In my inbox this morning was an email thanking me for attending Solidworks that also was offering a “Free Design Cube”. The company sponsoring the cube is Protolabs or Protomold, a rapid prototyping service house that has been around since 1999. They specialize in quick turn injection molded parts and even their about us page states that their goal is to “radically reduce the time it takes to get prototype injection-molded plastic parts”. The design cube is intented to showcase best practices in design (for injection molding). With the developments in 3D printing touted in the media you may wonder how they are still in business and when they will create a Design Cube for 3D printing.
|Design Cube by Protomold – Showcasing boss design, coring, and other molding best practices|
Many companies require more than 1 prototype. For marketing and presentation purposes a half dozen may be required and for anyone looking to go through rigorous testing, including medical devices that are sanctioned by the FDA, the number can be in the hundreds or thousands. When that is the case it can make sense to get a prototype injection mold (typically made out of a lower grade steel or aluminum that will wear out in
Although it is likely they have some 3D printers the primary focus of Protolabs is CNC machining (which can also be used to create molds) and injection molding. They are NOT a 3D printer company but are very well positioned to become one if they want to shift their strategy. Over the years they have refined a customer base of thousands of engineers, designers, managers, and entreprenuers that have a serious need for short run production.
Right now there are 3 major offerings by Protolabs.
- Firstcut – CNC machining for finished goods or to be used to create injection molds.
- Protomold – The common injection molding done in short runs on prototype tools
- Protoworks – This includes metal injection molding as while as rubber molding.
What about Protoprint?
Protoprint.com, Guess who already owns this domain? Sure enough, the good people at Protomold picked it up back in 2007. As capabilities of printers continue to progress the economics of batch production on 3D printers will begin to make more sense. Take into account that Protomold is uniquely positioned to combine various batch jobs for customers and they are in a good spot for growth – or at the very least a good spot to transition current customers rather than loose them to other services.