Dear Desktop Engineering Reader:
If you haven’t read your March DE yet, do so. It’s a keeper. It focuses on what you need to know when choosing a service provider for your needs. There’s lots of good advice, insights, and food for thought.
But still, when you’re sussing out a new service provider, it all boils down to a leap of faith, especially when you’re doing business online. You just don’t know what goes on behind those data entry screens. Who are these guys? Can they handle my design? How do they do what they do and with what tools? How long is this going to take? Why them?
Proto Labs, a CNC-machined and injection-molded parts service, has created a website that strives to answer those questions and accomplishes that as well as a bunch more. Proto Labs does business through its Firstcut CNC Machining and Protomold Injection Molding divisions, the subject of the first two parts of the website; the two other sections are titled Worldwide and Technology. Each section serves as a virtual tour of the who, what, where, and how of Proto Labs. There’s no registration required to meander your way through the website, and the time required to take it all in is minimal, yet the site packs in a lot of information for you to consider.
The Firstcut and Protomold sections show you what these services are about. The tour offers behind the scenes videos and photos of Proto Labs’ manufacturing facilities in Maple Plain, MN, Telford, England, and Tokyo, Japan. Here, you see personnel using, say, Haas or Toshiba machines to fulfill a client’s order. There are some quick demos of how you interact with its services and what you can expect as a client in terms of materials, capabilities, and even shipping (usually one to three days).
The Firstcut and Protomold sections also have a second video that shows you how the Proto Labs order processing tool works. Essentially, you upload a 3D model, tell Proto Labs your parameters (tolerances, materials, the whole shebang), how many parts you want, and when you need them. Later that day, you should receive your price quote.
Now, this quoting business is interesting: Proto Labs has proprietary CAM and costing software. Besides developing toolpaths, what the CAM software means for you is that it analyzes your design to detect possible manufacturability problems then tells you about them. That is, your quote comes with options, recommendations for better machining, etc. You can then make changes and prevent getting a shipment of doorstops. Ultimately, this all means that you get a quote that is spot on from part to price.
All this works in cahoots with Proto Labs’ automated manufacturing systems, and everything is linked together through the company’s compute cluster. The Technology section covers this angle of the services as well as the “vision thing” behind the company, which is handled primarily through interviews with key personnel, such as the CEO and software developers.
Today’s Check It Out feature complements the March DE focus nicely. The Proto Labs virtual tour is well done and highly informative. You can tell that the company is a machine shop at heart rather than an aloof entity somewhere off in Internet land that also sells argyle socks or something. If you’re looking for a shop to do your short-run CNC-machined or injected molded parts, you should spend the half-hour or so to check out this tour of Proto Labs. It answers all the basic questions and provides additional insights into any outfit entrusted to handle your critical manufacturing work.
Thanks, Pal. – Lockwood
Anthony J. Lockwood
Editor at Large, Desktop Engineering