Dear Desktop Engineering Reader:
Service providers. We all rely on them to do stuff for us, whether it is “concierge” shopping at an upscale grocery or some machine shop in a place you've never heard of that you found online. Ofttimes when you search for a new service provider, it becomes a mission. Matching your vision of the desired outcome with their vision of an outcome well produced can be miles apart. I'm not saying that most service providers are crummy. They are not. Rather, you never know if they share your vision until you commit to try them. But how do you know they're any good for you before you spend some dough?
Proto Labs, a provider of CNC-machined and injection-molded parts, has a deal for you. They'll send you what they call a Protomold Torus—Protomold is the company's plastic injection-molding division—and you can judge for yourself if their molding capabilities are any good at the cost of forking over your contact information so that they can mail you one. If you like what you see, they'd love your business. If not, no harm done.
Now, those of you reading the HTML version of this message can see a photo of Protomold Torus on the right. I'm holding one now. It's a half-inch taller than my new iPhone and twice as wide. It's light, yet sturdy. On it, there are things called bayonet mounts, mushroom studs, bump-offs, rib corners on pockets, clips, and clip dimples. There are bosses: off angle, tall, and thin. There's text on the side, bottom, and top. And other interesting features.
All of it is smooth as silk, even when I cram my fingertip down between some ribs. No rough edges, no dangling piece of plastic. The text is uniform in height and readable, even the holes in lowercase letters like “g” are well defined. I pulled the sections apart, put them back together, and nothing cracked or broke.
All fine and good. Neat little do-dad you might pick up at a trade show. But the difference is that the Protomold Torus comes with a handy guide that explains the features and how they were were made. Quick tips about using a given feature in your design are tossed in. Or maybe the real difference is that this seemingly simple little doughnut-shaped thingie isn't simple at all. The more you look at it, the more complex you realize it is.
So, there you have it. A nifty little thing that you can hold, take apart, and inspect as you consider whether or not the Protomold unit at Proto Labs is an injection-molding service provider that has the production capability that meets your vision. I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that the Proto Labs website offers a top-notch resource center crammed with videos and data to help you get the most out of your process. It alone is worth checking out.
Thanks, Pal. -- Lockwood
Anthony J. Lockwood
Editor at Large, Desktop Engineering
Check out the Protomold Torus from Proto Labs.