Electronics Industry

Your masterclass in product design and development


Protolabs’ Insight video series

Our Insight video series will help you master digital manufacturing.

Every Friday we’ll post a new video – each one giving you a deeper Insight into how to design better parts. We’ll cover specific topics such as choosing the right 3D printing material, optimising your design for CNC machining, surface finishes for moulded parts, and much more besides.

So join us and don’t miss out.


Insight: Electronics Industry


Hello and welcome to this week’s Insight.

Today we are going to explore how rapid prototyping and on demand production can really accelerate product development in consumer and computer electronics.

Now when you talk about a fast-paced environment this is about as quick as it gets. The prize for being first to market can be huge but if you are a few days or weeks behind, that can then be a huge problem.



Speed is important, but don’t think that you can sacrifice quality. You still need to produce a well-designed user centric product for the consumer.

It’s a great industry to work in – electronics can be found everywhere. It is however high pressure to be first, which means that you need your supply chain to be aligned with what you need.

Let’s take you through how a digital manufacturing supplier can help you get new parts or components right and get your updated or upgraded product to market faster.

It all starts with an idea.



Let’s assume it gets the go ahead. You need to get that CAD sorted. Once you’ve designed the new part or component you might find that you need a reality check. For example, will the design work in mass production?

Most injection moulding or CNC machining suppliers should be able to tell you whether that part or component that you have designed can be mass manufactured or not. But it’s important that you get this feedback quickly.

So, here’s a hot tip for you; if your supplier offers automated quoting and design feedback then you are not relying on someone else’s to do list so you should get it back in hours instead of days or even weeks.

Next, check out how quickly they can turn around prototypes so that you can quickly iterate and improve your design. Some suppliers can produce the prototype in as little as 1 day after you have uploaded your CAD design, so ask them for a timeline.

You also need to know if these prototypes will be available in the materials that they will be finally manufactured from.  If the answer is yes, then you can test both its form and its function.   

When you are happy with the part, if the next step is mass production, do you really need to wait 2-3 months for steel tooling?  Well you probably do, but you can still get that part for the new product quicker than that.



If you need to be first, then consider bridge manufacturing. Find a supplier who offers rapid injection moulding services using aluminium tooling so that you can scale quickly from prototyping to low volume production.  It might not be the final answer, but it will help you bridge the gap.

This low volume manufacturing can also help you with product customisation. It allows you to have more Stock Keeping Units, and not spend a fortune achieving it.

This customisation might be through 3D printing, or if you need higher volumes perhaps through an injection moulding supplier who uses aluminium tooling instead of steel. It takes less time to develop tooling from the former than the latter. I won’t pretend that it is always an alternative to steel tooling for mass production, but in today’s market it’s about finding the right answer for your situation.

Of course, industrial 3D printing offers you a completely different manufacturing solution. If you really need a low volume for a custom design, then 3D printing can help you with anything from a one-off to up to a couple of hundred parts.  It also allows you to design pretty much anything you want – whether it’s an organic shape or perhaps a honeycomb structure to cut down on weight.

You’d also be surprised at the wide range of different plastics and metals that can be 3D printed today.

Now let’s take a quick tour of some of the materials that work best with consumer electronic components, whether you choose 3D printing, injection moulding or CNC machining.

We’ll start with ABS. This is a remarkable thermoplastic and it is widely used.  It’s great for parts like electronic enclosures and handheld devices and it’s not too expensive.

If you need impact resistance or flexibility, then consider Elastomers. Whether your part is 3D printed or injection moulded they can provide a great answer.

Another plastic, polycarbonate, is strong and extremely impact resistant with low shrink and good dimensional stability.  And because it’s a transparent plastic that is available in optical grades, it’s a good bet for transparent covers and housings.

On the metal side, aluminium can be machined or formed to create housings, brackets or other metal parts that need to be strong but with a low weight. Also a low alloyed copper material has great electrical and thermal conductivity and has better mechanical and corrosion resistance than pure copper.

Of course, that’s only a few of the materials that you can use.



As always, I think it’s a good idea to open the communication channels with your supplier to see just what is possible. Technology and material science are constantly shifting the goalposts.

That’s it for this week. I look forward to seeing you again next Friday.



With special thanks to Natalie Constable.

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