Protolabs Expansion Boosts Industry, Minnesota
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on March 27, 2018 |

Innovation, the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and increased demand for specialized parts continue to boost the growth of digital manufacturing. Maple Plains, Minn.-based Protolabs, a leader in rapid prototyping and on-demand production, hopes to fuel that growth, plus more, by sticking to its roots. The company recently announced its purchase of a new manufacturing facility in Brooklyn Park, Minn.—a diverse city home to more than 150 manufacturing and industrial-based businesses.

Protolabs new Brooklyn Park, Minn., facility will primarily be used for CNC machining. (Image courtesy of Business Wire.)
Protolabs new Brooklyn Park, Minn., facility will primarily be used for CNC machining. (Image courtesy of Business Wire.)

Located in the the fourth largest city in the Twin Cities metropolitan area—and only minutes from downtown Minneapolis—the 152,000-square-foot facility will be expanded by another 50,000 square feet and will primarily be used for CNC machining. The Brooklyn Park expansion will involve relocating around 225 employees from the Protolabs Plymouth, Minn., plant, which will allow that plant to expand its injection molding capacity. The new facility is expected to be operational by the end of 2018.

Protolabs was founded in 1999 by Larry Lukis, whose vision was to reduce the time it took to produce injection-molded plastic prototype parts. Lukis developed a complex software that could communicate with a network of mills and presses to produce plastic and metal parts in a fraction of the time required by a traditional process—potentially in as little as one day. This approach led to manufacturing that enabled accelerated time to market, reduced development and production costs, and minimized risk throughout the product life cycle.

In 2014, the company added additive manufacturing to its capabilities, when it launched an industrial-grade 3D printing service, further cementing its place as a leader in digital manufacturing.

Its 2016 numbers reflect how much Protolabs has grown since its creation in 1999. (Image courtesy of Protolabs.)
Its 2016 numbers reflect how much Protolabs has grown since its creation in 1999. (Image courtesy of Protolabs.)

Protolabs continues to expand its manufacturing capacity across the board with the addition of new equipment. In the past year it has added 75 CNC mills and 25 injection molding presses in the United States, as well as 25 CNC machines and six injection molding presses in the United Kingdom. These acquisitions have expanded the company’s manufacturing capacity to more than 1,000 presses, mills, lathes, press brakes, laser cutters and 3D printers.

While the current expansion in Brooklyn Park caters to CNC machining—which for Protolabs grew by more than 27 percent in 2017—3D printing continues to be a key service for the company.

In a recent 3D-Print.com interview, Peter Douglass, director of technical operations for Protolabs, explained how 3D printing is one part of a range of services provided for the most important aspect of Protolabs’ business: its customers.

“3D printing is only part of the solution; you don’t need it for everything. We make sure we have the ability to offer a full suite of services and offer whatever our customers need. As we’ve evolved as a company, we recognize what is needed—some will be 3D printing, some machining, some traditional methods.”


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