June 4, 2019

Involv3D Accelerates Speed to Market with Quick-Turn Machining

By Nicole Hopper

Involv3D, an initiative built around scientific collaborations and shared technology, needed help producing prototype parts fast for testing on its inaugural project, the Flamingo. Since at this time the scientific project was at an early stage, the ability to quickly order and receive custom machined parts was a priority when considering manufacturers.

We caught up with the team to understand their development process and how they used digital manufacturing to bring Flamingo to life.

flamingo microscope user
The Flamingo contains several machined components that help the design achieve its small and compact form factor.

What exactly is a Flamingo, and what is it used for?

Flamingos are shared microscopes. While traditional microscopes are built on large stationary optical tables, these Flamingos travel between research laboratories, so the whole system needs to be compact. They are mainly used for biological and biomedical research in scientific laboratories. Scientists get access to fast, volumetric light microscopy of living, developing organisms, such as embryos of zebrafish, fruit flies, or worms.

Did you run into any challenges during the development?

We needed a quick way of prototyping custom components. We went through two prototype iterations. The second version was more compact and robust than the first, and the parts needed to be made more amenable to two-sided CNC machining.

What was it that led you to Protolabs?

The speed and ease of getting a quote. Some of the team members had used Protolabs’ services previously for other parts and were happy with the pieces.

Due to the portable and compact design, Flamingo microscopes give scientists fast access to volumetric light microscopy of living and developing organisms.

What parts did Protolabs manufacture for you?

We ordered custom components for mounting optical and opto-mechanical components from Protolabs. Those are mostly base plates for stacking and folding the microscope’s beam paths—essential parts that make the Flamingo small, yet powerful. Protolabs also produced a few more complex parts, namely components for a filter wheel. We have had about 10 different parts machined by Protolabs.

Did the automated design analysis help during the process?

Yes, the thread detection tool identified the thread sizes of holes, which was helpful.

What’s next for the Flamingo?

In the short term, we will manufacture multiple copies of the microscope, which might have a few modifications based on our experience with the prototype. In the long term, we plan to modify and upgrade our existing microscopes based on feedback from researchers who use the setups for their various biological projects.

Will Protolabs play a role in your initiative’s future manufacturing plans?

If the performance of the parts remains on a high level, we will rely on Protolabs as our main source of custom-machined parts for future prototypes and low-volume production. One major advantage for us is the widespread availability of Protolabs around the globe, allowing us to partner with other research labs for  the assembly of Flamingos. We’d also be interested in Protolabs’ secondary operation of anodization to protect the parts from oxidation and reduce the parts’ reflectiveness.