It seems that every time we hear from Proto Labs, the digital manufacturing company is enhancing its portfolio of offerings. Earlier this year Proto Labs began offering PolyJet additive manufacturing technology, while last month the company introduced on-demand manufacturing capabilities for injection molding. Proto Labs has told us that they have as a company fully embraced digital manufacturing, and the increase in focus to the latest offerings that they have highlighted is further in the spotlight with today’s announcement.

Proto Labs has further expanded its 3D printing service offerings through the addition of HP‘s Multi Jet Fusion technology, bringing the total additive manufacturing processes available up to five technologies as the company is capable of 3D printing with plastic, metal, and elastomeric materials. The company is working as a foundational partner for HP’s launch of MJF as the technology — finally unveiled last year and now making its way to customer installations around the world — is set to offer production-grade 3D printing.

“We are thrilled to add HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology to our growing line of service offerings,” Proto Labs’ President and CEO, Vicki Holt, tells 3DPrint.com of today’s news. “The process’s ability to produce not only prototype parts, but also production parts with accelerated speed, a smooth finish, and detailed precision can benefit many industries, including medical, automotive and industrial machinery. We are very excited about the potential that MJF has to further advance 3D printing as a digital manufacturing method for final part production.”

HP’s President of 3D Printing, Stephen Nigro, and Proto Labs President & CEO, Vicki Holt, visit a Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer at Proto Labs’ 77,000-square-foot additive manufacturing facility in Cary, NC.

For its part, HP’s first production machines in North America were installed just this past December as foundational partner Jabil welcomed the first two Jet Fusion 4200 3D printers. Since then, installations have been broadening worldwide as HP has announced, and acted upon, intentions to globalize distribution and scale up its 3D printing business. California-based Forecast 3D currently has the largest installation of Jet Fusion 3D printers, having recently brought 12 of the machines into use with a goal to produce more than 600,000 end-use production parts every week. Proto Labs has been an important part of HP’s expansion strategy as well, as HP noted the company among key service bureaus and product design firms in its announcement of plans to scale the business. As of May, Proto Labs had concluded their initial testing phase of MJF technology and was preparing for preliminary market introduction.

“Proto Labs is seeing strong double-digit growth in 3D printing year after year, and we continue to support a growing customer demand for 3D-printed parts,” Holt told 3DPrint.com in a June interview.

“We are also currently working as a foundational test partner for HP’s new Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology and are excited to see how this technology will create a faster path to end-use production parts via 3D printing.”

That day has come as MJF is now available for use by Proto Labs customers. The company’s months of working with and testing out the MJF equipment, including work with select customers, has left them confident in the technology’s production-grade capabilities, and they are looking forward to offering the service for manufacture of functional plastic prototypes and production parts. Proto Labs notes that HP technology may be capable of bridging the divide between 3D printing for prototypes and for full-production parts, and will be offering its services targeted for both applications.

“Before introducing any manufacturing process at Proto Labs, we execute thorough testing to develop a repeatable process and ensure we can meet our quality standards. We are extremely confident with the feature resolution and quality surface finishes we have seen with HP’s Multi Jet Fusion and are excited to offer our customers another tool to accelerate product development and reduce manufacturing costs,” said Greg Thompson, Global Product Manager of 3D Printing at Proto Labs.

Proto Labs offers design guidelines with “important design considerations to help improve part manufacturability, enhance cosmetic appearance, and reduce overall production time” for those customers interested in ordering parts made using MJF technology. The company notes that it recommends MJF for use for:

  • Parts requiring consistent isotropic mechanical properties
  • Functional prototypes and end-use parts
  • Complex and organic geometries with fine features

Parts are available for order using Nylon 12 material in natural grey or black with standard or custom (e.g., using a primer or dye) finishes. Prices start at $95 per part, with shipping estimates in the one-to-seven day range.

Discuss in the Proto Labs Multi Jet Fusion forum thread at 3DPB.com.

[All images: Proto Labs]

(Note: Article updated two hours after original publication to include quote from Vicki Holt.)





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