Proto Labs Helps Two Inventors Launch New Products

Proto Labs is offering discounted prototyping and short-run production services to two companies through its "Cool Idea!" program-one product comes from a local company that hopes to change how the life sciences industry stores tissue samples, the other from a Pennsylvania inventor who designed a sander that vacuums drywall dust.

Two product designers are getting help from a local company to bring their products to market.

Maple Plain-based Proto Labs-a manufacturer of custom parts for prototyping and short-run production-on Tuesday announced that it will offer discounted services to two companies through its “Cool Idea!” award program.

Bill Dietrick, Proto Labs vice president of marketing, told Twin Cities Business on Wednesday that there are several existing programs that recognize innovations once they're already on the market-but Proto Labs' program benefits inventors by bringing products from a conceptual stage to production.

Proto Labs announced the program's first winner last month: Don Ladanyi of Ohio received services to help launch his TruFlavorWare product-non-metallic, organic flatware designed specifically for chemotherapy patients. The product is designed to eliminate a bitter metallic aftertaste that cancer patients often experience when eating with standard metal flatware.

TruFlavorWare received free services from Proto Labs. The “honorable mentions” announced on Tuesday will receive a 25 percent discount on the services they purchase from Proto Labs, according to Dietrick. “We're getting so many good submissions and can't give an award to everyone, so we decided to give them a discount,” he explained.

One Cool Idea! “honorable mention,” Minneapolis-based Inclined Biomedical Technologies, will receive discounted prototyping and short-run production services for its d-TSSU product, which was designed for the life sciences industry.

The patent-pending product is a case that securely stores and stabilizes fresh-frozen tissue sections at room temperature for up to six months without the need for toxic chemicals or refrigeration.

According to the company's Web site, tissue samples currently are either preserved chemically with toxic compounds like formaldehyde or frozen and stored in large cryogenic freezers that are expensive and require a constant electrical supply.

“[The case] will be a convenient and environmentally friendly tool for many institutions, including laboratories and militaries in remote locations that don't have access to electricity,” Theodore Sadler, the creator of the d-TSSU, said in a statement.

The d-TSSU is designed to store more than 100 standard microscope slides, includes an air-tight seal for preventing sample degradation, and features a replaceable, self-indicating filter cartridge.

Proto Labs will also give discounted services to the EZ Vac Sander, which vacuums drywall dust as it sands, resulting in minimum cleanup. The product was developed by Richard Brunner of Pennsylvania. According to Proto Labs, the sander may help reduce the risk of lung disease and other health issues caused by drywall dust, and its durable base is designed to withstand years of use and eliminate the need for sand paper meshes.

“We look for stuff that's cool and different-and that makes a difference,” Dietrick said of the Cool Idea! program. “We're an innovative company founded on an innovative idea, and want to find others to help out.”

Dietrick said that the Cool Idea! initiative has provided extra exposure for Proto Labs, and the company intends to name a handful of additional winners yet this year before extending the program into 2012. He also said that the company is considering expanding the program internationally, as it operates manufacturing facilities in several countries.

Dietrick encourages Minnesotans with innovative ideas to apply for the program: “There's definitely plenty of time to submit.”