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In a recent project to design a range of moulded-case circuit breakers, ABB SACE used Protomold, a Proto Labs service, to make various parts for the Formula and Tmax XT models.

Protomold not only produces individual injection-moulded prototype parts, but can also supply relatively small batches of production injection-moulded parts faster than conventional suppliers.

Proto Labs offers two services: Firstcut produces CNC precision-machined one-off and low-volume prototype components, while Protomold provides rapid injection-moulded parts in batches from 10 to 10,000 in number.

Both operations employ powerful computers and proprietary software to help designers optimise a part for production, meaning that even customers with absolutely no manufacturing experience can still use Protoquote, the company’s online automated ordering system.

The Protomold online ordering process is available in five European languages, including Italian, and is designed to be straightforward and easy to follow.

Designers who upload a CAD model receive a Protoquote in a matter of hours, which gives an accurate price and details of areas where a design can be improved for manufacture.

ABB SACE was seeking to expedite the prototyping and development phase of new product development, so that new and improved products would reach customers more quickly.

The ABB RandD department had tried almost all the conventional rapid prototyping technologies, including stereolithography, mechanical processing and so on, before discovering the Protomold process.

It found that rapid prototyping can provide a model of the part, but the materials with which the parts are made do not permit satisfactory functional testing.

As well as testing mechanical characteristics, ABB also needed to test a new part at elevated temperatures.

Once the tests had been conducted and the design had been finalised, the company also used Protomold to provide the first production parts.

ABB SACE reported that the production solutions offered by Proto Labs were fast and reliable, and that the parts delivered were of the highest quality.

Proto Labs provided parts at prices that met ABB SACE’s budget and were able to guarantee tight tolerances on even small working parts.

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