Proto Labs Extends Additive Manufacturing Reach in Europe

Proto Labs’ corporate headquarters are in Maple Plain, Minn. (above). With the Alphaform acquisition, Proto Labs now has manufacturing plants in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Finland and Japan.

Proto Labs closed this week on the purchase of select assets and operations of German-based manufacturer Alphaform AG, which significantly extends its additive manufacturing (3D printing) capabilities across Europe.

Alphaform is a leading service bureau headquartered in Feldkirchen (Munich), Germany. The purchase includes Alphaform divisions operating in Germany, Finland and the United Kingdom. This acquisition will significantly expand Proto Labs’ recently launched additive manufacturing capabilities in Europe by adding selective laser sintering, direct metal laser sintering and additional stereolithography capabilities. The acquisition also includes the injection molding service currently offered by Alphaform Claho, in Eschenlohe, Germany. MediMet Precision Casting and Implants Technology GmbH, a 100 percent subsidiary of Alphaform AG, is not part of the transaction.

Proto Labs entered the additive manufacturing market last year with the purchase of Fineline in Raleigh, N.C. Proto Labs is spending $25 million to expand that plant, which is set to open in 2016.

You can read the full press release here.

TIPS WITH TONY: Fine-Tuning Your Additive Resolution

When you’re watching an epic movie filled with sweeping cinematography, you probably want the highest on-screen resolution possible with, say, a Blu-ray disc or high-definition stream. But if your children are watching old Disney movies in the playroom while arguing with each other over Legos, a standard picture from a classic DVD will probably suffice. The point: Don’t overpay for something that isn’t really necessary.

Normal resolution.

Normal Res
The same thought can be applied during 3D printing when you’re prototyping with stereolithography (SL). Proto Labs uses three resolutions that range in cosmetics and functionality. Normal resolution (NR) provides the lowest cost, but lacks fine detail. With NR you get a layer thickness of 0.004 in. with a minimum feature size of 0.010 in. — but that might be all you need in early prototyping.

High resolution.

High Res
If your part requires an elevated level of precision, there’s high resolution (HR). Here, you get a layer thickness (0.002 in.) and minimum feature size (0.004 in.) half of NR. It costs more, but the boosting the part quality may be well worth it depending on your intended application.

Micro resolution.


Micro Res
You can even step up to a higher level of precision, which most manufacturers are unable to provide. Micro resolution (MR) — the Blu-ray of additive resolutions, if you will — can provide optimal part detail on the smallest of part features. With MR, you get a layer thickness of 0.001 in. and minimum feature size of 0.002 in. Yes, that is an actual life-sized ant (not an evil oversized ant) atop a microscopic chess board. You can even see the staircase inside the rook!

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Why Stereolithography is Built for Prototyping

Stereolithography (SL) is an established additive manufacturing process that can quickly and accurately create complex prototypes. Parts are built by curing paper-thin layers of liquid thermoset resin with an ultraviolet (UV) laser that draws on the surface of a resin to turn it from a liquid to solid layer. As each layer is completed, fresh, uncured resin is swept over the preceding layer and the process repeated until the part is finished.

SL offers a range of plastic-like materials to choose from with several types of polypropylene, ABS and glass-filled polycarbonate available. Normal, high and micro resolutions are achievable at Proto Labs, meaning very fine details and cosmetic surfaces are possible. As a result, minimal “stair stepping” is seen compared to printed parts such as fused deposition modeling (FDM).

SL parts can also be built to a max size of 29 in. by 25 in. by 21 in., giving it the edge over other additive processes like selective laser sintering (SLS).

Our latest design tip looks at these and other manufacturing considerations for the stereolithography process.

Proto Labs Expands Its Additive Manufacturing Footprint

Proto Labs has acquired a new facility to expand its 3D printing service into a larger and more efficient additive manufacturing space. The 77,000 sq. ft. facility will allow us to house all of our stereolithography (SL), selective laser sintering (SLS) and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) technology under one roof. The new plant is scheduled to become fully operational in the first half of 2016, and will remain in the North Carolina area where Proto Labs’ current additive facilities are located.

Large format SLS machines that will eventually move to Proto Labs’ new additive manufacturing facility.

“Since the launch of 3D printing at Proto Labs, we’ve increased our material selection and improved our turnaround time to days. We have also introduced additive services in Europe,” explains Rob Connelly, Proto Labs’ VP of Additive Manufacturing. “Our state-of-the-art facility will be a critical driver in advancing 3D printing for many years to come.”

Read the full press release on our new additive manufacturing space here.

The Reviews Are In!

We recently published a comprehensive, 72-page “Digital Manufacturing for Dummies” book that covers the benefits of using additive manufacturing (3D printing), CNC machining and injection molding for custom prototyping and low-volume production.

Well, a few editors of industry publications have had a chance to read and review the book. Here’s what they’re saying:

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