What is the best prototyping method for a plastic product? Well, that depends. A panel discussion at Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) West in Anaheim, CA, next month will explore the various options and discuss the advantages and limitations of each. In advance of that Tech Talk session, panelist Michael Paloian, President of Integrated Design Systems Inc., shared his insights with PlasticsToday. An industrial designer and plastics engineer with hundreds of products under his belt, Paloian will be joined at the session, scheduled for Feb. 12 at 8:30 AM, by panelists Rick Puglielli, President, Promold Plastics; Albert McGovern, Director of Mechanical Engineering, Shure Inc.; and George Wilson, Senior Program Manager, ARRK Product Development Group USA. MD&M West, co-located with PLASTEC West, comes to the Anaheim Convention Center from Feb. 11 to 13, 2020.

young engineer

The panelists will discuss the use of 3D printing for prototyping, of course, but they will also delve into CNC machining, polyurethane casting, limited production runs of injection molded prototyping and other technologies, said Paloian. The best process ultimately depends on the designer’s objectives. He or she should ask the following questions before settling on a prototyping process, recommends Paloian.

  • What’s the purpose of the prototype—if it’s for show and tell, don’t bother spending a lot of money replicating details.
  • What’s the lead time? If you need something really fast, that will dictate the optimal process.
  • How large (or small) is the part?
  • What manufacturing process—injection or blow molding, thermoforming, extrusion—are you trying to replicate? That will have some effect on the prototyping process you select.
  • What are the tolerances, material properties, level of detail, quantities?
  • What are you intending to test or evaluate?

“If properties are a critical aspect of your evaluation and testing, CNC machining the part from a particular resin will give you a better indication of how the product will perform than 3D printing,” said Paloian. Don’t be misled by claims of material similarity. “If they tell you it’s similar to ABS or similar to PE, that leaves a lot of gray area. ‘Similar to’ means nothing,” stressed Paloian.

If you’re more interested in the structural behavior of a detail on a part—say, the front bezel of an ultrasound scanner—you could 3D print or machine that portion of the part and subject it to the loads to which it might be exposed, said Paloian. “But if you’re trying to evaluate the wear resistance of a material, for example, you really have to use the material in question, or your evaluations will be erroneous.”

But if your key goal is the best design replication at the lowest cost, it’s hard to beat 3D printing. Then the question becomes, which type of 3D printing?

The three most common platforms are selective laser sintering (SLS), stereolithography (SLA) and fused deposition modeling (FDM), according to Paloian, but SLS is fast becoming the preferred platform. “According to one survey, its market share in prototyping will almost triple over the next 10 years, from about 13% to 33%, while SLA and FDM will shrink.” Materials are playing a big role in that.

“SLA typically is based on a UV-cured acrylic or epoxy, and your properties are limited. There’s no way you’re going to replicate PP or PE with an SLA part,” said Paloian. “With SLS, you’re basically fusing together a powder, so you can use the actual resin, similar to FDM, for testing.” FDM, which Paloian likens to stacking Lincoln logs on top of each other to create the part, lacks resolution. “SLS gives you the best of both worlds—the fine resolution of SLA and the material selection of FDM,” said Paloian.

At the end of the day, understanding the pros and cons of each prototyping process will steer design engineers toward the best option for achieving their objectives. And that won’t always be 3D printing, added Paloian.

Image: Yakobchuk Olena/Adobe Stock


A recent survey gauging public perception of manufacturing in the United States had some good news for manufacturers: Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2012, for the purposes of the survey) look more positively on manufacturing than preceding generations and are more inclined to consider a career in that field.

Neon sign Generation Z

The annual L2L Manufacturing Index conducted by Leading2Lean (L2L; Sparks, NV) found that 18 to 22 year olds are more likely to have had a counselor, teacher or mentor suggest they look into manufacturing as a viable career when compared with the general population. One-third (32%) of Generation Z has had manufacturing suggested to them as a career option, compared with only 18% of millennials and 13% of the general population. They are also more likely to consider working in the manufacturing sector and are less likely to view it as an industry in decline than other cohorts. The survey was conducted in the summer of 2019.

The news is especially welcome when you consider that there are currently more than 520,000 open manufacturing jobs in the United States, according to the National Association of Manufacturers. Moreover, 2.4 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled during the new decade, according to projections from Deloitte. But there are a few things you should know regarding the expectations of this workforce if you want to hire and, more importantly, retain those young workers. Keith Barr, President and CEO of L2L, which provides cloud-based Lean Execution System software that provides full operational visibility, has some thoughts about that.

The uptick in interest in manufacturing among Gen Z revealed by the survey was a “good surprise,” Barr told PlasticsToday. The growth in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs and outreach to schools by local manufacturers seem to be bearing fruit, he said. The timing is propitious, as baby boomers retire en masse and millennials show little interest in manufacturing.

Keith Barr is a featured speaker at the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Summit: The Rise of the Smart Factory conference track at the co-located Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) West and PLASTEC West event. During his session, Barr will explain why Generation Z is a perfect fit for the modern digitized manufacturing plant floor and what industry must do to effectively engage this group. The daylong track is scheduled for Feb. 11. The tradeshow runs from Feb. 11 to 13, 2020, in Anaheim, CA. Go to the event website for more information.

Baby boomers are leaving behind a replacement skills gap, said Barr, but many of those jobs will be filled by automation. “The skills that will be needed going forward are quite different.” Somewhat serendipitously, the level of automation and technological sophistication that exists in advanced manufacturing today is aligned with the skill sets and interests of Gen Zers.

Image: Abemos/Adobe Stock

What can a Heinz Ketchup bottle teach medical device design engineers? You might be surprised. Amanda Pedersen, News Editor at PlasticsToday sister brand MD DI, recounted in a recent article how Brian Mullins, Director of Design and Development at Kablooe Design (Koon Rapids, MN), speaking at Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) Minneapolis last month, used the classic glass Heinz bottle as an example of smart investment in product design that all manufacturers should emulate.

Heinz neon sign

“This bottle … [is] really good at holding ketchup, but what they didn’t really think about was how to get the ketchup out of the bottle,” Mullins said, according to Pedersen. “There’s a process involved. First you have to turn the bottle upside down; then you might have to hold it at about a 45-degree angle; then tap on the 57 [on the neck of the bottle]; then you get out a knife and start trying to pull out the ketchup; then you give it a shake; and the final step of the process is to clean off your shirt.”

Mullins’ point was that Heinz made a great product but did not give much thought to the user experience. That changed in 2000, when the company introduced an easy-squeeze plastic bottle with an inverted design that we have all come to know and love. “They invested in the design and catered to the user needs,” explained Mullins. “They actually paid an individual who invented a nice little silicon valve that holds the ketchup in. When you squeeze it, it allows the ketchup to come out, and when you let it go, the valve seals.” With that, he went on to dissect the “five hardest design problems in medtech,” writes Pedersen, “using the Heinz example to address the first ‘secret’—investing in design.”

That’s the kind of creative, throught-provoking presentations that are par for the course at MD&M events: The next one, co-located with PLASTEC West, will be in Anaheim, CA, on Feb. 11 to 13, 2020. And it so happens that an entire one-day conference track will be devoted to design strategies that put the user first.

The User-Centered Design Strategies and Tactics for Faster Product Development track is scheduled for opening day, Feb. 11, and will delve into multiple aspects of designing with the user experience in mind as well as medtech-specific topics, such as wearables and combination products.

Philip Remedios, BlackHagen Design
Philip Remedios

Three product design experts will begin the daylong track by exploring the shifting human-machine relationship. Specifically, they will address best practices for developing products that transcend functionality to delight users. The panelists are Emily Hildebrand, Director, Research Collective; Roger Mazzella, Senior Product Manager, The Qt Co.; and Philip Remedios, Principal, Design and Development, BlackHagen Design.

The session that follows will do a deeper dive into delighting consumers by plumbing the user’s emotional response to a product. “You have to consider the industrial design perspective that looks at the emotional forces at work in your product. These emotional elements are evoking a response from your users, whether you’re taking ownership of them or not,” notes the session description on the MD&M West website. Speaker Jeevak Badve, Director of Strategic Growth at Sundberg-Ferar Product Innovation Studio, will offer pointers on designing products that evoke the right emotional response from the user.

Ben Zwillinger, Product Creation Studio
Ben Zwillinger

The afternoon begins with what might appear to be an unusual dichotomy: Wearables versus implantables. “As the point of care shifts toward the home . . . wearables and implantables are both logical options to help manage care outside of a clinical setting,” states the session description. Product Creation Studio’s Ben Zwillinger, Senior Factors Engineer, and Scott Thielman, Chief Technology Officer, will present case studies and outline the pros and cons of implantable and wearable device options.

Saher Bishara, Senior Principal Human Factors and Usability Engineer at Medtronic Diabetes, will continue the afternoon track by explaining how to translate user needs into formal design requirements in compliance with regulatory requirements. Users can be a tremendous source of inspiration, notes the session description, but designers must be able to read between the lines of user feedback to develop a successful product.

Tom Kramer, Kablooe Design
Tom Kramer

The day will conclude with a focus on usability study techniques and how to mitigate user errors led by Tom Kramer, President and CEO of Kablooe Design, and a panel discussion on next-generation combination products. Panelists include Susan Neadle, Senior Director, Global Value Chain Quality Design at Johnson & Johnson; James Wabby, Executive Director, Regulatory Affairs, Devices and Combination Products at Allergen; and Paul Lindstrom, Director, R&D, Combination Products at AstraZeneca.

User-Centered Design Strategies and Tactics for Faster Product Development is one of several conference tracks at the co-located MD&M West and PLASTEC West trade show and conference. The event runs from Feb. 11 to 13, 2020, at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, CA. For more information and to register to attend, go to the MD&M West website.

Lead image courtesy Alex Liivet/flickr.