TIPS WITH TONY: Lessen the Load with Lightweighting

Is weight a concern in your product’s design or functionality? If so, there are a number of ways we can help you reduce component weight by looking at material selection and the method(s) of manufacturing used to produce the parts. You might even save some production dollars.

To learn more about rapid manufacturing’s role in lightweighting for automotive applications, download our free white paper today.

As you probably know, weight reduction is extremely valuable in every industry but more so in automotive, aerospace and electronics industries. The carbon footprint that vehicles of all sizes leave behind is being closely regulated by CAFE Standards — a reduction of 110 lbs., for example, can improve fuel efficiency by 2 percent. With increasingly more electronics becoming mobile, product needs to become lighter while providing the same performance, or improved performance, as their predecessors. Once-heavy laptops or cellphones would not be in their current lightweight, mobile state without advanced materials and technology advancements.

Magnesium offers a weight reduction of 65 percent over steel and 25 percent over aluminum, which seems pretty huge — and it is. This is large reason why automotive and aerospace industries are beginning to introduce magnesium into assemblies. Besides reducing weight, magnesium is non-magnetic, electrically and thermally conductivity, and offers EMI/RFI shielding.

You can either have magnesium parts CNC machined or injection molded at Proto Labs to cover all of your prototyping and low-volume production needs — 1 to 5,000+ parts in 15 days or less.

You can’t always replace metal with plastic, there is a time and a place, but plastics does allow for some amazing benefits in repeatability and longer manufacturing life cycles over metal part production. Plastics also have advanced materials for producing extremely strong, temperature-resistant and low-friction parts.

Let’s focus for a bit on the thermal conductivity, or heat dissipation, required in heat sinks. Materials such as CoolPoly and Therma-Tech are providing thermal properties that can reduce weight by up to 50 percent versus aluminum in applications needing heat dissipation and providing 50 to 100 times the thermal conductivity over conventional plastics. Producing heat sinks from plastic allows for lighter parts, lower manufacturing costs and part consolidation that reduces assembly times. LED luminaires, electronics, automotive and aerospace industries are using these types of materials heat sink applications.

Thermally conductive plastics can often times reach 35+W/(m.k) compared to 167+W/(m.k). You still need to do your homework as weight can be reduced when replacing metals with plastics for heat dissipation, but they won’t provide the same heat dissipation as metals offer.

For more information on part design or material questions, please contact one of our customer service engineers at or 877.479.3680.

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About Tony Holtz

Tony is a technical specialist at Proto Labs with more than 10 years of experience ranging from CNC mill operator to mold designer to customer service engineer. While his formal education is in industrial machinery operations, he has extensive knowledge and experience in both traditional and advanced manufacturing processes and materials. Throughout his tenure at Proto Labs, Tony has worked with countless designers, engineers and product developers to improve the manufacturability of their parts.

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