Protolabs celebrates 20th anniversary, opens 215,000 sq ft manufacturing facility
Minnesota-based digital manufacturing company, Protolabs celebrates its 20th anniversary this week. Founded in 1999, the company has grown its capabilities with four flagship services and 11 manufacturing technologies, and has added capacity with more than 1mn sq ft of manufacturing space that houses over 1,000 machines producing nearly 4mn parts each month.
Now, the company specialises in rapid-manufacturing of 3D printed, CNC-machined, sheet metal, and injection-molded custom parts for prototyping and short-run production serving the medical devices, electronics, appliances, automotive and consumer products markets.
The company celebrates two decades of operation with the grand opening of a new, high-tech manufacturing facility in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. The 215,000 sq ft CNC machining facility will house approximately 300 mills and lathes and is the company’s eighth plant in the US.
“Protolabs has exceeded my wildest dreams,” said Larry Lukis, Protolabs’ founder. “The company was born out of personal frustration that manufacturing parts took months, when it could take days or even minutes. There needed to be a way to make it easier and faster for product developers to get prototype parts and accelerate development cycles. Protolabs has achieved that goal and made advanced manufacturing technologies accessible for everyone, from makers to startups to Fortune 500 companies.”
Earlier this week, Forbes columnist Michael Mandel theorized that, due to the low price of Chinese imports, digital manufacturing in the US has been suppressing domestic investment in the field. “The process of digitization is expensive and risky, and rational investors and managers won't spend money if they know they will be immediately undercut by Chinese competitors,” wrote Mandel.
He theorizes that, due to the recent reinitiation of the US’ trade war with China, new tariffs will drive up the price of imported consumer goods from Asia’s biggest manufacturer.
As a result, “for companies in the digital manufacturing space, there's a silver lining to the dark cloud of the trade war. Suddenly the risk-benefit calculation of investment in digitization starts to look more attractive, purely as an economic proposition. For one, sourcing parts out of China is becoming riskier and potentially more expensive.”
As a leading US investor in digital manufacturing process, Protolabs is in an advantageous position to capitalize on increased US dependence on domestic manufacturing, should the current state of affairs persist.
Additionally, the continuing development of 3D printing technology and IoT enabled smart factories is expected to further benefit companies at the forefront of the field.
“We are truly living in an on-demand consumer economy and that’s no different for manufacturing. Our customers are hungry for manufacturing partners that can see their products through ever-shrinking life cycles and Protolabs is uniquely positioned to serve our customers’ needs from early prototyping to on-demand production,” commented Vicki Holt, President and CEO at Protolabs.
Intelliwave SiteSense boosts APTIM material tracking
“We’ve been engaged with the APTIM team since early 2019 providing SiteSense, our mobile construction SaaS solution, for their maintenance and construction projects, allowing them to track materials and equipment, and manage inventory.
We have been working with the APTIM team to standardize material tracking processes and procedures, ultimately with the goal of reducing the amount of time spent looking for materials. Industry studies show that better management of materials can lead to a 16% increase in craft labour productivity.
Everyone knows construction is one of the oldest industries but it’s one of the least tech driven comparatively. About 95% of Engineering and Construction data captured goes unused, 13% of working hours are spent looking for data and around 30% of companies have applications that don’t integrate.
With APTIM, we’re looking at early risk detection, through predictive analysis and forecasting of material constraints, integrating with the ecosystem of software platforms and reporting on real-time data with a ‘field-first’ focus – through initiatives like the Digital Foreman. The APTIM team has seen great wins in the field, utilising bar-code technology, to check in thousands of material items quickly compared to manual methods.
There are three key areas when it comes to successful Materials Management in the software sector – culture, technology, and vendor engagement.
Given the state of world affairs, access to data needs to be off site via the cloud to support remote working conditions, providing a ‘single source of truth’ accessed by many parties; the tech sector is always growing, so companies need faster and more reliable access to this cloud data; digital supply chain initiatives engage vendors a lot earlier in the process to drive collaboration and to engage with their clients, which gives more assurance as there is more emphasis on automating data capture.
It’s been a challenging period with the pandemic, particularly for the supply chain. Look what happened in the Suez Canal – things can suddenly impact material costs and availability, and you really have to be more efficient to survive and succeed. Virtual system access can solve some issues and you need to look at data access in a wider net.
Solving problems comes down to better visibility, and proactively solving issues with vendors and enabling construction teams to execute their work. The biggest cause of delays is not being able to provide teams with what they need.
On average 2% of materials are lost or re-ordered, which only factors in the material cost, what is not captured is the duplicated effort of procurement, vendor and shipping costs, all of which have an environmental impact.
As things start to stabilise, APTIM continues to utilize SiteSense to boost efficiencies and solve productivity issues proactively. Integrating with 3D/4D modelling is just the precipice of what we can do. Access to data can help you firm up bids to win work, to make better cost estimates, and AI and ML are the next phase, providing an eco-system of tools.
A key focus for Intelliwave and APTIM is to increase the availability of data, whether it’s creating a data warehouse for visualisations or increasing integrations to provide additional value. We want to move to a more of an enterprise usage phase – up to now it’s been project based – so more people can access data in real time.