October 8, 2016
Yesterday, Proto Labs celebrated the grand opening of its new 7,154 sq meter (77,000 sq ft) 3D printing facility in Cary, North Carolina, located at the west edge of Raleigh. Proto Labs is best known for quick turn injection molding and CNC machining, with headquarters in Maple Plain, Minnesota. The company entered the 3D printing business when it acquired FineLine Prototyping of North Carolina in April 2014. FineLine, headed by Rob Connelly, had a strong reputation for quality over a period of many years. Whenever I would hear something about FineLine, it was positive.
Connelly told me that the new site is running 48 stereolithography, 10 laser sintering, and 13 metal powder bed fusion machines. With its Germany and Finland sites, Proto Labs is operating 121 industrial 3D printing systems and growing. This represents a tremendous amount of prototyping and manufacturing capacity and is now one of the largest in the world.
Vicki Holt, CEO of Proto Labs since 2014, and Connelly generously gave me a personal tour on Thursday after I arrived into Raleigh. I received a second tour yesterday as part of the grand opening. As expected, I was impressed by the organization and sheer number of machines and jobs running through the facility. The company’s software for scheduling and tracking jobs, produced entirely in-house, is at the core of the operation. Large monitors in many places graphically show new and existing jobs that are making their way through the system. On average, about 275 customer projects are quoted daily for 3D printing. The site’s 150 employees handle everything from customer inquiries to scheduling jobs and shipping. For a premium, customers can obtain parts that are produced and shipped the same day.
Holt explained to me that the company’s “sweet spot” is its very quick turn around. Proto Labs is not competing on cost, but rather on consistently delivering high quality parts in the shortest amount of time possible. As a chemist and veteran in polymers and manufacturing, she knows what it takes to make customers happy. From 1979 to 2013, Holt held various positions at Monsanto, Solutia (a Monsanto spin-off), PPG Industries, Spartech Corp. (owned by PolyOne), and other companies. Holt and Connelly’s attention to detail, and that of their employees, coupled with their strengths in interacting with people, play a big role in attracting and keeping customers. Congrats to Proto Labs for its new and very impressive facility.