How Protolabs Uses The Carbon Platform to Support Manufacturing from Prototyping to Production

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The industry is taking advantage of 3D printing as an aesthetically and functionally viable production solution. With the Carbon platform, part surface finish is smooth and has the added benefit of not being as tacky as some of the other resin-based 3DP technologies or as rough as the powder-based 3DP technologies. Customers whose projects require surfaces with low friction have a good opportunity to utilize Carbon DLS technology. The mix of a cosmetic surface finish and end-use mechanical properties yields parts with a robust industrial appearance.

We have used the Carbon M2 printer, which has a build area of 7.4 in. x 4.6 in. x 12.8 in, to produce a variety of different parts. Material properties are isotropic and similar to what we expect to see in injection-molded parts. Part durability and flexibility presents an opportunity for prototyping mechanical components such as snap-fit mechanisms, where repeated deformation is needed.

Beyond prototyping, the combination of improved surface finish relative to powder-based technologies and optimized production pricing allows for an array of components to be built in higher production quantities. Small housings, jigs, fixtures, brackets, and nozzles are great candidates for higher volume production using Carbon DLS technology where molding and machining are not viable due to design restrictions or costs associated with design revisions or customized parts.

Additionally, the versatility of Carbon materials allow our customers to successfully find a match for the required mechanical properties of their specific application. The combination of durability and chemical resistance makes the materials better suited for demanding environments with components that deliver unmatched performance. Ultimately, the engineering-grade quality of Carbon materials allow for customers to use the Carbon platform for final prototyping for validation or functional testing, as well as end-use applications and low-volume production parts.



With no tooling costs, low-cost design iterations, and more design freedom, the Carbon platform is an ideal fit for some of our low-volume and high mix production customers. Think complex geometries or internal channels. We can even tap and thread inserts if that is needed.

In addition to enabling production directly, the Carbon platform can also complement our injection molding service. Both processes can work well together in the life cycle of a product—starting with design-risk mitigation at the prototyping level and low-volume production with the Carbon platform, then potentially shifting to injection molding if desired when ramping up for higher part volumes. In addition, many of the same design tips used to mitigate warping in injection molding work for the Carbon platform as well. Uniform wall thickness, radii or round corners, and support ribs help support dimensional stability.

Our customer response to date has been very positive. We value feedback and constantly evaluate new and emerging machines, materials, and processes in order to better meet our customers’ needs and deliver the highest quality parts, as fast as possible. Our evaluation of the Carbon platform highlighted its ability to quickly and economically produce robust parts with isotropic mechanical properties that bridge the gap between prototyping photopolymers and traditional molding and machining materials. These advancements work well with our existing technologies and provide customers with yet another tool to meet their most challenging prototyping and manufacturing needs.


Written by Troy Williams.