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When plastic bearing specialist BNL was asked to develop a pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) mechanism for the next generation of dome-type security cameras, the process was simplified significantly with the aid of both the Firstcut and Protomold services from Proto Labs.

After uploading the 3D CAD model into the Firstquote automated quotation system, initial prototypes of the parts required for the new PTZ mechanism were machined from acetal using the Proto Labs Firstcut service. Firstcut is a subtractive rapid prototyping process that delivers CNC-machined parts in materials with suitable mechanical properties.

The PTZ mechanism comprises three subassemblies with 15 moulded parts in total, made from a material specified by BNL. All of the prototype parts (except the bearing tracks, which are IP protected) were produced on Protomold tools — the biggest of which was the pan base with a diameter of around 150mm.

In total, two runs of around 200-off (of each part) have been completed using Protomold tools, with some minor design modifications to the parts applied between each run.

Speedy, responsive service and technical excellence meant a successful outcome for both BNL and its high-profile end customer. The company’s positive experience has even led to a shift in prototyping strategy.

Key benefits of product application

  • BNL project engineer Ewan Burnett said: ‘Firstquote could not have been any simpler to use. We uploaded the CAD model and within hours we received an online quote in which we could change parameters such as quantity, delivery, material and finish, and the price would be instantly updated.’
  • Burnett continued: ‘Our experience was similar using Protoquote for moulded prototypes. The parameters are slightly different but it’s just as straightforward.’
  • The company decided to take the aluminium tool route as this would still allow it to perform full, functional testing on actual moulded parts, and because of the speed of the Protomold service it would also be possible to develop hard tools in parallel.
  • According to the company, any issues arising from testing could quickly be fed into the hard tooling process: a concurrent engineering strategy that was invaluable in expediting a final solution for the customer.
  • Burnett said: ‘Some people think aluminium tools are only useful for a handful of parts, but nothing could be further from the truth. Proto Labs has the view that its aluminium tools are for life, and that if wear starts to become evident it will undertake maintenance to rectify.’

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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