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Protolabs extends production capabilities for its metal 3D laser printing

05 Jun 2019

New AM process at Minneapolis manufacturer ensures production-level part quality through enhanced secondary processing.

Digital manufacturing company, Protolabs, based in Minneapolis, MN, has announced enhanced production capabilities for its laser-based metal 3D printing service.

The new techniques employ secondary processes to improve the strength, dimensional accuracy, and appearance of metal parts. Enhanced inspection reporting is also available.

“The designers and engineers we work with in industries like aerospace and meditech are choosing additive manufacturing for complex components in high-requirement applications,” said Greg Thompson, global product manager for 3D printing at Protolabs.

“These new production capabilities help them optimize their designs to enhance performance, reduce costs, and consolidate supply chains—and do so much faster than ever before.”

Laser sintering

Protolabs uses direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) technology — which is ISO 9001 and AS9100D-certified — to 3D print metal production parts. Once parts are built, several secondary options like post-process machining, tapping, reaming, and heat treatments are possible, and quality control measures like powder analysis, material traceability, and process validation are undertaken.

The company states that the new production launch reflects Protolabs’ efforts toward advancing industrial 3D printing beyond prototyping. “We’re committed to servicing our customers’ needs throughout the product life cycle across both conventional and additive manufacturing processes,” explained Thompson.

A number of recent steps that Protolabs has taken reinforce this aim, including joining GE’s Additive Manufacturing Network and MIT's Additive Manufacturing Consortium, along with teaming with Wohlers Associates for an immersive 3D printing design course.

The company has also added capacity to support its growth with more than 25 GE Additive Concept Laser Mlab and M2 machines for DMLS production.

Protolabs describes itself as “the world’s fastest digital manufacturing source for rapid prototyping and on-demand production.” The company produces custom parts and assemblies using automated 3D printing, CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, and injection molding processes.

Its website states, “the company’s digital approach to manufacturing enables accelerated time to market, reduces development and production costs, and minimizes risk throughout the product life cycle.”

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