone parts and products, because we offer our own quick-turn liquid silicone rubber (LSR) molding process, which can produce various durometers of standard, medical-grade and optically clear silicone parts and products, much like these drinking cups.

Price range for Snow Peak’s cups: $25 to $27.

Eye on Innovation is a weekly look at cool technology, products and scientific advancements that we’ve mined from crowdsourcing sites and other corners of the Internet.

Proto Labs Extends Additive Manufacturing Reach in Europe

Proto Labs’ corporate headquarters are in Maple Plain, Minn. (above). With the Alphaform acquisition, Proto Labs now has manufacturing plants in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Finland and Japan.

Proto Labs closed this week on the purchase of select assets and operations of German-based manufacturer Alphaform AG, which significantly extends its additive manufacturing (3D printing) capabilities across Europe.

Alphaform is a leading service bureau headquartered in Feldkirchen (Munich), Germany. The purchase includes Alphaform divisions operating in Germany, Finland and the United Kingdom. This acquisition will significantly expand Proto Labs’ recently launched additive manufacturing capabilities in Europe by adding selective laser sintering, direct metal laser sintering and additional stereolithography capabilities. The acquisition also includes the injection molding service currently offered by Alphaform Claho, in Eschenlohe, Germany. MediMet Precision Casting and Implants Technology GmbH, a 100 percent subsidiary of Alphaform AG, is not part of the transaction.

Proto Labs entered the additive manufacturing market last year with the purchase of Fineline in Raleigh, N.C. Proto Labs is spending $25 million to expand that plant, which is set to open in 2016.

You can read the full press release here.

3D Printing Fully Functional Parts with Selective Laser Sintering

Selective laser sintering (SLS) is an industrial-grade 3D printing process. It builds durable nylon prototypes and functional parts using a laser that “draws” slices of a CAD model in a bed of material, fusing micron-sized particles one layer at a time. The result is fully functional plastic parts that might have been otherwise challenging to manufacture using machining or injection molding.
This month’s tip discusses:

  • Properties and applications of various nylon materials
  • Managing the SLS build process
  • Design elements to improve eventual moldability
  • Surface finishes and post-processing
  • Maximum part size, achievable tolerances and other considerations.

Read the full design tip here.

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