Improving Sustainability for Businesses by Changing Mindsets
IoT firm accelerates development of energy-saving device by onshoring production with quick-turn injection molding
When you were young, your parents always told you to turn off the light switch or stop playing with the thermostat to reduce energy costs. When you are working at an industrial level, those small behavioral changes and some larger ones, too, can make a huge difference in your bottom line.
Collaborating with Protolabs, internet of things (IoT) solutions firm Mindsett has created PRISM, an intelligent asset-monitoring device. It takes real-time energy usage data and offers strategies to rethink behaviors and reduce waste, saving customers at least 20% on energy bills and driving long-term behavioral change to maintain those savings. It also offers other modules to assist with compliance and risk, environmental considerations, and predictive maintenance. Getting a product that not only performed well but also looked like it fit into a workspace proved to be a complex undertaking.
|At A Glance|
Onshore manufacturing to develop multiple components within a very tight timeframe for a sustainability-focused asset-monitoring device that harnesses the principles of behavioral scienceSolution
Mindsett leveraged our automated design for moldability analysis, the expertise of our Consultative Design Service (CDS), and the speed of our plastic injection molding service to create five different components of the device casing.
We assisted with design improvement to ensure better tools and parts and provided guidance on material performance. In all, we produced 500 units each of an inner unit cover, a lower case, a button, a clear lens for an LED to beam through, and a top case.
Challenge: Develop a Product that Supports and Embodies ESG Philosophy
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 spoke to the essence of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns within the product itself.
Initially designed with an overseas supply chain in mind to take advantage of cost efficiencies in China, the Mindsett team wasn’t comfortable with the potential environmental impact and subsequently overhauled their manufacturing strategy to reshore PRISM’s manufacturing.
Keen to create a more environmentally sustainable product, the Mindsett team wanted to find an agile and dynamic digital manufacturing partner that understood what they were trying to achieve within a very tight timeframe, could provide a cost-effective solution, and had a manufacturing facility in the U.K., Mindsett’s home country.
Ian Shute, Mindsett IoT hardware manager, had worked with us in the past and recommended that his team get in touch. “Positive past experience led me back to Protolabs,” said Shute. “We had a very aggressive timescale to meet as we needed to get the device to market quickly to fulfill significant customer demand—the cost of the energy crisis very much fueling that demand. I knew Protolabs was responsive and believed it would rise to the challenge for us.”
Solution: Onshoring with a Digital Manufacturer to Speed Development
“We approached Protolabs quite late 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,” said Shute. At first, the company’s decision-making was driven by budget considerations. It worked with an overseas team on the prototypes but had several issues.
The company that completed the industrial design of the casing—which was created as a 3D-printed prototype—hadn’t considered the design shifts needed to move toward larger-volume injection molding, which was an ultimate goal. Instead, it 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,” said Shute.
But the frustration wasn’t just about timing. “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,” said Gemma Conway, Mindsett marketing executive. “The irony of that didn’t sit comfortably with us.”
Along with a very tight deadline, the team had another obstacle to navigate.
They needed a manufacturing partner that could support Mindsett’s engineering team, which wasn’t familiar with designing for plastics. So being able to tap into our consultative design service (CDS) was a pivotal point in the project for Mindsett.
As part of our CDS service, injection molding applications engineers looked at making the existing CAD manufacturable, and examined what the parts were for, helping to 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,” explained Shute. “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 account manager didn’t let us down. Her attention to detail was brilliant.”
In total, Protolabs was tasked with creating five molds to manufacture 500 parts from each that ultimately form PRISM’s case: 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 experience in plastics performance, our applications engineers were able to provide guidance to ensure that Mindsett achieved the required flammability rating.
Regarding the actual part designs: In order to keep costs down, Mindsett’s team created the design files using free CAD software. Unfortunately, that choice pushed inefficiencies further down the road. Protolabs’ CDS proved invaluable in this respect, speeding the addition of critical features such as draft angles and specialized geometries.
The lens piece that indicates the status of the device’s Wi-Fi connectivity required additional support from Protolabs to ensure the correct intensity. The CDS team gave advice on different finishing options for the lens to achieve the desired result.
One of the final elements of the manufacturing process was industrial pad printing of Mindsett’s logo onto PRISM’s casing. Pad printing uses a silicone pad to transfer a 2D image onto almost any 3D object.
“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,” explained Shute.
“Protolabs 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, we didn’t pay a premium on price, which was really refreshing after working with other manufacturers in the past."
Outcome: 2,500 Parts Shipped in Record Time
From initial contact to delivery of 500 each of the five injection-molded parts took less than eight weeks, and it took just days from order to receipt of the parts.
Partnering with Protolabs benefitted Mindsett and its PRISM device in both speed and sustainability. Mindsett tapped into Protolabs’ expertise to ensure that the parts it manufactured were designed reductively for efficiencies in plastic use. Most significantly, onshoring production of the parts vastly reduced the energy requirement for the PRISM product life cycle. These material savings, and savings on energy use throughout the product life cycle—reducing its carbon footprint by trimming transportation of product around the world—are important components for purchasers seeking to prop up their own ESG credentials through the industrial supply chain.
Mindsett was pleased to find a digital manufacturing partner with core values aligned to its own and one that quickly understood what Mindsett was trying to achieve.
Commenting on its collaboration with Protolabs, Shute said, “I feel that we’re building a business relationship with a team who is proactive, flexible, engaging, and committed. 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 with sustainability at the heart of its design and manufacture. The team is proud that, with the help of Protolabs, PRISM is a product that comprehensively aligns with a customer’s ESG requirements while saving them time and money.
With the current European 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 multinationals. “The customer response has been fantastic,” said Conway. “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 its energy monitoring device. The team is focused on increasing sustainability as they challenge themselves to further reduce the environmental impact within the rest of their supply chain. Changing behavior around energy consumption is not just something Mindsett can do for its customers—the team wants to change the mindset throughout its supplier base to help save energy, save money, and ultimately make the world a better place.