June 2009 Design Tip

Some Things We've Learned in the Last Decade

We just celebrated our tenth anniversary here at Proto Labs (nothing fancy, just pizza and cola and a little reminiscing) but it got us thinking, so we thought we'd share a few things we've learned and see if there's a tip or two in there somewhere.

 Somebody finally got around to counting all those aluminium moulds we've made in the last ten years. Would you believe over 22,000? After one too many Red Bulls, some guy decided to figure out how many aluminium cans that would be, but since the size and weight of moulds we've been able to make has increased over the years, he's still working on some of the finer points of the calculation. Our tip: if you're going to store that many moulds, get a whole lot of warehouse space.

     Protomold's manufacturing facility mould storage area

Protomold's manufacturing facility mould storage area

 Did somebody ask how many people-hours ProtoQuote® has saved by generating estimates and design analyses automatically? It's hard to say exactly, but we're thinking something like 50 people-years. Our tip: If you're going to automate quoting and analysis, get yourself a really big, really powerful compute cluster.

     Proto Labs' compute cluster

Proto Labs' compute cluster

 A while back, we heard a lot of people saying that American companies couldn't compete in world manufacturing markets. We found out that we could do more than just compete; we could export our technology and have European and Asian companies beat a path to our doors. Our tip: Keep innovating.

 They say it's a sound-bite world, and that attention spans are shrinking to the size of a "tweet" (140 characters or less). Our experience (based on web content, design tips, 17 issues of the Proto Labs journal, and more) is that if you respect your reader's intelligence, people will listen. Our tip: Trust your customers.

 How many times have we heard "If it ain't broke, don't fix it?" Well, our processes never seemed "broke" but we kept tinkering with them anyway. That's how we got bigger moulds, taller and narrower parts, side actions, and First Cut's automated CNC machining. Our tip: You're never too good to work at getting better.

 Finally, over the last 10 years we've learned (over and over again) that customers like getting more for less. No surprise there, but we've sometimes been surprised at ways we've found to reduce the cost of real injection moulded parts. On May 18, we announced a new, lower minimum cost of �1495, down from the previous low of �1795. Our tip: When you're ready for injection moulded parts suitable for functional testing, bridge tooling, or low-volume production, call Proto Labs.