Consolidation is happening in 3D printing and prototyping. Not long after 3D printing leader Stratasys bought two service bureaus, rapid prototyping service bureau extraordinaire Proto Labs has embraced the technology by buying a service bureau focused solely on additive manufacturing (AM). Before this acquisition, Proto Labs has concentrated on CNC machining and injection molding for its quick-turn manufacturing services.
The service bureau is FineLine Prototyping, and it's got a healthy range of AM technologies: SLA (stereolithography), SLS (selective laser sintering), and DMLS (direct metal laser sintering). Its customers are corporations in industries such as medical, aerospace, computer/electronics, consumer products, and industrial machinery. The company is known for high-quality, precision, rapid prototype parts, especially small, highly detailed parts including micro-fine resolution SLA. Its 3D Systems machines include Viper SLA, iPro SLA, and SinterStation Pro SLS. FineLine also operates the Concept Laser M2 and Mlab machines for metal AM.
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FineLine Prototyping, just acquired by Proto Labs, is known for high-quality, precision, rapid prototype parts, including metals.
(Source: FineLine Prototyping)
Proto Labs president and CEO Vicki Holt said, during a conference call, that the combined organizations will offer product developers parts in an ever broader set of materials and processes, from concept models, to form and fit testing, to functional testing and short-run production, in as little as one day. Additive manufacturing services are complementary to Proto Labs, not competitive with it. "We've found in surveys of our customers that a majority of product developers have had at least one additive manufacturing part made before they bring us their designs," she said. "So this lets us offer a new service. We believe our combined organizations will have the largest potential user base in the world for additive manufacturing." Holt, who joined the company in February, said Proto Labs has 300,000 customers and FineLine brings an additional 17,000.
FineLine's principals Rob Connelly and Craig Goff will lead Proto Lab's additive manufacturing business and operations. Connelly has been named vice president of additive technology, and Goff is now director of operations for additive technology, Holt said.
Last month, Proto Labs also added two new quick-turn injection molding processes to its existing Protomold plastic molding service. It now offers liquid silicone rubber (LSR) and stainless-steel metal injection molded (MIM) parts as a standard option. Protomold is the company's proprietary technology that lets its technicians analyze part geometry, give customers design and manufacturability feedback about the part, and produce tooling. The company's volumes for both LSR injection molded and MIM parts are typically 25 to 5,000 pieces.
Ann, this is a great move by Proto Labs. I have been following them for a while, and their injection molded small lot processes are very good. It seems that they have decided that their opportunity is rapid prototyping and small lot parts. 3D printing is just another tool in their arsenal. I expect that they will be able to offer good engineering and manufacturability advice for 3D as well as their current technologies. This is definately a plus for customers.
Thanks, Lou, well said. Proto Labs has been focused on rapid prototyping and small lot parts for quite awhile. I think this acquisition lets them retain business from existing customers that would otherwise go elsewhere, when 3D printing can be seen as an integral part--just another step--of what they're already doing.
Everyday you hear about this company or that company buying other ones. If I already had a CNC shop I would have just expanded my horizons and bought some 3D printers, hired a guy that knows them, and done. I wouldn't have bought a whole comapny for it.
Cadman-LT, I agree. But that's easy to say as a user with a 50,000-foot perspective. Being inside a successful business, there are a host of things to think about before making a decision like this. In any case, there's a lot of acquisitions like this going on and I suspect we'll be seeing more.
I would think you already have the CAD guys doing 3D models and everything in place. You don't need to acquire a new company...you have what you need....just missing some printers and some guys to run them.
It's interesting when consolidation begins in any industry; it's sort of a sign that the industry is evolving from early stages to maturation, I think. This seems like a good decision and reminds me of when technology companies began adding services to their portfolio to become more well-rounded. Indeed, less competition means less options for customers, so there is always a fear that people won't get top service because there's no one to pushing a company to strive for more. But I think it's too early to say this will happen here.
Cadman-LT as you point out, buying outside expertise requires a lot of cash. But even if you are Google or Facebook or 3D Systems, it also requires correct business strategy, correctly executed on several fronts.
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Siemens and Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology have achieved a faster production process based on selective laser melting for speeding up the prototyping of big, complex metal parts in gas turbine engines.
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