Protolabs celebrates 20th anniversary, opens 215,000 sq ft manufacturing facility

By Harry Menear
Minnesota-based digital manufacturing company, Protolabs celebrates its 20th anniversary this week. Founded in 1999, the company has grown its capabilit...

Minnesota-based digital manufacturing company, Protolabs celebrates its 20th anniversary this week. Founded in 1999, the company has grown its capabilities with four flagship services and 11 manufacturing technologies, and has added capacity with more than 1mn sq ft of manufacturing space that houses over 1,000 machines producing nearly 4mn parts each month.

Now, the company specialises in rapid-manufacturing of 3D printed, CNC-machined, sheet metal, and injection-molded custom parts for prototyping and short-run production serving the medical devices, electronics, appliances, automotive and consumer products markets.

The company celebrates two decades of operation with the grand opening of a new, high-tech manufacturing facility in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. The 215,000 sq ft CNC machining facility will house approximately 300 mills and lathes and is the company’s eighth plant in the US.

“Protolabs has exceeded my wildest dreams,” said Larry Lukis, Protolabs’ founder. “The company was born out of personal frustration that manufacturing parts took months, when it could take days or even minutes. There needed to be a way to make it easier and faster for product developers to get prototype parts and accelerate development cycles. Protolabs has achieved that goal and made advanced manufacturing technologies accessible for everyone, from makers to startups to Fortune 500 companies.”


Earlier this week, Forbes columnist Michael Mandel theorized that, due to the low price of Chinese imports, digital manufacturing in the US has been suppressing domestic investment in the field. “The process of digitization is expensive and risky,  and rational investors and managers won't spend money if they know they will be immediately undercut by Chinese competitors,” wrote Mandel.

He theorizes that, due to the recent reinitiation of the US’ trade war with China, new tariffs will drive up the price of imported consumer goods from Asia’s biggest manufacturer.

As a result, “for companies in the digital manufacturing space, there's a silver lining to the dark cloud of the trade war. Suddenly the risk-benefit calculation of investment in digitization starts to look more attractive, purely as an economic proposition.  For one, sourcing parts out of China is becoming riskier and potentially more expensive.”

As a leading US investor in digital manufacturing process, Protolabs is in an advantageous position to capitalize on increased US dependence on domestic manufacturing, should the current state of affairs persist.

Additionally, the continuing development of 3D printing technology and IoT enabled smart factories is expected to further benefit companies at the forefront of the field.

“We are truly living in an on-demand consumer economy and that’s no different for manufacturing. Our customers are hungry for manufacturing partners that can see their products through ever-shrinking life cycles and Protolabs is uniquely positioned to serve our customers’ needs from early prototyping to on-demand production,” commented Vicki Holt, President and CEO at Protolabs.


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