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Any opinions expressed in these blog posts by non-Proto Labs employees do not necessarily reflect the views of the Company.


It’s National Engineers Week!

Know an engineer? Give them a big hug, an epic high five, an aggressive fist bump, because it’s National Engineers Week (Feb. 16-22). It’s a seven-day celebration of our friends who help create nearly everything we interact with on a daily basis, from the cars we drive to the hinges on our laptop computers. The purpose of the week is to “observe how engineers make a difference in our world, increase public dialogue about the need for more engineers and bring engineering to life for kids, educators and parents.” At Proto Labs, we staff a team of experienced customer service and design engineers who work with a variety of engineers from companies large and small around the world. This engineering partnership helps develop some of the most innovative products found across all industries. 

Appreciation for our mathematically inclined honorees was evident in a recent study conducted by TE Connectivity Ltd. The survey of more than 1,000 men and women revealed that Americans see engineering professionals as the leading drivers of innovation. In fact, 87 percent associated invention with engineers and see their roles in innovation increasingly more important than it was 20 years ago. Mobile devices, robotics and wearable technologies were sighted as areas that would have the most impact on society in the next 10 years. 

Advancing innovation into the next decade and beyond involves educating students about different types of engineering — the four major fields being mechanical, electrical, civil and chemical with a subset of nearly 200 others. A large piece of National Engineers Week is teachers and parents finding creative ways to excite kids about science, math and technical skills. There’s a heightened level of events that are being held across the U.S. this week followed by periodic happenings throughout the year. A good place to look for an engineering-centric event in your city is at discovere.org, where you can search by location and event type. 

It’s no coincidence that National Engineers Week falls on the same week as Presidents Day. George Washington was considered one of the first engineers. The long list of notable engineering alumni is impressive, including some of the brightest minds in history, but there are few others with engineering backgrounds who may surprise you — filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, former supermodel Cindy Crawford, “Office Space” and “Bevis and Butt-head” creator Mike Judge, and Rocky Balboa’s Soviet Union arch enemy, Dolph Lundgren. So, good company.

Happy National Engineers Week!

Sources: www.discovere.org


Innovation On Display: Proto Labs hosts Cool Idea! Award gallery event in NYC

It was an all-white space. I mean, ALL white. Walls. Floors. Ceiling. Proto Labs is headquartered in Minnesota, and even our winters don’t hold a snowflake to this place. So where and what is this Narnia I’m talking about? Located in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood, Openhouse is a storefront Proto Labs rented to host our inaugural Proto Labs Cool Idea! Award gallery event.

2014 began the fourth year of the award program, which provides those with an innovative product idea an aggregate of $250,000 in Proto Labs prototyping and short-run production services. We sought to introduce a way for individuals to view and interact with a selection of the 17 products that have, to date, received a Cool Idea! Award, and to celebrate ingenuity and innovative design.

Throughout the day of the event, January 30, what started as a blank canvas began to come alive with the addition of nine of the products that received the support of the award on their journey to market. Artwork was hung to detail the parts and their material provided to each recipient, video began to roll that showed the products in action, the beats started to play, and the food and bar were stocked.

However, even with everything in place, pioneering and successful hardware products on display, the gallery did not fully come alive until the guests began to arrive for the evening event (via the Cool Idea! Award-orange carpet).

The conversations that occurred among the attendees, made up of four of our Cool Idea! Award judges (Brooks Atwood, Ray Hu, David Lang and Scott N. Miller), engineers, industrial designers, analysts, students, and a number of individuals hoping to join the ranks of those who have received a Cool Idea! Award are what made the gallery experience truly valuable. The discussions that the products on display ignited about crowdfunding, connected devices, speed to market, collaboration, design, robotics, and a slew of related topics pertaining to hardware and product development were the meat to the space’s bone.

So, if you weren’t able to join us in NYC on January 30 (and even if you were), I invite you to visit our virtual gallery (you can view photos from the event via the link as well) and begin your own conversations with others in the space. Use #plcoolidea on Twitter to create, join in and follow conversations (you can follow the Cool Idea! Award at @ProtoLabsAward). How do these products inspire you? What do you think is the next big trend in the hardware space? What are some of the roadblocks you’re up against in bringing products into the market?

The knowledge shared and ideas sparked in these conversations are what powers the next generation of great products (and perhaps future Cool Idea! Award recipients).

The first application period of 2014 ends February 28. Do you have the next ground-breaking new product idea? Apply to the award here.


Keeping it in-house: U.S. manufacturing continues its resurgence

There’s a bit of a renaissance happening in domestic manufacturing across the United States and the proof is found in a number of recently published reports. In December 2013, manufacturing grew at its second-fastest pace in more than two years and the Institute for Supply Management’s factory index held firm at 57 (over 50 indicates growth), according to Bloomberg. Growth is being spurred by spending in construction, automobile sales and an increase in demand in most major industries, which in turn, has led to investments in equipment and added jobs. 

In fact, The Wall Street Journal says manufacturing employment in the U.S. has grown nearly 5 percent to 12 million jobs since 2010, as many U.S. companies want to stop relying so heavily on foreign plants, where quality and delivery times are hard to control.

“More companies will set up — or indeed keep — their production here as the manufacturing sector becomes more efficient, innovative, and technologically sophisticated to allow for greater product variety,” explains Donald B. Rosenfield of The Boston Globe

Proto Labs World Headquarters, Maple Plain, MNEfficient, innovative and technology driven? That sounds familiar. Proto Labs’ automated systems allow us to CNC machine and injection mold plastic and metal parts really fast. The catalyst is our online quoting system that can take uploaded 3D CAD models and provide design analysis and pricing info within hours, not days or weeks, so we’re able to quickly get prototype parts back to a global customer base. And worry not, designs and intellectually property are legally protected at Proto Labs. The same confidence cannot be had with every overseas manufacturing facility.

As we move into 2014, we’ve launched new manufacturing services and added to our menu of available materials. We’re even opening a state-of-the-art production plant in Plymouth, Minn., which is contributing to a regional trend in manufacturing expansion. And yes, we’re open 24 hours a day, every day. That means when production slows down in China with its approaching New Year at the beginning of February, we’ll be on our horse cranking out parts.


Cool Idea! Award: Meet the judges

Proto Labs Cool Idea! Award kicked off its fourth year with two major additions to the program. First, we’ve assembled an eclectic mix of industry experts from the design, engineering and manufacturing worlds that will join the judge panel, which, to date, has consisted solely of Larry Lukis, Proto Labs’ founder and Chairman of the Board. The additional judges will bring diverse expertise from their particular area of experience. Second, Proto Labs will host its inaugural Cool Idea! Award Gallery Event in New York City on Thursday, Jan. 30. The event honors a selection of the products that have received the support of the award.

So, before the gallery doors open in New York, let us introduce you to our esteemed panel of judges. 


Brooks Atwood and his company POD Design were listed as one of six emerging U.S. Design Practices by the Museum of Arts & Design. Brooks was also listed in “Brooklyn’s 20” and Eyes In Magazine as one of the world’s innovative creators. He’s gained media attention from publications such as The New York Times and Wired, been featured on TV shows like “Today” and “Design Star,” and given lectures at the Museum of Arts & Design in New York City, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and at many other institutes.


Ray Hu is the managing editor of Core77, a comprehensive site for designers that provides articles, discussion forums, events, portfolios, job listings, and a database of design firms, schools, vendors and services. Aside from design, his interests include art, music, cycling, urbanism, food, patterns, maps, coffee and em-dashes — seriously, he includes at least one in every post he writes.


David Lang is a co-founder of OpenROV, a community of citizen ocean explorers and creators of low-cost underwater robots. He is a writer for MAKE: Magazine and the author of “Zero to Maker,” where he chronicles his journey from under-skilled beginner to manufacturing entrepreneur and ocean explorer. David was a 2013 TED Fellow and lives on a sailboat in the San Francisco Bay.


Larry Lukis is the founder and Chairman of the Board of Proto Labs. He previously co-founded a successful $100 million company that wanted to design a better printer, and was floored by the time and money it took to get injection-molded parts. Larry began writing software that would automate the process of producing injection-molded parts, and in 1999, he founded what is now Proto Labs. Since that time, the company had introduced its Firstcut CNC Machining Service, opened up global manufacturing facilities and become public on the New York Stock Exchange. 


Scott N. Miller is the CEO of Dragon Innovation, a company whose mission is to help hardware entrepreneurs succeed in every phase, from crowdfunding to manufacturing at scale. Prior to founding Dragon, Scott spent 10 years at iRobot and was responsible for setting up and leading the team that manufactured Roomba, Scooba, Looj and ConnectR. He is also a general partner at Bolt, and has served as an adjunct professor of mechanical engineering at Olin College. Scott holds a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth and a master’s from MIT.


Joe Rizk is a venture and business designer at IDEO, working with early-stage businesses as well as helping bring new corporate innovations to scale. Prior to IDEO, he worked as an investor with Lerer Ventures, a seed-stage venture capital firm and in the business development group at GroupMe, a mobile messaging company (sold to Skype/Microsoft). Joe holds an MBA from Columbia University where he was an InSITE Fellow and a B.S. in New Business Management & Finance from Georgetown University.


You don’t necessarily have to be in New York City to experience the event. As we move closer to the show, we’ll be launching a virtual tour of the gallery space that will give you the feel of the night. And if you have a product you think is a Cool Idea!, apply now. Applications are accepted throughout the year, but the deadline for the first review session of 2014 is Friday, Feb. 28.



Consumer Electronics Show 2014: Who Wore It Best?

While we remain firmly entrenched in the Polar Vortex over at Proto Labs HQ, it hasn’t prevented us from gazing afar towards a slightly warmer Las Vegas where the annual Consumer Electronics Show is underway. The four-day event (Jan. 7-10) brings out all of the major electronic names (and some big-name celebrities, albeit only briefly at times) along with many other innovative smaller companies touting the latest in high-tech gadgetry.

Ever intrigued by cool ideas, we’ve been keeping a watchful eye on the emerging trends at CES, and along with the usual television and gaming advancements, one that seems to be included in most online conversations is wearable technology. From earbuds and eyewear to bracelets and footwear, technology is being devised to ensure users are wired with electronic functionality without sacrificing fashion in doing so.

Here are some new wearable gadgets being showcased at CES, from head to toe.

EYES: Smart glasses from Epiphany Eyewear

Design thick-rimmed eye glasses that look like old-school Ray-Bans, build them with a lightweight thermoplastic nylon and integrate a computer with 32 GBs of storage and an HD camera, and you have spectacles that create, well, a spectacle. With the use of an app, you can record, and even live-stream video to social media, from your direct point of view … because who doesn’t want to see real-time footage on Facebook of you eating lunch at your cubicle? Brian Krzanich, Chief Executive Officer of Intel, delivers a keynote address at the 2014 CES.

EARS: Smart earbuds from Intel

New technology that is catching the ears of Intel booth visitors at CES is a pair of fitness-conscious earbuds from Intel. In addition to full stereo audio, the buds provide immediate “biometric and fitness information” through sensors that track run distances, calories burned, heart rate and pulse. Even more fascinating is the fact that it can match the music playing to your target heart rate profile. And it’s all powered by the headphone jack on your mobile device (no batteries needed).

BACK: Lumo Lift from Lumo BodyTech

Catch yourself readjusting your car mirrors at the end of the day to accommodate for eight hours of terrible posture? Lumo Lift was designed to help desk jockeys and the like improve posture by pairing a small device that attaches to a shirt or collar with a smartphone app to track your activity. Its unique feature: When slouching begins to set in, Lumo Lift emits “discreet vibratory feedback” (it buzzes you) as a reminder to straighten up.

HANDS: June from Netatmo

Netatmo makes personalized weather stations and smartphone-enabled thermostats, but it is showcasing its newly released bracelet that measures your exposure to the sun. The chic bracelet notifies you when SPF lotion is needed and recommends when you should throw on your sunhat and BluBlockers. If you’re into a more classic look, the gem-like centerpiece can be detached from the bracelet and used as a brooch as well.

FEET: High heels from Erogear

Looking more like something out of a science fiction fashion show, Erogear has designed a pair of black high heels equipped with a wide, LED anklet that can broadcast low-res images and a Twitter feed. Wait, pumps that tweet aren’t really your thing? Erogear also makes active wear for runners and bicyclists that integrates its wearable LED technology in a more utilitarian nature.

If being physically covered in technology is not enough, your baby can now get a piece of the wearable action. Rest Devices has created the Mimo Monitor, which is an organic cotton baby onesie outfitted with respiratory, temperate and motion sensors so you always know how your little one is doing while tracking his or her sleep patterns. It, of course, all syncs to a mobile app to fully monitor your baby’s wellbeing. 

As CES wraps up on Friday, it’s evident that many devices are becoming increasingly mobile, accessible and more personalized while, for the most part, working to improve the lifestyles of its users. Only time will tell which of those technologies will connect with people and which will fade away.

Sources: Mashable.com, Engaget.com, Informationweek.com, NPR.org.