Digital Manufacturing FAQs
What is the advantage of working with Protolabs? Why should I choose your company to make my parts?
Our industrial 3D printing, CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, and injection molding services provide parts made directly from the customer’s 3D CAD model, reducing the likelihood of errors. Proprietary software automates toolpath generation to decrease manufacturing times and reduce costs.
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 success stories. Read our success stories here.
Is a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) required to do business with Protolabs?
An NDA is not necessary to do business with Protolabs. When uploading your CAD model to our site, we employ state-of-the-art encryption and anything you upload is protected by confidentiality obligations. For more information, contact your account representative.
What industries use Protolabs services?
We serve a variety of industries including medical device, automotive, lighting, aerospace, technology, consumer product, and electronics.
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. 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 CNC machining 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 as fast as 1 day.
Injection molding is better suited to support 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 6 to 10 weeks with other molders) or your volume requirements don't justify expensive steel production tooling, we can supply production parts to meet your full requirements (up to 10,000+ parts) in 1 to 15 days.
How many machines do you have?
We currently have more than 1,000 mills, lathes, 3D printers, presses, press brakes, and other manufacturing equipment. With our long history of growth, this number is always changing.
Are my parts made in the United States?
We currently have 12 manufacturing facilities in the United States, Europe, and Japan, all of which are producing parts.
Why do you have manufacturing facilities in other countries?
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.
How do I get a quote?
To get a quote for all of our services, simply upload a 3D CAD model on our site. You'll get an interactive quote within hours with free design feedback. If there are problem areas in the submitted design, our quoting engine provides detailed information on the potential manufacturing issues and suggests possible solutions.
Can I quote my part with all services at once?
You can get a quote for injection molding and machining, but a second quote for 3D printing will need to be requested.
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 accepted.
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 who are familiar with our process.
Does Protolabs offer finishing options and secondary processes with its services?
Do you provide first article of inspection (FAI) service?
How is 3D printing different at Protolabs?
Everything we do at Protolabs is focused on providing the fastest and highest quality prototypes and production parts in the industry. This demands the latest technology, managed by tight process controls. Our industrial-grade 3D printing equipment is state-of-the-art and rigorously maintained to perform like new with every build. Orchestrating it all, our trained staff produces your parts according to carefully honed procedures.
What is stereolithography?
While stereolithography (SL) is the oldest of all the 3D printing technologies, it remains the gold standard for overall accuracy, surface finish, and resolution. It uses an ultraviolet laser focused to a small point, drawing on the surface of a liquid thermoset resin. Where it draws, the liquid turns to solid. This is repeated in thin, two-dimensional cross-sections that are layered to form complex three-dimensional parts. Material properties are typically inferior to those of selective laser sintering (SLS), but the surface finish and detail are unmatched.
What is selective laser sintering?
Selective laser sintering (SLS) uses a CO2 laser that draws onto a hot bed of thermoplastic powder. Where it draws, it lightly sinters the powder into a solid. After each layer, a roller lays a fresh layer of powder on top of the bed and the process repeats. Since SLS uses actual engineering thermoplastics, its 3D-printed parts exhibit greater toughness.
What is PolyJet?
PolyJet builds multi-material prototypes with flexible features and complex parts with intricate geometries. A range of hardnesses (durometers) are available, which work well for components with elastomeric features like like gaskets, seals, and housings. PolyJet uses a jetting process where small droplets of liquid photopolymer are sprayed from multiple jets onto a build platform and cured layer by layer. After the build, support material is manually removed. Parts are then ready to be used without the need for post-curing.
What is direct metal laser sintering ?
Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) uses a fiber laser system that draws onto a surface of atomized metal powder, welding the powder into a solid. After each layer, a recoater blade adds a fresh layer of powder and repeats the process until a final metal part is formed. DMLS can use most alloys, allowing parts to be functional hardware made out of the same material as production components. Since the components are built layer by layer, it is possible to design internal features and passages that could not be cast or otherwise machined.
How dense are DMLS parts?
DMLS parts are 99.5% dense.
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 success stories. Read case studies here.
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 provide you with contact information for design firms that are familiar with our process.
What is the typical cost of 3D-printed parts at Protolabs?
Prices start around $95, but the best way is to submit a 3D CAD model to get an interactive quote.
What are Protolabs' CNC machining capabilities?
We mill and turn low quantities of parts very quickly. Typical quantities are one to 200 pieces and manufacturing times are 1 to 3 business days. We offer product developers parts machined from engineering-grade materials that are suitable for functional testing or end-use applications.
What is unique about the Protolabs' process?
Our quoting process is unprecedented in the machining industry. We have developed proprietary quoting software that runs on a large-scale compute cluster and generates the CNC toolpaths required to machine your part. The result is a fast, convenient, and easy way to get quotes and order machined parts.
What is the typical cost of a machined part at Protolabs?
Prices start around $65, but the best way to find out is to submit a 3D CAD model and get a ProtoQuote interactive quote. Because we use proprietary software and automated fixturing processes, there are no up front non-recurring engineering (NRE) costs. This makes purchasing quantities as low as 1 to 200 parts cost effective. Prices compared to 3D printing are comparable to somewhat higher, but machining offers improved material properties and surfaces.
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. An 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 ProtoQuote preview here.
What are Protolabs stocked materials for machining?
We stock a variety of plastic and metal materials from ABS, nylon, PC, and PP to stainless steel, aluminum, copper, and brass. See a full list of more than 40 stocked materials for milling and turning. At this time, we do not accept customer-supplied material for machining.
What are Protolabs' machining capabilities? What size can my part be?
Why should I have my part machined rather than 3D printed?
Machined parts have the true properties of the material you select. Our process allows you to get parts machined from blocks of solid plastic and metal in the same time frame, if not faster, than 3D-printed parts.
What are Protolabs’ sheet metal capabilities?
We fabricate functional prototypes and end-use parts in as fast as 3 days.
What is unique about the Protolabs’ process?
Through design and manufacturing automation, Protolabs is able to get quality sheet metal parts in your hands within days.
What is the typical cost of a sheet metal part at Protolabs?
Prices vary but can start around $125, depending on part geometry and complexity. The best way to estimate your cost is to upload your model to our website to receive a FREE quote within hours. If you want instant costing and design for manufacturability feedback, download our free add-in eRapid for Solidworks.
How does the sheet metal quoting process work?
For sheet metal quotes, you’ll need to upload your CAD model and specifications to quote.rapidmanufacturing.com. You’ll receive a detailed quote within hours. Once you’re ready to order parts, you can log in to myRapid to place your order.
What are Protolabs stocked materials for sheet metal?
We stock a variety of metal materials including stainless steel, aluminum, copper, and brass. See a full list of stocked materials for sheet metal fabrication.
What are Protolabs’ capabilities? What size can my part be?
For information on part size and other considerations for sheet metal fabrication, please see our sheet metal design guidelines.
What are Protolabs' injection molding capabilities?
We offer plastic and liquid silicone rubber molding as well as overmolding and insert molding in low-volume quantities of 25 to 10,000+ pieces. Typical manufacturing times are 1 to 15 business days. Rapid injection molding helps product developers get prototypes and production parts that are suitable for functional testing or final use within days.
What is unique about the Protolabs' process?
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 ultra-fast compute clusters, we typically cut the manufacturing time for the initial parts to one-third that of conventional methods.
What is the typical cost of injection-molded parts with Protolabs?
Prices start around $1,495, depending on part geometry and complexity. The best way to estimate cost is to upload your model to our website to receive an interactive quote within hours. Protolabs 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 an interactive quote 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 sample ProtoQuote 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. If you need help selecting material, please feel free to call us.
What are Protolabs’ stocked resins for injection molding?
We house more than 100 thermoplastic resins and also accept many customer-supplied resins. See the full list of Protolabs' stocked resins.
What are Protolabs’ capabilities? What size can my part be?
For information on part size and other considerations for injection molding, please see our design guidelines.
Why should I buy a molded part rather than a 3D-printed part?
Molded parts from Protolabs will have the true properties of the material you select. With the true material properties and improved surface finishes, injection-molded parts are suitable for functional testing and end-use production.
What is the Protolabs Protoview 3D Display?
The Protoview 3D display enables you to view and rotate your quoted CAD model in three dimensions.
How do I install Protoview?
You don’t. The latest version of the Protoview 3D display requires no installation. Simply go to your interactive quote page and the Protoview 3D display should automatically display your CAD model.
What operating systems and browsers are supported?
Protoview is currently supported on these operating systems:
- Windows XP SP2 or SP3
- Windows Vista (all versions)
- Windows 7 (all versions)
- Windows 8 (all versions)
- Mac OSX 10.1 or later
Protoview is currently supported on these browsers:
- Internet Explorer 8+
- Google Chrome 21.0+
- Firefox 19.1+
NOTE: We do not recommend using Internet Explorer 7 due to security vulnerabilities and poor performance with 3D content.
Why doesn't the Protoview load correctly or why is there a black screen?
This is most commonly caused by bad or conflicting cached (stored) data in your browser. Simply refresh your page by hitting CTRL+F5 on your keyboard. This forces your browser to dump any cached data and reload from a clean slate.
Why do I get a 'Load File Failed' or 'File Not Found' error message?
There may be an issue with the uploaded CAD file. Please contact our customer service team at [email protected] or 877-479-3680 to resolve this problem.
Why doesn't my quote load, or why does it load incorrectly with strange results or unexpected artifacts?
Your graphics drivers are out of date and need to be updated. Consult the table below for the minimum required driver versions for your operating system and graphics card. Note that depending on your corporate security settings, you may need to contact your IT department in order to upgrade your drivers.
We recommend you only download drivers directly from the manufacturer’s site and do not use any mirror sites or third-party drivers.
- NVidida: http://www.nvidia.com/download
- AMD/ATI: http://support.amd.com/en-us/download
- Intel: https://downloadcenter.intel.com
- Windows XP, Vista, & 7: 220.127.116.1121 or newer
- Windows 8: 18.104.22.16821 or newer
- Macintosh OSX: 22.214.171.12421 or newer
- Windows XP, Vista, & 7: 8.741.0.0 or newer
- Windows 8: 126.96.36.199 or newer
- Macintosh OSX: 8.741.0.0 or newer
- Windows XP, Vista, & 7: 188.8.131.522 or newer
- Windows 8: 184.108.40.2062 or newer
- Macintosh OSX: 220.127.116.112 or newer
Why won’t my quote load even when my drivers are up to date?
Your graphics card may not be supported. The following graphics cards are not supported:
- AMD/ATI Radeon X1900 series on Mac OSX
- ATI FireNV 2400
- Intel Mobile 945 Express
- NVidia GeForce 6100, 6150, & 6200 series with Turbo Cache
- NVidia GeForce 7300 GT on Mac OSX
- NVidia Quadro FX 1500
- NVidia GeForce FX Go5200
- S3 Trio Cards
Systems with two or more graphics cards of different types will encounter rendering errors, e.g., the computer has an NVIDIA GeForce and Intel Integrated HD chipset. Try disabling one of the cards. NVIDIA SLI, and AMD/ATI Crossfire technology is supported. Third-party drivers such as Omega Drivers are not supported. Linux is not supported, however, Protoview will run on many Linux distributions with Google Chrome.
Why can’t I view the Protoview on my tablet?
Tablets and mobile devices are not supported at this time. You can still view your quote in a PDF format.
Other browser related issues:
A common error after visiting your Protoquote interactive quotes for the first time is that the necessary plug-in for displaying some internet content, Microsoft Silverlight, is not permitted to display 3D content.
- Where your quote would normally render, you will see a red error screen. Simply follow the on screen instructions to view your quote:
1. Right-click the page
2. Select 'Silverlight'
(The 'Microsoft Silverlight Configuration' dialog will be displayed)
3. Select the 'Permissions' tab
4. Find this site in the list and change its 3D Graphics permission from 'Deny' to 'Allow'
5. Click 'OK'
6. Reload the page
- After clicking ‘OK’ to close the window, press the F5 key on your keyboard to refresh the page. This setting will be stored permanently and will not need to do this every time you view your quote in future.
If you still encounter issues:
- Microsoft Silverlight plug-in may not be installed or is outdated. To install or update, visit microsoft.com/getsilverlight.
- We recommend Silverlight 5.1.30514.0 or later for best performance.
- After installing Silverlight, you will need to refresh your Protoquote page in order for the installation to take effect.
Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox
When using Chrome or Firefox, the first time you visit your ProtoQuote, you will see a screen telling you Protoview needs your permission to run. Simply right-click anywhere in the gray field and select 'Run this plug-in' from the menu.
The most common issue using the Protoview 3D display on Chrome or Firefox is simply not having the latest browser version. To ensure Protoview runs and performs at its best, we recommend updating your browser to the latest version.
- Select the 'Menu' button in the top right corner and click 'About Google Chrome.'
- When the 'About' page loads, Chrome will automatically check for updates. Depending on your settings, Chrome will prompt you to install updates or install them automatically and then prompt you to relaunch.
- Select the 'Menu' button in the top right corner, select 'Help,' then 'About Firefox.' Note: In some older versions, this menu is an orange Firefox button at the top left of the browser.
- As the 'About' window opens, Firefox will automatically check for updates and prompt you to install if updates are available.
What is a Protolabs Proposed Revision?
A Proposed Revision is a suggested modification to your part geometry to ensure your design complies with the capabilities of our rapid manufacturing process.
What file format will you send me?
It depends on the source file. Generally, we provide STEP, IGES,and SolidWorks files.
If I like the change, what should I do?
You can purchase the part as it is shown with proposed revisions if:
- there are no unresolved required changes.
- you accept the Proposed Revision by checking the box in section three of the quote.
If I like the change but want to order from my own source file, what do I do?
Update your model to match the Proposed Revision and resubmit it:
- Click the 'Download Revised Model' button in section two of the quote to compare the Protolabs geometry to your original version.
- Replicate the changes shown by Protolabs in your own modeling tool and re-submit your part for quote. Quoting again is required by our process to ensure a match between the quote and the part.
- The updated quote should be returned with no required changes and thus, your part should be orderable.
What should I do if I don’t like (or can’t accept) the change?
Design issues can often be resolved in multiple ways. You can:
- modify your part geometry a different way to meet the intent of the Proposed Revision.
- discuss alternative solutions by contacting an applications engineer at 877-479-3680 or [email protected].
How do I find out more about why you made the change?
To discuss process requirements, contact an applications engineer at 877-479-3680 or [email protected].
Are there extra fees? What is the price of this service?
Proposed Revisions are offered at no additional charge. Revised geometry is priced as any part would be. Some changes will influence price up or down. In practice, most prices changes from minor geometry revisions are negligible.
Is this a design service?
We do not offer product design services. Proposed Revisions are offered to demonstrate geometry that is compatible with our manufacturing processes.
Why was I asked to update my Protoviewer plug-in?
Proposed Revisions are compatible with newer Protoviewer versions only.
What happens if my part doesn’t function based on the Protolabs change?
You are responsible for part design and function.
Can I opt out of the Proposed Revision process?
We hope you find this service valuable, but if you’d prefer to not participate, note so when you upload your part.
Who is Protolabs?
We are the world's fastest digital manufacturing source for custom prototypes and low-volume production parts. We use industrial 3D printing, CNC machining, and injection molding technologies to produce parts within days. The result is an unprecedented speed-to-market value for designers and engineers and an on-demand manufacturing resource throughout a product’s life cycle.
When is the application deadline?
The program runs from January 1 through December 31. There are four open application periods a year. Each period is followed by a month for judges to review the applications of each period’s finalists.
Application periods are below:
- January 1–May 31
- July 1–November 30
How will I know if I’m a Cool Idea Award Winner?
Finalists from each period will be notified and asked to fill out a more detailed application, which will be used to determine Cool Idea Award recipients.
How many award recipients are chosen?
There isn’t a set number of Cool Idea Award winners. Each application period may produce zero recipients or it may produce multiple recipients—it’s entirely dependent on the number of strong applications we receive.
What types of 3D CAD file formats are accepted?
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.
What kind of products are you looking for?
We always keep a watchful eye out for ideas that would make life a little better, easier, safer, healthier, less frustrating or more fun. Basically, if it’s cool and it involves parts that Protolabs can make, we want to hear about it. Check out our previous award recipients.
What is the judging based on?
We determine winners based on originality, feasibility, the potential benefit to end users and, of course, innate coolness.
Are you going to take ownership of my idea if I’m chosen as an award recipient?
Worry not. As cool as we think your idea is, we're not interested in claiming it as our own. We’ll just stick to what we do best—getting your concepts manufactured.
Will you market my product for me if I’m chosen as an award recipient?
We send out a press release announcing that your idea was selected for the Cool Idea Award, and where applicable, we publish it on our social media pages and write a case study about the product that appears on our website and Protolabs Journal. We may even ask you to lend your expertise to other entrepreneurs at events, in speaking opportunities, videos, etc.
If I haven’t made parts with Protolabs before, will that affect my chances of winning?
Nope. Cool Idea is an award program, not a reward program, so if you’ve never used our services or have used them hundreds of times before, your chances of winning are not affected.