I entered the bustling halls of the Minneapolis Convention Center in search of my first Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) Expo, a two-day event that brings medical device developers, part manufacturers, suppliers, packagers and others together to promote their capabilities and network with one another.
With an espresso firmly in hand, I made my way onto the convention floor, a wide-eyed virgin to manufacturing trade shows. Sure, I’ve been to car, truck and boat shows before, but never an industry trade show. Gone were bikini-clad models pitching luxury cars, replaced with automated robots offering Reese’s Pieces Halloween treats. Being a fan of both candy and robots, especially when paired together, my attention was immediately captured.
Task one was to explore the sea of booths that seemingly covered every possible area that touched the medical industry. There, of course, were manufacturing companies: injection molding, machining, casting, forming, 3D printing, etc. Within that there were those that specialized in circuit boards, some in coils and springs, some in catheters. There were companies that cleaned burrs and flash from parts with dry ice. There were sterilizers and leak testers and finishers and labelers. My hope was to garner a bit of industry wisdom from the trade show elders manning the booths while getting a feel for how Proto Labs fit into the big picture of medical manufacturing.
As I roamed the isles trying to process the depth of production that occurs every day in the industry, I came across a machine rapidly stacking Starbursts into a pile. Yep, more robots and candy. Its furious yet hypnotic motion provided a welcome robotic oasis, but it was also symbolic of modern manufacturing and production where speed is so important. With that in mind, I located the “Precision Tec” row where the Proto Labs booth was housed, pockets brimming with free pens and PEEK tubing samples.
Proto Labs machines and molds parts really fast. We can machine one to 50 parts in three days or less. We can mold 25 to 10,000 parts in 15 days or less. Our proprietary software and automated processes allow us to do this. But what I began to realize is that trade shows like MD&M allow Proto Labs to put a human face on this process. We’re educating classroom professors and engineers about part design. We’re answering questions from company owners about materials. We’re touching base with customers about past and present projects. And we’re helping clarify who we are and who we are not (a 3D printer). Not only did most visitors enjoy talking about products and parts, but our sales staff and customer service engineers were genuinely enjoying spirited, face-to-face discussions about manufacturing.
I exited the convention not quite a grizzly old veteran, but having learned a little about medical manufacturing and Proto Labs place within it.
Will Martin, Proto Labs, Inc.
Expo Visitor, Badge #379103