Key benefits from Proto Labs

When 1st Call Lockouts Limited began developing a new product aimed at the automotive locksmith industry, the company encountered unfamiliar manufacturing processes, such as CNC machining and injection moulding. Keen to get the product to market as quickly as technology would allow, the company turned to Proto Labs for rapid prototyping and low volume production.

1st Call's aim was to enter the automotive locksmith market in which, thanks to the advent of central locking, a lost or stolen car key requires far more than a trip to the local key-cutter. Most modern car keys feature an electronic coded chip (transponder) and 1st Call planned to offer the market a quick and cost-effective method of programming these transponders without an expensive visit to the car dealer. 1st Call's solution is called TouchClone™: "keys cloned at a touch". Essentially, the product is a merger of technologies incorporating a traditional transponder, an electronic reader, and a cloning device. This three-in-one functionality makes TouchClone unique; costing less than half that of existing technologies. As the world's fastest source for custom CNC machined parts and injection moulded parts, Proto Labs is perfectly placed to help during the early stages of the design process. The company works with its customers helping to improve manufacturability in order to minimise time and cost. In the case of TouchClone, 1st Call Lockouts approached Nebulem, a product design agency with offices in London and the West Midlands. Using the company's Firstcut® ultra-fast, CNC machining service, two prototypes were produced in nylon to test the design concept of TouchClone. "Such was the accuracy of the machined samples that we were able to use the prototype covers to scrutinise the entire product design very closely," says Michael Hims, Project Manager at 1st Call Lockouts. ""I think we moved a couple of connector points and board supports, which we did in consultation with Nebulem to ensure we weren't 'upsetting' the product's manufacturability in any way. Once we had finished our design review and applied feedback from investors we were able to move towards a final moulded solution based on a blend of ABS and polycarbonate. The casing had to be splash proof to protect the 6-inch screen and electronics inside." Proto Labs' design reviewing system also played a very important part in the early stages of the design process. Credited by Nebulem as "getting everyone on the same page", the company claimed it worked extremely well throughout the TouchClone development phase and allowed the project to be managed simply from start to finish. Nebulem, which has a history of successful collaboration with Proto Labs, says it acts as a vital link between clients and Proto Labs' services where projects require product design expertise. When TouchClone is in production, volumes are likely to be hundreds-off, or low thousands, which makes the Protomold® rapid injection moulding process the perfect manufacturing solution.