Larry Lukis, founder of Proto Labs Inc., will retire as its chairman in May, ending direct involvement in his company that for nearly two decades has helped other firms reach the leading edge of manufacturing technology.
Lukis founded the rapid manufacturing and prototyping company in 1999 and laid the groundwork for what is today a firm with $298 million in annual revenue and 1,700 employees in the U.S., Germany, England and Japan. Its main office is in Maple Plain.
Lukis will be succeeded by longtime board member Sven Wehrwein, who became a Proto Labs director in 2011.
“While the company has grown significantly over the past decade, Proto Labs has never lost that tenacious start-up mentality that it was founded on,” Lukis said in a statement. “With the current executive leadership, I know Proto Labs will be in good hands for many years to come as it continues to push the boundaries of what’s possible in manufacturing.”
Proto Labs’ stock price fell 50 cents, or 1 percent, to close at $53.60 Friday.
Lukis’ company, originally named ProtoMold and founded in Long Lake, Minn., used plastic injection molds to cut the time it took product developers to make parts.
In 1999, Lukis wrote software that automated the design analysis of three-dimensional computer models. He then digitally transmitted the design data to manufacturing machines that could quickly fabricate parts. The “quick turn” method soon found a growing fan base among manufacturers and engineers who needed to cut the time and expense of designing, redesigning and making parts and prototypes.
By 2001, the company made its first $1 million in revenue and Lukis brought in new management to run the company. He hired Brad Cleveland as chief executive in 2001 to grow the firm.
In 2012, Cleveland and Lukis took the renamed Proto Labs public on the New York Stock Exchange. At the time the quick-turn manufacturer boasted more than $115 million in annual revenue, $35 million in profit and 600 workers.
Two years later, Lukis and Proto Labs brought in Vicki Holt to succeed Cleveland, who stepped down while being treated for brain cancer. He died last September.
Since 2014, Proto Labs expanded in Plymouth, added rubber and magnesium injection molding services and over-molding capabilities. It also ventured into 3-D printing with the help of acquisitions.
Holt praised Lukis’ leadership. “Larry’s brilliant computing mind and leadership presence in the boardroom have been invaluable,” she said. “He is the reason Proto Labs is the company it is today, and we’ll certainly still look to him at times for advice in the future.”
Over the years, Lukis, whom friends described as a chronic entrepreneur, created the Proto Labs’ national Cool Idea! Award in 2011 and then launched Digi Labs in 2014. The idea behind Digi Labs was to invest in and accelerate start-up companies with their own products, which ranged from compact marine technology to virtual reality devices.