Protolabs helps energy saving device increase sustainability
In collaboration with Protolabs, IoT solutions firm Mindsett has created PRISM™, the most intelligent asset monitoring device on the market.
Mindsett is wholly owned by the Cloudfm Group, the UK’s fastest growing facilities management company, and the proud recipients of the 2019 Queens Award for Innovation.
The group recently received acknowledgement in Gartner’s esteemed Market Guide for Energy Management and Optimization Systems. Mindsett have been highlighted as front runners in IoT due to their technology providing asset level intelligence that directly translates into clear, actionable data that will save the end user time, energy and money.
The ground-breaking PRISM™ asset monitoring device is unique in that it harnesses the principles of behavioural science along with cutting-edge technology to not only give customers the power to save a minimum of 20% on energy bills; it helps to adjust the user’s mindset and drive long-term behavioural change around energy consumption.
The Mindsett team approached Protolabs because they wanted to create an asset level energy monitor that was not only a vital and intelligent tool for energy saving, but one that harboured significant ESG credentials within its very manufacture.
Initially designed with an overseas supply chain in mind to take advantage of cost efficiencies in China, the Mindsett team weren’t comfortable with the potential environmental impact and subsequently overhauled their manufacturing strategy to reshore the manufacture of PRISM™.
Keen to create a more environmentally sustainable product, the Mindsett team wanted to find an agile and dynamic digital manufacturing partner who understood what they were trying to achieve within a very tight timeframe, could provide a cost-effective solution – and were based in the UK.
Ian Shute, IoT Hardware manager at Mindsett had worked with Protolabs in the past and recommended that his team get in touch. As Ian explains, “Positive past experience led me back to Protolabs. We had a very aggressive timescale to meet as we needed to get the device to market quickly to fulfil significant customer demand – the cost of the energy crisis very much fuelling that demand. I knew Protolabs were responsive and believed they would rise to the challenge for us.”
“We approached Protolabs quite late on in the design process, after the initial work had been done elsewhere and we were at a point where we needed performance and speed to scale into volume quickly. Initially driven by budget considerations, we previously worked with an overseas team on the prototypes, but we had several issues with this: the company that completed the industrial design of the casing, which was created as a 3D printed prototype, did not consider production by injection moulding in larger volumes, they proposed further design changes which was a frustration. We’d lost valuable time, so we turned to Protolabs due to their speed, their extensive experience with plastics and their capacity for problem solving. It was vital that we could evolve the design quickly, discuss our needs with a new supplier and achieve our aims in double-quick time. Protolabs were perfect for this.”
Explaining the change of strategy, Gemma Conway, Mindsett Marketing Executive says, “Most importantly, we weren’t happy with the environmental impact and ESG implications of manufacturing our exciting new product - a device that has ultimately been created to save a huge amount of energy and help our customers become more sustainable - thousands of miles away. The irony of that didn’t sit comfortably with us.”
Along with a very tight deadline, the team had another obstacle to navigate.
|At A Glance|
Injection mould five different parts that form the casing of PRISM™ - an asset monitoring device that harnesses the principles of behavioural science – within a very tight deadline.
Combine the efficiency of Protolabs’ quoting platform, the expertise of Protolabs’ Consultative Design Service (CDS) and the rapidity of Protolabs’ world-leading plastic injection moulding service.
Protolabs helped improve the design to ensure better tools and parts, provided guidance on material performance, before rapidly moulding x500 each of an inner unit cover, a lower case, a button, a clear lens for an LED to beam through and a top case.
They needed a manufacturing partner that could support Mindsett’s engineering team who weren’t familiar with designing for plastics. So being able to tap into Protolabs’ new Consultative Design Service (CDS) was a pivotal point in the project for Mindsett.
As part of their CDS service, Protolabs’ experienced injection moulding Application Engineers not only looked at making the existing CAD manufacturable, they also examined what the parts were for and helped improve the design to ensure that they could make better tools and parts.
“We didn’t shy away from the issue. We were very open with Protolabs about our relative inexperience with development software,” explains Ian. “So we were looking to Protolabs to bring their expertise to the table and add value – without adding a nasty bill at the end. And our Protolabs Account Manager, Shay, didn’t let us down, her attention to detail was brilliant.”
In total, Protolabs were tasked with injection moulding five parts that form the casing of PRISM™: a PCBA inner unit cover, a lower case, a button, a clear lens for an LED to beam through and a top case.
When it came to materials, flammability was the main concern for the Mindsett team. With Protolabs’ experience in plastics performance, the engineers were able to provide guidance to ensure that Mindsett achieved their flammability rating.
After Protolabs advised on material selection, an ABS in Signal White was chosen for the exterior casing and black for the inner unit casing.
“Originally we chose Pure White, wanting to move quickly, taking it on face value and assuming that we couldn’t go wrong with that,” recalls Ian. “Imagine our dismay when our initial batch of 60 in Pure White was delivered and we discovered that Pure White was actually cream. We realised that we should have double checked what shade ‘pure’ white really meant! However, Shay responded very quickly with a positive way forward. She advised us that Signal White was a standard colour that they had readily available which was lucky as we needed a run of 500 almost immediately.”
There were other difficulties along the way, too. “We’d created the design files using free CAD software. This was a compromise – it enabled us to reduce the cost in the initial design phase, but it pushed inefficiencies further down the road. That said, Protolabs were very patient with us which made this later phase easier for us than it otherwise would’ve been. Their CDS service was invaluable in this respect, going back and forth with iterations to the design and giving advice on manufacturability, such as draft angles and other important geometries.”
Five different tools were made for the five different parts, but the lens piece that indicates the status of the device’s Wi-Fi connectivity required additional support from Protolabs to ensure the correct intensity; CDS gave advice on different options of finishes to the lens to achieve the desired result.
Ian explains, “When we initially had that part 3D printed, the LED light shone too brightly through the lens. We knew we needed to somehow diminish the light intensity. Protolabs were really helpful, testing different finishing options on the lens to see which one worked – and we were able to come to our conclusion quickly.”
One of the final elements of the manufacturing process with Protolabs was industrial pad printing – a printing process that transfers a 2D image onto a 3D object by using a silicone pad to transfer the image onto virtually any shaped surface. In this project, adding the Mindsett logo to the casing of PRISM™.
“The file we’d created and provided for the logo was slightly offset from the embossed logo in the plastic casing part, but rather than demanding new files from us, Protolabs worked with us to resolve the issue. Tweaks they made themselves ensured accurate printing of the logo, saving us more valuable time in the process,” explains Ian.
Initial contact to delivery of 500 each of the five injection moulded parts was within eight weeks – just days from order to receipt of the parts.
“Shay knew how time critical these parts were for us and went over and above to make sure they were delivered when we needed them. And although we were working at speed, Protolabs didn’t make us pay a premium on price, which was really refreshing after working with other manufacturers in the past."
Ian Shute, IoT Hardware Manager, Mindsett
Partnering with Protolabs and utilising their knowledge benefitted Mindsett and their PRISM device in both speed and sustainability. Protolabs used their expertise to ensure that the parts they manufactured were designed reductively for efficiencies in plastic use. Most significantly, moving manufacture of the product to the UK vastly reduced the energy requirement of the PRISM product lifecycle. These material savings, and savings on energy use throughout the product life cycle - removing the need to transport the product around the world - are important components for purchasers seeking to prop up their own ESG credentials through the industrial supply chain.
Mindsett were pleased to find a digital manufacturing partner whose core values aligned with their own and who quickly understood what they were trying to achieve.
Commenting on their collaboration with Protolabs, Ian concludes, “I feel that we’re building a business relationship with a team who are proactive, flexible, engaging and committed. And that doesn’t just go for Shay and Alex who we dealt with on a regular basis; it goes for the whole of the Protolabs team, even those in the background who we didn’t speak to. I felt they were all working to support us in providing us with the best possible commercial solution and speed to get our product to market.”
The result of the partnership is a sleek, stylish and intelligent energy monitor that is simple to use and has sustainability at the heart of its design and manufacture. The team are proud that, with the help of Protolabs, PRISM™ is a product which comprehensively aligns with a customer’s ESG requirements whilst saving them time and money.
With the current energy crisis weighing heavily, it’s no surprise that this innovative energy monitoring device has enjoyed a surge of interest from businesses that include UK based SMEs and large multi-nationals. “The customer response has been fantastic,” says Gemma. “Now we have proof of concept, it’s all systems go. The interest has been incredible, which makes it all worth it.”
As for the future, Mindsett will continue to work with Protolabs to keep up with demand and evolve their energy monitoring device. The team are focused on increasing sustainability as they challenge themselves to find ways to further reduce the environmental impact within the rest of their supply chain. Changing behaviour around energy consumption is not just something Mindsett can do for their customers; they want to change the mindset throughout their supplier base to help save energy, save money and ultimately make the world a better place for us all to live in.