Protolabs Cary, N.C. Location
This 77,000-sq.ft. plant opened in 2016. It's shaped like a V, with the sales and customer service offices at the vertex, so the engineering and business sides interact more.
3D Printing Overview
Protolabs performs five types of 3D printing at the facility:
--Direct Laser Metal Sintering
--Selective Laser Sintering
-- Multi Jet Fusion
Quality Control for Continuous Improvement
A board near the SLA/MJF wing of the complex indicates where efficiencies can be improved and waste reduced. The common practice among successful manufacturers puts an emphasis on always being better than the day before. For an-demand manufacturer, it's even more critical.
Multi Jet Fusion
The relatively new Multi Jet Fusion Printer, made by HP, produces sturdy nylon parts capable of meeting end-use criteria. Protolabs says these machines are so busy many of the internal components have already needed replacing due to wear and tear.
SLA printers start with a bed of liquid thermoset resin, which is like a melted wax. A UV light rapidly blasts certain areas as the bed shifts down, forming the part layer by layer. This method provides tight tolerances and a smooth finish.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
SLS is the traditional powdered-bed style that implements a sintering device to fuse the layers together. The 3D Systems sPro60 pictured here allows room for multiple materials and offers a high throughput.
Sometimes you want a little flexibility with your part, which is when you'll want to go with a polyjet printer such as the Objet Connex 3 that made this squishy cube. The process makes this possible by spraying little drops of photopolymer on the build area, which are then UV cured in a controlled way to determine density.
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
This mega-industrial version of SLS uses metal powder and the sintering is done by a welding laser. This takes the most time, in as many as seven days, but offers geometries and parts that a CNC machine simply cannot do. A drawback is the machining still needed to remove the supports, but for certain parts, such as in aerospace, there is no substitute.
Materials can be blended into alloys, such as aluminum with copper or magnesium, for lightweight, strong parts.