Proto Labs launches new steel and rubber molding operations

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 14, 2014 - 9:46 AM

Proto Labs is launching new steel and rubber molding operations that will accelerate production.

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Proto Labs will offer steel and rubber injection molding services in addition to traditional plastic contract-manufacturing work. Above, VP of marketing Bill Dietrick.

Photo: Photos by Richard Sennott • richard.sennott@startribune.com,

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Determined to give its molding business another tool for fast growth, Proto Labs Inc., spent millions on new equipment so it could make injection-molded rubber and metal products for the first time.

The company’s new offerings recently debuted in Boston at the BioMed Device Trade Show, which showcased molded facemasks, gaskets, ear buds, automobile vent seals and more. Proto Labs’ stainless steel molding services will officially launch in June at the Atlantic Design and Manufacturing Show in New York, and could showcase surgical knives, clamps, electrical housings and other steel products.

Proto Labs invested $3 million in automated molding equipment and two high-tech ovens to make the products. The investment will allow the company to deliver molded metal or rubber orders in just days and will help it snag more medical, electronics and automobile business.

“In the past, traditional-product mold-making took three months. But the new equipment and processes mean that a mold can be manufactured in as little as one day,” said Chief Technology Officer Rob Bodor. “We estimate that the liquid-silicone rubber market is about $11 billion and that the metal injection molding market is also several billion globally.”

Adding automated steel and rubber molding required a year of research for Maple Plain-based Proto Labs, which specializes in rapid prototypes and parts orders of 3,000 units or less.

“Incorporating these new molding processes into our existing list of materials allows current and future customers more diversity in prototyping and small volume manufacturing,” said CEO and President Vicki Holt, who took the helm of the Maple Plain-based company in February. “I’m excited to begin my tenure at Proto Labs with [this] launch.”

The new products are one part of an aggressive growth strategy for Proto Labs. The company recently brought in Holt as CEO, and a new factory will open in Plymouth later this month.

“We believe our long-term growth model should have us growing 25 percent a year,” said CFO Jack Judd.

Analysts say Holt is the right person to lead that mission. She engineered the spectacular turnaround and sale of the once-troubled plastic-sheeting firm Spartech Corp. Now at Proto Labs, which went public only two years ago, Holt is taking over a company that grew 29 percent last year to produce $163 million in revenue.

Several projects could push sales higher.

In August, Proto Labs spent $15 million to buy and renovate the Plymouth Industrial Building that will open later in April with 100 new factory hires and about 250 workers who will transfer from Maple Plain.

The new Plymouth facility will be the company’s fifth building at three different locations in the Twin Cities. Proto Labs has 500 employees in Minnesota and 200 in other locations around the globe.

The expansion into steel and rubber will add more jobs in Maple Plain, but the number has not yet been determined.

“We expect to add jobs as these processes roll out into the market,” Judd said.

They are not part of the 100 jobs that will get added due to the Plymouth addition.

 

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

 

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  • Left:  Daren Braun looked through a promotional part in a manufacturing area of Proto Labs.

  • Above:  A stainless steel promotional part in a handful of stainless steel beads.

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