Development of critical component for self-powered wireless sensors
Protolabs has worked with AEInnova to develop a prototype housing for a self-powered wireless sensor that uses the heat from the machine it is monitoring as its own thermoelectric power source. It means the housing has to both conduct heat for power while also protecting the electronics that it houses.
The company is currently testing 18 pilot devices of its InduEye products and turned to Protolabs to create a custom-made prototype.
Talking about the product, David Comellas CEO of AEInnova said: “We needed the prototype to have a level of quality equivalent to or even higher than the final industrial design. We also needed it delivering on time and in a form that can eventually be mass produced. We tried many suppliers and had little success. Protolabs pleasantly surprised us with how easy they were to deal with, their reliability, the constructive feedback provided and the excellent result.”
Talking about the development Manuel Blanche, account manager at Protolabs Europe said: "We offered our technical support and guided them with improvements and recommendations on the geometry of the parts and the most suitable materials."
The part that the company needed has a rounded shape and a slight taper at the bottom for heat dissipation. A metal insert was also used to help both the mounting and heat transfer. The plastic part was made by plastic injection moulding, using PPS+GF40, polyphenylene sulfide with 40% glass fibre, while the metal insert was produced using CNC machining, which was then placed in the mould in order to overmould it for the final part.
This is the first time that Protolabs has offered this combined process. “Usually, customers send us their own inserts and we overmould the machined part with a plastic. But with AEInnova, we decided to manufacture the insert ourselves from the design that the customer sent us. As a result, we have now made this dual service a standard part of our offer”, says Blanche.
Coping with extreme conditions
The prototypes are now being tested in real industrial environments for functionality and durability. They must not only resist the high temperatures from the machines, but also face a wide range of harsh conditions in industry. “Our devices are designed for outdoor use so they must protect against both the weather and climate plus dust, dirt, chemical attacks, humidity and the vibrations of the machine itself", points out Comellas.
|At A Glance|
To design and prototype the box that houses the electronics of the InduEye device. This wireless sensor is self-powered by residual heat, so the housing has to meet specific geometries, protect the electronics and also conduct the heat to act as a thermoelectric power source.
Protolabs manufactured the part specified by AEInnova, to be durable, suitable for use in ATEX explosive atmospheres, resistant to high temperatures, to chemicals and high mechanical forces.
CNC machining produced the metal insert for the base, which Protolabs then used as an insert for the plastic injection moulding to create the finished prototypes; which was all completed to meet a tight deadline.
AEInnova is currently testing InduEye in real industrial environments to assess its effectiveness and functionality. After this they will mass produce it and target large industrial companies. InduEye will help companies become more energy efficient and make their processes environmentally sustainable.
The current tests for the prototype housing on the InduEye will indicate what modifications it may need before it goes into production. When the product is finalised, AEInnova will launch it to industries such as oil refineries and large chemical plants.
The company aims to grow and position itself as a leader in its sector. European funding is backing the use of residual heat to power devices so establishing long term relationships with its suppliers such Protolabs was vital.
“We were surprised by the quality of the final finish, which met all of our requirements and really stood out from the products offered by other companies. They have excellent knowledge about the products and services they offer, and this means that they provide the best options in manufacturing and design. We have been able to work together throughout the entire process.”
Andrés Ibáñez, Manager of the Mechanical Engineering department, AEInnova
The company highlights Protolabs guidance, advice and rapid response as things that make is stand out from the competition. They also found that the Protolabs on line quoting platform allowed them to price up the part in advance with manufacturing recommendations so they could optimise their design to avoid future mistakes.
The InduEye sensor is currently being refined to reduce the size of electronics, which means that they will need new smaller housings, which they also plan to develop with Protolabs.