February 2013 Design Tip

Add Proto Labs CSEs to Your Team

Product design can be an individual process or a team effort, but it almost always involves external resources of some sort. Maybe it’s a bit of brainstorming with a colleague over coffee or a couple of hours spent studying resin data from UL IDES. Or, it could be ProtoQuote® design feedback on your uploaded 3D CAD model. No matter what your question is, the answers are out there. All it takes is the time and patience to find them. Unfortunately, in today’s fast-moving markets, time may be in short supply. When you need quick answers, Proto Labs Customer Service Engineers (CSEs) may be just the resource you’re looking for.

Designing for the method of manufacturing may require bending the ear of our technical resources. You understand the function of the part, and its role in the assembly, but maybe you are struggling with how your geometry will fit the plastic injection-moulding process. That is where we can help. We can guide you through some of the standard processes or potential risks based on your 3D cad file. Here are a few examples:

  • One of the most important decisions you will make is what resin to use for your part. The Proto Labs Customer Service Engineers will assist as best as they can by guiding you to some options, but ultimately the choice is yours. For example, if you plan to use a fiber-filled resin, a CSE might suggest some tweaks to your design to prevent problems. Or if you are trying to decide between HDPE and polycarbonate resins, the CSE might ask how important appearance is, since polycarbonate reproduces a polished finish far better than HDPE does. CSEs can explain your options, but ultimately, you will need to make the final design decisions.

  • Want to know how to glue plastic parts together? Your CSE might point out that if your parts are moulded in ABS you can find a great adhesive in the plumbing aisle of your local hardware store.

  • CSEs can also review the suggestions in your ProtoQuote design analysis. For example, if ProtoQuote requests increased draft in an area you’d prefer not to modify, a CSE might ask whether this mould is for prototyping or production. If it is for prototyping, you might be informed that lack of draft could cause drag marks on your part, but that otherwise there is no problem with your design as presented. If that’s OK with you, the CSE may OK production of the mould. If your mould is for production, the concern might be for wear of the mould, and the CSE might ask how many parts you plan to make. If the number is low enough, the lack of draft may be overlooked as long as you are willing accept the risk of prototyping a less than ideal geometry.

  • If ProtoQuote highlights a thick rib or boss located next to a wall that could lead to sink, the CSE might ask whether you find that acceptable and, depending on your answer, either suggest a redesign or sign off on the design as-is.

You can call with questions at any stage of the design process—before you’ve submitted a model or after you’ve gotten a quote—and the service is free. There are, however, some things you can do to get what you need as quickly and completely as possible.

First, be prepared to answer questions. The more the CSE knows about your design and what you are trying to accomplish, the more he or she will be able to help. Be patient; you may have been working with this design for weeks or months, but the CSE is just getting up to speed. The CSE might want to know the function of your part or of a problem feature.

"We’re always happy to answer customer questions," says Customer Service Engineering Manager Gus Breiland. "A few minutes spent now can save valuable design time later. We see it as an investment and a supplement to our automated systems like ProtoQuote."

The bottom line: when in doubt, call and ask. We can be reached at +44 (0) 1952 683047 and if you leave a message, we will respond as soon as we are able. Just remember that a CSE is there to respond to specific questions. He or she may be able to warn you of potential problems and suggest solutions. But, a CSE cannot tell you if your design is suitable for your purpose or whether your solution is the best of all possibilities. That’s what prototyping is for, and the ultimate decision will always be yours. We want to be on your team, but you are the captain.