Protolabs announced a very significant expansion.
The well-known manufacturing service makes heavy use of 3D printing, particularly after their acquisition of 3D Hubs some years ago. They say they are “one of the nation’s largest 3D printing providers.” The company has been growing and is always near the top of our weekly 3D print company leaderboard.
Protolabs reports that their DMLS services have grown by 25% over the past few years. That growth has manifested in the need for plant expansion, and that’s what they are doing in Raleigh, NC. They’re opening a brand new facility that has a massive 120,000sf (11,100sm) of area on which to install 3D printers.
The facility will have sufficient space to install and operation up to 91 3D printers of varying size. There will be up to 75 staff dedicated to DMLS operations. However, there’s no word on exactly how many devices will be operational when the site formally opens on October 6th.
Protolabs said they expect work done at the new facility to include a variety of industrial applications, including aerospace, healthcare and “specialized manufacturing tools”.
While the new facility offers a significant amount of floor space, Protolabs will be designing it in such a way as to completely segregate operations to avoid contamination. For example, volatile and non-volatile metal powder activates will be completely separated. This should provide additional assurance to Protolabs customers of part quality.
There is also more than sufficient space to set up “all secondary machining capabilities”. This is quite important, as metal 3D printing involves a significant amount of post processing. Metal supports must be detached from the part, the print must be sawn off the print plate, surfaces smoothed, heat treatments applied, and much more. They will also be installing an expanded metrology capability for further quality control.
This expansion appears to be a significant move by Protolabs, and demonstrates the consistency and projected growth of their DMLS 3D printing business. They wouldn’t have committed to such a large facility unless they were convinced the business would come.