November 2023

Protolabs introduces new textured surfaces for prototyping and series production

Protolabs, a global leader in technology-based digital manufacturing, has introduced a new service that provides even more surface finish choices for product developers, innovators and manufacturers. For prototypes and smaller production series, it is now possible to achieve new, exciting surface textures, including leather and geometric patterns, when producing parts via additive manufacturing.

3D printed textured surface

Structured surfaces in focus

Textured surfaces play a central role in modern manufacturing and design, particularly in injection moulding, enabling unique appearance and haptics for a wide range of components. From the automotive and aerospace industries to medical technology, this new service provides more control of surface texture when 3D printing, opening the possibility to create leather-like structures or geometric patterns.

The leather-like surface structure in particular opens new application possibilities – especially in the fashion and automotive industries. Additively manufactured leather structures could therefore soon become a sustainable and more animal-friendly alternative to conventional leather.

Structured surfaces are translated by Protolabs’ experts into black-and-white contrast images of the desired surface structure, which specifies the dimensions for the production process. This process is highly adaptable and suitable, not only for manufacturing techniques such as SLS (selective laser sintering) and MJF (multi-jet fusion), but also for a wide range of other additive methods.

“There are virtually no limits to the imagination of our customers here,” explains Christoph Erhardt Manager Customer Projects & Additive Design at Protolabs. “By creating structured surfaces, we’re building another bridge between injection moulding and 3D printing. A key advantage of our new offering is that no further post-processing steps are required to achieve the desired surface feel and appearance. Surface structures are created during the design process that correspond to the final (series) part and can include even fine details. This provides our customers with the unique opportunity to structure new kinds of surfaces as well as to replicate structures that already exist in nature.”

The result: a prototype manufactured with the highest precision that is particularly true to reality and matches the properties of the final part. At the same time, the new service accelerates production processes as well as the market maturity of the product.

The new process also creates a unique surface structure regarding the properties and function of components. This is because the flexible design options of the material surfaces enable users to adapt the structure to the properties and functionality of their component and optimise their products by selecting a suitable surface finish. For example, friction can be specifically reduced, adhesion improved, and heat dissipation enhanced. Accordingly, an individual adaptation of haptics and appearance can be achieved for components, as well as increased durability, efficiency, and performance of the products.