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

EYE ON INNOVATION: Regrowing Damaged Nerves Using 3D Printing Technology

A national team of researchers has developed a 3D-printed guide or pathway that helps regrow complex injured or damaged nerves, and successfully tested the guide in rats.

Researchers say that this groundbreaking research holds the potential to help more than 200,000 people annually who experience nerve injuries or disease. The researchers are from the University of Minnesota, Virginia Tech, University of Maryland, Princeton University and Johns Hopkins University. The team’s study was published this month in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Image courtesy of Michael McAlpine, University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering.

Researchers used a combination of 3D imaging and 3D printing techniques to create a custom silicone guide or pathway implanted with biochemical cues to help nerve regeneration. Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading