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.

Firstcut
What does Firstcut do?
Firstcut CNC machines low quantities of parts very quickly. Typical quantities are one to 10 pieces and typical lead times are one to three business days. Firstcut offers product developers real parts (as opposed to models of parts) that are suitable for functional testing or final use, in as fast as one day.

What is unique about the Firstcut process?
Our quoting process is unprecedented in the machining industry. We have developed proprietary quoting software that runs on a large scale computing cluster and generates the CNC toolpaths required to machine your part. The result is a fast, convenient and easy to use process for getting quotes, ordering and receiving CNC-machined parts.

What is the typical cost of a machined part with Firstcut?
Prices start at $95, but the best way to find out is to submit a 3D CAD model and get a FirstQuote interactive quote. Because Firstcut uses proprietary software and automated fixturing processes, there are no up front non-recurring engineering (NRE) costs. This makes purchasing parts in quantities as low as 1-10 cost effective. Prices compared with traditional rapid prototypes (SLA, SLS and FDM) are comparable to somewhat higher, but with the real material properties and improved surface finishes that you get at Firstcut you receive a higher VALUE.

How does the quoting process work?
Once you upload your 3D CAD model to our website, the software calculates the price to produce your design in various materials and then generates an “as-milled view” of your part. A FirstQuote® interactive quote is provided that allows you to evaluate the choice of different materials and different quantities, as well as a 3D view of how your machined part will compare to your original model with any differences highlighted. See a FirstQuote preview here.

What are Firstcut’s stocked materials?
Firstcut stocks a variety of metals and plastic resins (including glass filled) that are available in the sheet stock we use for our process. See a full list of more than 40 Firstcut-stocked materials. At this time, we do not accept customer-supplied material for machining.

What are Firstcut’s capabilities? What size can my part be?
Generally, we can support a minimum part size of 0.25 in. by 0.25 in. by 0.25 in. and a maximum part size of 10 in. by 7 in. by 3.75 in. Our process is based on three-axis milling from six perpendicular sides, which allows many undercuts to be machined. For additional information, please see our Design Guidelines.

Why should I buy a machined part rather than a 3D printed part?
Prototype parts from Firstcut will have the true properties of the material you select, not the “material-like” properties that rapid prototyping offers. Your parts will have machined surfaces free of the “stair-stepping” inherent in additive manufacturing. Our process allows you to get parts CNC machined from REAL blocks of solid plastic and aluminum in the same timeframe that you can get SLA, SLS or FDM parts. Prices compared with traditional rapid prototypes (SLA, SLS and FDM) are comparable to somewhat higher, but with the real material properties and improved surface finishes that you get at Firstcut, you receive a higher VALUE.

Protomold
What does Protomold do?
Protomold provides low- to mid-volume quantities of injection-molded parts very quickly. Typical quantities are 10 to 10,000+ pieces and typical lead times are one to 15 business days. Protomold helps product developers get real parts that are suitable for functional testing or final use, in days — not weeks.

What is unique about the Protomold process?
At Protomold, we have automated the process of quoting, designing and manufacturing molds based on customer-supplied 3D CAD part models. Due to this automation, and running software on super-fast computing clusters, we typically cut the lead time for the initial parts to one-third of conventional methods.


What is the typical cost of injection-molded parts with Protomold?
Prices start at $1,495 and depend on part geometry and complexity. The best way to estimate cost is to upload your model and you’ll receive an interactive quote within hours. Protomold is able to create your mold at a fraction of the price of traditional injection molding because of our proprietary analysis software, automated processes and use of aluminum molds.

How does the quoting process work?
Getting a ProtoQuote will show materials and finishes available, highlight any potential issues with manufacturing your part and show quick-turn and delivery options available (dependent on your geometry). You’ll see price implications of your material and quantity selections in real time — no need to re-quote! See a ProtoQuote preview here.

What resins can (or should) I use?
Designers should consider application-specific material properties like tensile strength, impact resistance or ductility, mechanical characteristics, molding properties, and cost of the resin when selecting a resin. See our resin guide for a quick comparison of popular resins. If you need help selecting material, please feel free to call us.

What happens if my mold wears out?
If a tool we make for a customer wears out for any reason, we cut another tool at no charge.

What are Protomold’s stocked resins?
We carry a variety of resins (nearly 100!) and are also able to accept many customer-supplied resins. See the full list of Protomold's stocked resins.

What are Protomold’s capabilities? What size can my part be?
Maximum part outline depends on geometry, but is approximately 18.9 in. by 29.6 in. Part depth can be up to 8 in. (4 in. from each side of the parting line) with 3° of draft. Upload your model at protomold.com/upload for a free manufacturability analysis. Our process can support multiple side actions per mold, depending on part geometry. Parts can be molded using most thermoplastic resins. See more about Protomold injection-molding capabilities in our design guidelines.

Why should I buy a molded part rather than a 3D printed part?
Prototype parts from Protomold will have the true properties of the material you select, not the “material-like” properties that rapid prototyping offers. Your parts will have a professional, finished surface rather than the “stair-stepping” inherent in additive manufacturing. Our process allows you to get parts in one to 15 days at prices that are comparable to somewhat higher, but with the real material properties and improved surface finishes, and are suitable for functional testing and actual representation.