General FAQs
CNC Machining
Injection Molding
Additive Manufacturing
Proto Labs
How do I choose between Firstcut and Protomold services?
When should I use machining versus injection molding?

Before making the investment to have injection-mold tooling made or high-volume machining processes, you likely will want to test a part that is as close to the production part as possible. Firstcut CNC Machining is the best option for this situation.

Additionally, engineers often need just one or maybe a few parts for test fixtures, assembly jigs or assembly fixtures. Machining is the best option here as well, but traditional machine shops often charge a significant non-recurring engineering (NRE) charge for programming and fixturing. This NRE charge often makes getting very small quantities not affordable. The automated Firstcut prototype process eliminates the upfront NRE costs and is able to offer quantities as low as one part at an affordable price and get parts in your hands in one to three days.

Protomold Injection Molding is better suited to support prototyping that needs larger amounts of samples for functional or market testing, bridge tooling or low-volume production. If you need parts before a steel tool can be made (typically six to 10 weeks with other molders) or your volume requirements don't justify expensive steel production tooling, Protomold can supply production parts to meet your full requirements (up to 10,000+ parts) in one to 15 days.

Protomold Rapid Injection Molding process gives design engineers a fast and affordable way to get real injection-molded parts in prototype or low-volume quantities. We work with advanced aluminum alloys and high-speed CNC machining. Our process features an unprecedented degree of standardization and automation, which is how we deliver injection-molded parts faster, and more economically than anyone else in the world.

What is the advantage of working with Proto Labs?
Why should I choose your company to make my parts?

Both Firstcut and Protomold services provide parts made directly from the customer’s 3D CAD model, reducing the likelihood of errors. Proprietary software automates tool-path generation to decrease lead times and reduce costs.

How do your processes compare with additive/rapid prototyping methods like 3D printing, fused-deposition models, selective laser sintering or stereolithography?
Protomold’s injection molding and Firstcut CNC machining use traditional manufacturing processes highly automated with proprietary software which allows us to offer real parts, really fast. Both services offer a much wider selection of materials than additive processes. The materials we use are engineering grade and produce parts that are significantly stronger and can achieve much smoother surface finishes, free of the “stair-stepping” inherent in additive processes.

What companies do you work with?
Due to the proprietary and competitive nature of projects we work on, we do not disclose a listing of our customers. However, we do regularly receive permission to share customer comments and case studies. Read them here.

What industries use Proto Labs services?
Proto Labs serves a variety of industries including medical device, automotive, lighting, aerospace, technology, consumer product and electronics.

What type of facilities does Proto Labs have?
Proto Labs currently has full-scale manufacturing facilities in the United States, United Kingdom and Japan. Additionally, we have sales offices in United States (Minnesota), England, France, Germany and Italy. Visit our virtual tour to see images and video of manufacturing facilities and locations.

How many mills/presses/machines do you have?
We currently have more than 300 mills and 120+ molding presses. With the long history of growth our company has, this number is always changing. Visit our virtual tour to see images and video of manufacturing facilities which will give you an idea of the scale of our manufacturing capabilities.

Why do you have manufacturing facilities in other countries?
Are my parts made in the United States?

We manufacture all parts for North America at our U.S. facilities. We also ship internationally to many other countries from our U.S. facilities. Our manufacturing facility in England supports all of the European countries, and our Japan facilities manufactures exclusively for Japan. See photo galleries of our global locations at www.protolabs.com/tour

How do I get a quote?
To get a quote for either service (or both), simply upload a 3D CAD solid model to one of our websites. Visit www.protomold.com or www.firstcut.com to get started. Both services return a detailed quote within hours. If there are problem areas in the submitted design, both quoting engines provide detailed information on the potential manufacturing issues and suggested solutions when available.

Can I quote my part with both services at once?
Yes! To get started, visit www.protomold.com or www.firstcut.com and select both services in the checkboxes. You’ll receive the two quotes separately.

What types of files do you accept?
We can accept native SolidWorks (.sldprt) or ProE (.prt) files as well as solid 3D CAD models from other CAD systems output in IGES (.igs), STEP (.stp), ACIS (.sat) or Parasolid (.x_t or .x_b) format. We can also accept .stl files. Two-dimensional (2D) drawings are not adequate for quoting or making parts.

I don’t have a 3D CAD model. Can you create one for me?
We do not offer any design services at this time. If you need assistance creating a 3D CAD model of your idea, contact us via email and we’ll get you contact information for designers that are familiar with our process.

Can Protomold or Firstcut perform secondary operations?
No. Services like overmolding, anodizing or chrome-plating are not offered by Proto Labs at this time.

Do you provide First Article of Inspection Service?
We do not offer inspection services at this time.