Proto Labs to Open Its 120,000 Square Foot North Carolina 3D Printing Facility this Fall

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Back in October, 2021, Proto Labs, the manufacturing services bureau based in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, announced it had broken ground on a 120,000 square foot facility near Raleigh, North Carolina, the second facility in the state the company would build from scratch. According to Automation World, the new site will be operational sometime this fall, and is intended to place a strong operational emphasis on metal additive manufacturing (AM).

Proto Labs gained its footholds into both North Carolina and 3D printing in 2014 via the same deal, its $37 million acquisition of FineLine Prototyping, headquartered in Morrisville, NC (near Raleigh). The company then built a new 77,000 square foot 3D printing facility in the Raleigh area, which opened in 2016.

Proto Labs’ first North Carolina site

Since Proto Labs’ acquisition of FineLine and the completion of the first site, metal 3D printing and the North Carolina manufacturing landscape have evolved in parallel. Both trajectories have been shaped by the US government’s attempt to rejuvenate the nation’s struggling defense industrial base.

For instance, Charlotte-based IperionX, a manufacturer of titanium powders for AM, recently received an order to produce titanium plate for Lockheed Martin. Another company, Boom Supersonic, which began construction on its Greensboro works at the start of 2023, has partnered with GE Additive (among others) to develop and produce its own engine for its planned hypersonic passenger jets. In addition to GE, Boom is working with multiple defense contractors, including AM Forward member Northrop Grumman.

Relevantly, Proto Labs is planning on focusing on powder bed fusion (PBF) at its new NC facility, and the company currently does PBF parts with a fleet of GE machines at both its Eden Prairie headquarters and its existing NC location. It is safe to assume that the company will be using GE machines at the new facility, as well.

In Proto Labs’ Q2 earnings call, CEO Rob Bodor highlighted the company’s “longer lead time, lower price offerings” strategy as the key to successful achievement of anticipated growth for the rest of the year. Although the company does many things aside from 3D printing, the fact that the new North Carolina site is coming on-line this year means it’s possible that metal 3D printing will become an integral part of that particular strategy.

Proto Labs’ GE metal 3D printers

This is significant insofar as “higher volumes” are also an important part of the same longer lead time/lower price strategy. Again, although the company uses a variety of manufacturing methods, there are nonetheless many reasons to think that this could be signaling a ramping up of the US’s capabilities for high-volume metal 3D printing.

In any case, it is confirming that the Carolinas are one of the most critical elements in one of the nation’s most important emerging advanced manufacturing clusters. This is significant not just for the defense sector, but even more importantly from a long-term perspective, for things like EV batteries and net-zero production of materials. Above all because of their central location along eastern seaboard supply chains — but also because he needs support from both of these states for 2024 — bolstering the manufacturing sector in North and South Carolina is critical to the infrastructure push embodied in Bidenomics.

Images courtesy of Proto Labs

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