Protolabs was founded in 1999 by Larry Lukis, a successful entrepreneur and computer geek who wanted to radically reduce the time it took to get injection-molded plastic parts. His solution was to automate the traditional manufacturing process by developing complex software that communicated with a network of mills and presses. As a result, plastic and metal parts could be produced in a fraction of the time it had ever taken before.
Over the next decade, we continued to expand our injection molding envelope, introduced quick-turn CNC machining, and opened facilities in Europe and Japan. In 2014, we launched our industrial-grade 3D printing service to allow product developers, designers, and engineers an easier path to move from early prototyping to low-volume production.
Today, Protolabs is a leading rapid manufacturer of custom prototypes and on-demand production parts due to our commitment to accelerating our customers’ product development. Our three services—3D printing, CNC machining, and injection molding—have continuously evolved to meet the ever-changing needs of product developers and engineers around the world.
At the heart of our manufacturing speed is our proprietary software, web-based quoting system, and automated manufacturing processes. Product developers can upload a 3D CAD model online and receive an interactive quote within hours. Each interactive quote contains design feedback and real-time pricing—so customers can adjust material, lead times, quantities, and more and instantly see the impact on pricing. Once an order is placed, digital manufacturing instructions are sent to an interconnected network of industrial 3D printers, CNC mills, and injection molding presses.
3D printing at Protoabs consists of four commercial-grade technologies: stereolithography, selective laser sintering, PolyJet, and direct metal laser sintering. In addition to a range of capabilities designed to meet our customers’ needs, we have process controls in place to ensure precise parts every time. Each 3D CAD model is carefully reviewed by an applications engineer before the build begins to ensure they’re properly supported and the part is properly oriented.
Our CNC machining process uses three-axis milling, five-axis indexed milling, and turning with live tooling to machine parts from more than 30 engineering-grade plastic and metal materials. The result is functional parts suitable for form and fit testing, jigs and fixtures, and end-use applications. Our automated CNC process can manufacture and ship up to 200 parts in as fast as one day.
Rapid injection molding at Protolabs leverages our proprietary software to quickly fabricate aluminum tooling and mold plastic parts within days. It’s a cost-effective prototyping solution when customers need low-volumes of functional parts and is also used for on-demand production. Our injection molding service includes multiple options: plastic molding, overmolding, insert molding, and liquid silicone rubber molding, and we offer more than 100 thermoplastic resins and elastomeric materials.
In 2016, Protolabs served more than 30,000 product developers globally. We now have more than eight manufacturing facilities located around the world and continue to explore new ways to accelerate product development, reduce costs, and optimize our customers’ supply chain with rapid manufacturing technologies.
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