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Recent Conference in Finland

September 17, 2006

Filed under: additive manufacturing,event,review — Terry Wohlers @ 14:40

I had the pleasure of attending the International Conference on Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing on September 6-7, 2006 in Espoo, Finland. Espoo is the country’s second largest city with 230,000 residents and is located about 20 minutes west of Helsinki. The conference was organized by Helsinki University of Technology (HUT) and supported by the Finish Rapid Prototyping Association (FIRPA), the Global Alliance of Rapid Prototyping Associations (GARPA), and several other organizations. 

The technical program exceeded my expectations. I listened to all 21 speakers and was surprised by the quality of information presented by the majority of them. Other than being the home of Nokia, Finland is not known as a hub for new product development and manufacturing. Yet, the conference really delivered, thanks in large part to the hard work and strong connections of Jukka Tuomi of HUT and his team.

The conference was truly an international event. After the conference, seven of the attendees choose to spend the evening together. Represented were China, Finland, Germany, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, and the USA. You don’t get much more international than that.

GARPA’s ninth annual Global Summit coincided with the conference and was held on September 5. FIRPA hosted a very productive meeting in which 10 countries from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America had sent representatives. 

I hope that the conference becomes an annual or bi-annual event. If it does, I will be among the first in line to sign up. Congratulations to HUT for organizing an outstanding conference and GARPA meeting.

Protomold

September 2, 2006

Filed under: machining,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 09:21

I visited The Protomold Company for the first time on July 27, 2006. The company is in the business of making aluminum molds and molding plastic parts. The 4,645 square meter (50,000 square foot) headquarters operation in Maple Plain, Minnesota was even more extraordinary than I had expected. I met with Brad Cleveland, chief executive officer, Larry Lukis, chief technical officer and founder, Mark Kubicek, vice president of operations, and Don Krantz, vice president of development. These individuals form the management team.

The company is known for its quick delivery at affordable prices. Standard lead time is 10-15 business days, from the receipt of 3D CAD data to shipped molded parts. For a 25% premium, delivery is <10 days. Customers can cut it to five days for a 50% premium. And, when paying a 100% premium, delivery is three days. To meet the demand, the company runs five shifts around the clock, seven days a week.  Protomold quotes more jobs each day than I would have ever imagined. The company's primary intellectual property is its mostly automated tool design software and its quoting engine. These tools, as well as everything else associated with the day-to-day operation, is totally paperless. After I was made aware of this, I kept an eye out, expecting to see at least a scrap of paper somewhere, but I did not. Impressive discipline! In seven years, Protomold has grown every quarter except for one. About a year ago, the company was acknowledged nationally as the 96th fastest-growing private U.S. company on the Inc. 500 list. The company has received other awards and recognitions for its growth and business practices and is clearly serving a genuine need here in the U.S. and abroad. If the company continues to "get it right" as it has in the recent past, it can expect a bright and prosperous future.