Prototyping Specialist Upgrades Services For Short-Run Production Molding

Proto Labs, a “digital manufacturing company” known for its rapid injection molding prototyping services, has expanded its injection molding capabilities to address the market for short-run “on-demand” manufacturing. 

Proto Labs, Maple Plain, Minn., a “digital manufacturing company” known for its rapid injection molding prototyping services, has expanded its injection molding capabilities to address the market for short-run “on-demand” manufacturing. The service is aimed at customers with uncertain demand for a new product or variable and unpredictable demand for existing products. It also makes it more economical for customers to enter markets with low-volume, custom-tailored products.

Proto Labs, Inc. can provide anywhere from a handful to 10,000 or more parts in the small to medium size range and in 10 days or less. “We have always done short-run manufacturing,” says CEO Vicki Holt, “but now we have really tailored our service offering to meet the needs of procurement and supply-chain professionals.”

In particular, the company now offers a full suite of inspection reports, including conventional first-article inspection and PPAP reports used in the automotive industry. Also, new are digital inspection reports based on laser-scanning data and direct comparison to the original CAD data, including a colored “heat map” to identify dimensional variances (as in the accompanying screen shot).

Such digital reports are made possible since Proto Labs opened its first metrology labs for enhanced inspection reporting on production parts. The metrology lab houses a range of standard inspection equipment, as well as 3D laser scanners that provide an automated 360° look at parts within minutes. “This is what customers have been asking us for,” said Holt.

Other new services include guaranteed lifetime maintenance of the mold (usually made of aluminum), and customer ownership of the tool is now standard with the on-demand manufacturing service, rather than provided on request.

Proto Labs has more than 160 injection presses dedicated to production molding (and others devoted to sampling) at four locations in Minnesota, the U.K., Germany, and Japan. These presses span a size range of 33 to more than 500 tons.