MAPLE PLAIN, Minn.—Proto Labs Inc., a quick-turn maker of prototype and short-run goods, now allows customers to order liquid silicone rubber and metal injection molded parts as a standard option.
This gives Proto Labs customers the opportunity to make short-run LSR and MIM stainless steel parts faster than ever, said Proto Labs Product Manager Jeff Schipper.
“The idea is that parts should not take as long as they do now to make, and that was the concept when we were first established (in 1999),” he said. “Back (15 years ago), getting a mold in four weeks was like pulling teeth. We have come a long way. One of our goals is to have complete design iteration completed within two weeks.”
Proto Labs surpassed $150 million in revenue in 2013 and counts an estimated 36,000 product developers as customers since its inception. According to the firm, the key to streamlining—not to mention speeding—the process is proprietary software technology, which is designed to eliminate busy work and downtime as part of its standard operating procedure.
The practice has helped Proto Labs earn recognition as a top 100 small company by Forbes Magazine and a Fastest Growing Company by Inc. 500 multiple times.
The proprietary technology used by Proto Labs includes a computer-aided design system and other programs made internally, Schipper said. The company has used the strategy of spending more research and development money on software and technology, including personnel.
As such, Proto Labs has a strong patent portfolio, with more than 14 patents, and it has established a number of technologies with protected trade secrets.
Proto Labs believes in communication with customers that essentially serves as a two-way street, said Communications Manager Stacy Sullivan. When an order is placed, the company provides a detailed description of when the parts will be delivered, and many of the company's new products or product modifications have come directly from customer feedback through surveys or online evaluations, Sullivan said.
“Over the past year, our research and development program has quickly advanced,” Vicki Holt, president and CEO of Proto Labs, said in a statement. “Incorporating LSR and MIM into our existing list of materials allows current and future customers more diversity in prototyping and small-volume manufacturing—something every product developer focused on taking products from idea to market faster can appreciate.”