Protolabs, which employs over 430 people at its facility in the West Midlands, is now offering aluminium anodising as part of its on-demand production service that starts with initial part design and moves through to a finished protected or decorative part. Industry’s need for speed has reaped dividends for the Shropshire manufacturer, with sales rising to £60m across its European operations.

“We have grown rapidly as customers recognise the advantages of using our digital manufacturing capabilities for rapid protypes and on-demand production parts,” explained Stephen Dyson, special operations manager at Protolabs. “Talking to our clients, we realised that if they needed to anodise an aluminium part it was often difficult for them to source and then manage a supplier. They not only have to do all the research and then raise a separate purchase order, but often find that the supplier only accepts large quantities of parts in an order, which isn’t great for low volume runs.”

He continued: “Keeping the entire production process with a single supplier makes perfect sense for manufacturers. It means they can get their finished parts shipped in a matter of days and our technical team can advise them through the entire process, right from the initial design of the part to the best approach for the final anodising finish.”

Anodising applies a thin, protective coat to the part forming a protective oxide layer. It is used to create a barrier against corrosion, to increase abrasion resistance and to produce decorative effects through enhanced surface finish. It can then be dyed if needed.

Protolabs currently offers two levels of anodising. For parts needing protection against a harsh environment it provides hard anodising to ISI 10074, whereas if an aesthetic finish is required, then decorative anodising to ISO 7599 is also available.

The service is suitable for parts manufactured from Aluminium 6082 and 7075. All of the parts are sealed as part of the standard process unless they are due to be painted after anodising, in which case the company’s technical team will advise the customer.