Case Study: Nebulem
Product design consultancy Nebulem provides a highly responsive service, supported by rapid prototyping from Protolabs. Customers from a broad range of industries benefit from the design agency’s creativity and CAD skills, combined with the facility to fine-tune and test concepts in development—quickly and thoroughly.
Based in Birmingham and Somerset, Nebulem was established in 2011 to offer a specialist design service to businesses looking to bridge the gap between great ideas and successful products. A distinctive strength of the consultancy is creating products that can be manufactured appropriately and produced to budget. The team develops all its clients’ products with manufacturing in mind, designing them for a range of processes including injection moulding, die-cast moulding, CNC machining and investment casting.
A key aspect of their approach is prototyping—which is where Protolabs’ support is vital. For many of Nebulem’s clients, this is the most exciting part of the project, where they see a high-quality, full-size representation of their product. The consultancy uses prototypes to check a product’s look, feel, size and style; more importantly, it provides the opportunity to test the part’s usability and operation. Nebulem feeds key information from the prototyping process into the implementation stage, which helps minimise changes when the product goes into manufacture.
A productive partnership
Nebulem works in partnership with Protolabs; the consultancy’s visualisation systems takes concepts to a certain stage, then Protolabs joins the process to bring the designs to life in three dimensions.
Protolabs’ software provides immediate feedback for Nebulem’s clients, helping identify features that might cause problems during manufacture or in use. It also gives Nebulem the opportunity to review the materials involved. The speed of this feedback saves significant time in product development: if a concept is pushing the edge of practicality, Nebulem knows about this within hours, and can turn around a revised design quickly. In most cases, the end result is a far shorter development cycle.
Sharing business for mutual benefit
As the services of Nebulem and Protolabs combine so effectively, there are many opportunities to refer clients between the two businesses. Companies often approach Protolabs with a need for 3D printing, CNC machining, or injection moulding; at which point they discover help is needed with their product or part design—in these cases, Protolabs can recommend using Nebulem. Likewise, the Nebulem team gets Protolabs involved in refining its designs whenever appropriate. Both companies often have the same customers, and work on the same products, just offering a different supporting role.
Any joint clients will benefit from Nebulem’s understanding of how Protolabs’ rapid prototyping opens up greater design possibilities. Nebulem knows Protolabs resources enable further exploration of concepts, as they can be quickly and thoroughly tested and fine-tuned.
Helping to advance cutting-edge science
A good example of the partnership between Nebulem and Protolabs is a recent project for Puridify, experts in purification solutions for biotherapeutic manufacturing. In this highly specialised field, Puridify aims to develop bioprocessing technologies to advance industrial biomolecule manufacture—and so requires extremely sophisticated product and part design. Puridify approached Protolabs for help with product testing, which revealed a need for further design. Nebulem was then recommended to assist; developing their design in response to the test feedback before handing the project back to Protolabs. At this stage, Puridify dealt directly with Protolabs, knowing Nebulem’s design would work perfectly with Protolabs’ ProtoQuote quoting system, in preparation for manufacture.
Passing on the lessons of experience
With so much experience of working together, Nebulem and Protolabs have learnt a lot about the relationship between CAD design, fast-feedback prototyping and on-demand production. Indeed, such collaboration in this vital aspect of our manufacturing industry is a major advantage to all involved.