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Proto Labs has revealed that OceanLED has utilised Protomold rapid injection moulding expertise to help it produce low-cost, high-quality components for the firm’s latest LED lights.

OceanLED’s strategy is to move beyond the bespoke market of super-yachts in which it started to develop relatively higher-volume products for other growth sectors.

This plan involved a fundamental rethink of the firm’s manufacturing technique, which led them to begin using rapid injection moulding.

OceanLED produces simple, maintenance-free marine lighting in addition to advanced underwater lighting system.

The company is now pushing into the fast-growing private boat market, hence the need for lower-cost, higher-volume products for direct sale to consumers, as well as the company’s traditional bespoke lights for OEMs.

Although OceanLED designs and assembles its lights in-house, it does not manufacture any of the components, choosing to partner with carefully chosen UK engineering companies.

The new, smaller consumer lights are made from polymers, which means they can be mass-produced economically.

Compared with traditional light sources, LEDs are energy efficient and produce less heat.

The LEDs are also increasingly used to illuminate docks, swimming pools and buildings.

The company’s latest ‘amphibian’ products – the Liet range – can be used above and below water.

These high-output lights use injection-moulded polymer bodies that still manage to contain all the drivers and the dimmer functions, providing good operation and versatility with fewer components and connections.

OceanLED had no experience of making plastic injection-moulded parts for lights.

Richard Sant, chief designer at OceanLED, said: ‘Although I’d been using Solidworks to design mechanical products for a long time, this was my first plastic injection-moulded product.

‘Like most people venturing into plastic mass production, we started by using a company in China but became increasingly unhappy with the quality and costs,’ he added.

Sant was particularly pleased with Protomold’s online Protoquote service, which enabled him to upload his existing 3D CAD designs and receive a detailed breakdown of manufacturing costs and a report highlighting any design issues within hours.

‘The Protomold process allows an injection-moulding novice to design and order a part without any problems,’ Sant said.

At first, OceanLED used Protomold to make prototypes of the various mounting brackets for all three models in the Liet range, including the ‘foot and bridge’ components that make up the clamp.

‘Originally, we thought of making the mounting kit in steel but it was ugly and expensive,’ Sant said.

Above all, the company wanted the mounting system to be versatile, which meant being lightweight, strong, low cost and able to fit as wide a range of mounting points as possible.

Sant added that using Protoquote was ideal for optimising the design because the user can upload as many modifications as they want.

The processing speed of the Proto Labs compute clusters means users get their analysis results in hours.

Sant said: ‘Protomold makes and gives away various educational “toys” to help explain the technicalities of rapid injection moulding, but we soon realised they are definitely not gimmicks.

‘We found them very useful, especially the “cube” and the “puzzle”, which helped us understand the process, the characteristics of different plastics and what is possible,’ he added.

Once OceanLED had finalised the design of the mounts, it was able to order relatively low volumes of production-quality parts from the same mould.

As a result, the kits can be sold separately and retail for around GBP15-20.

Sant said: ‘At the moment, we only order 500 each time.

‘If we were using traditional steel moulds in China we would have to run-off thousands just to make the tooling economical,’ he added.

Looking ahead, Sant sees promise in the architectural lighting market.

He said: ‘Our lights are essentially the green alternative to traditional lighting, which means they are valuable as both decorative and functional building lights.

‘This is an excellent market opportunity and we intend to make the most of it, with the help of Proto Labs.’

Proto Labs

Proto Labs delivers fully functional prototypes in production-intent materials to dramatically cut the cost and time normally associated with product development. This empowers designers and engineers with the means to rapidly develop, test, and get their products to market first in an ever-competitive global market place.

Proto Labs delivers fully functional prototypes in production-intent materials to dramatically cut the cost and time normally associated with product development. This empowers designers and engineers with the means to rapidly develop, test, and get their products to market first in an ever-competitive global market place.

Protomold delivers injection-moulded parts from moulds manufactured utilising state-of-the-art high-speed CNC machining technologies. Parts can be moulded using almost any engineering-grade resin and are ideal for prototyping, bridge tooling and low-volume production.

First Cut satisfies the need for functional prototypes much earlier in the development cycle for quantities of 1–10+. Because First Cut delivers prototypes in engineering-grade resins and aluminium they will have real material properties and improved surface finishes. In other words, they will be functional.

When you submit your 3D CAD model, Proto Labs’ powerful super-compute cluster creates an interactive quote giving pricing options and where appropriate, suggesting changes to improve manufacturability. You simply interact with your quote online, tailor options such as material and delivery to your requirements and with every change, the pricing information automatically updates. This built-in ‘what-if’ analysis enables last-minute project refinements to be accommodated at the click of a button.

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