Rapid manufacturing service Proto Labs (NYSE: PRLB ) recently entered the 3-D printing as-a-service space when it acquired Fineline Prototyping, a leading 3-D printing services company based in Raleigh, North Carolina. The move underscores Proto Labs' relentless focus on the needs of its customers, of which 70% already use 3-D printing as part of their product development process. In other words, Proto Labs has a great opportunity to expand its business further upstream into the conceptual modeling and prototyping stages of product development by offering 3-D printing services to its existing -- and likely receptive customers.
Given the explosive growth the 3-D printing industry has experienced in recent years, an underlying theme has been that it's becoming increasingly difficult to find the necessary talent and expertise around 3-D printing. Leading 3-D printing companies like 3D Systems and Stratasys have both made acquisitions in the 3-D printing as-a-service space to not only bolster their servicing capacity, but also to secure the necessary talent to meet growing demand in the future.
I recently had the opportunity to engage with Vicki Holt, chief executive officer of Proto Labs, over email, about if the company is experiencing any difficulty finding and hiring the talent it needs to grow. Below is a transcript of our conversation.
Steve Heller: As Proto Labs continues to build out its additive [3-D printing] presence, will employee headcount also rise, or will existing technicians be trained to learn how to work with additive?
Vicki Holt: We will continue to add talent to meet our growth needs in additive manufacturing just like we are continuing to add technicians, software engineers, sales staff, and other positions across Proto Labs to handle the 25% annual growth [target] of the company as a whole. We expect similar growth rates with Fineline, so we'll be adding employees to support that. The focus as we hire more talent will be on customer-facing staff as well as manufacturing personnel to build parts as we continue to scale up. In other areas within Fineline, we'll leverage our existing employees across the company, including the talented staff in Raleigh.
Heller: Is Proto Labs having difficulty finding the necessary talent?
Holt: Historically, we have not had trouble finding talent. Proto Labs has been voted a top workplace each of the last four years by the local newspaper in Minneapolis, and honestly, we're a growing company that people are excited to work for. The culture that our new VP of additive manufacturing, Rob Connelly, created at Fineline is very similar to the culture we've instilled at Proto Labs, so he's not had trouble finding talent in Raleigh either. I foresee no difficulties finding the smart people we need to help us expand.
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