3D Platforms

Protolabs launches production ready metal 3D printing service

Leading digital manufacturing company Protolabs has launched a production service for metal 3D printing. Termed high requirements direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) the new offering has been developed to help customers produce high performance metal 3D printed parts and integrate industry-appropriate quality inspection procedures in line with the client.

“The designers and engineers we work with in industries like aerospace and medtech are choosing additive manufacturing for complex components in high-requirement applications,” comments 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.”

3D printing at Protolabs

Headquartered in Maple Plain, Minnesota, Protolabs offers digital manufacturing services from 12 locations around the globe. A 77,000 sq. ft. facility in Raleigh, North Carolina, is responsible for fulfilling all of the company’s 3D printing orders for North America housing more than 100 additive manufacturing systems for both metal and polymer fabrication.

For Europe, 3D printing is handled by two facilities co-located near Munich in Germany. Though smaller than the North Carolina flagship, Protolabs has plans to rearrange these facilities in the near future to become more of a centerpiece for its European 3D printing operations.

The company is a founding member of the GE Additive Manufacturing Partner Network, and MIT’s Additive Manufacturing Consortium. Recently, through working with GE, Protolabs was involved in a high profile project for New York’s MET Gala, helping to design and manufacture evening wear for fashion designer Zac Posen.

To support its growth in DMLS, the company recently added more than twenty-five Concept Laser Mlab and M2 machines from GE Additive.

Bed of DMLS 3D printed parts. Photo via Protolabs
Bed of DMLS 3D printed parts. Photo via Protolabs

From prototyping to production

The current drive of Protolabs across all of its business segments (sheet metal, injection molding, CNC machining and 3D printing) is to move from prototyping into production – as highlighted in a prior interview with Protolabs President and CEO Vicki Holt. In particular relation to high requirements DMLS, Holt said, “As companies want to use us more for production parts, the service we offer has to change a little bit.” This is due to, Holt adds, extra “upfront engineering that takes place to really finalize the part” for end use. “As we get these high requirements projects, we also have to work out quality control plans with the customer, and how we’re going to make sure that we can meet their needs for production part.”

DMLS at Protolabs is ISO 9001 and AS9100D-certified providing industry-accepted quality standards and application within the aerospace sector. With such high grade metal parts, Protolabs applies secondary processes to improve the strength, dimensional accuracy, and cosmetic appearance of metal parts. This includes post-process machining, tapping, reaming, and heat treatments for the components. With the new DMLS production service, the company has also introduced heightened quality control measures like powder analysis, material traceability, and process validation for metal customers.

Thompson concludes, “We’re committed to servicing our customers’ needs throughout the product life cycle across both conventional and additive manufacturing processes.”

Concept Laser DMLS machines at Protolabs. Photo via Protolabs
Concept Laser DMLS machines at Protolabs. Photo via Protolabs

Protolabs is the official manufacturer of the 2019 3D Printing Industry Awards trophy. Stay tuned to find out this year’s winners.

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Featured image shows Concept Laser DMLS machines at Protolabs. Photo via Protolabs