Talking 3-D Printing With Proto Labs Inc. CEO Vicki Holt

A behind-the-scenes look at Proto Labs’ recent 3-D printing acquisition.

Jun 27, 2014 at 4:00PM

Back in April, rapid manufacturing service provider Proto Labs (NYSE:PRLB) acquired Fineline Prototyping, a leading 3-D printing as-a-service company based in Raleigh, North Carolina. The move into providing 3-D printing services underscores Proto Labs' continued commitment to serving its customers, of which 70% already take advantage of 3-D printing during the product development process.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Proto Labs CEO Vicki Holt over email to talk about the Fineline acquisition and what kinds of 3-D printing technology it uses behind the scenes. Below, you'll find the transcript of our conversation. Going forward, it's important for investors to acknowledge that Proto Labs can now take a product developer all the way from a conceptual model and early prototype to a 10,000 part manufacturing run -- in a matter of weeks. Proto Labs' relentless focus on speed, automation, and breadth of services helps differentiate it from the competition.

Steve Heller: Does Proto Labs have plans to expand the Fineline service beyond SLA [stereolithography], SLS [selective laser sintering], and DMLS [direct metal laser sintering] additive [3-D printing] technologies?

Vicki Holt: We are completely technology agnostic, so we are very open to expanding our additive manufacturing capabilities within Fineline if our customers demand it. Our approach is to understand what processes development engineers need to bring their ideas to market quickly, paired with an understanding of the technologies available around the world in all three of our services -- not just additive [3-D printing], but machining and injection molding as well. If there is demand for a process and a technology that can appropriately meet that demand, we'll consider it for a service expansion. We'll also be working to advance additive [3-D printing] processes inside the walls of Proto Labs at both our Raleigh facility and in our research and development program, Protoworks, located in Maple Plain, Minnesota.

Heller: How many 3-D printers does Fineline currently have in its operation, and are there current plans to buy more machines in the future?

Holt: We don't publicly disclose how many total machines and presses we have for any of our processes, however, we are planning to add more machines for our SLA, SLS, and DMLS processes as we expand. Proto Labs has excellent cash flow and a very strong balance sheet, so we see no issues in terms of funding the growth we need for capital investment in any of our three services.

Heller: What vendors or technologies is Fineline looking at most closely for future machine purchases? 

Holt: We have experience with 3D Systems and Concept Laser for DMLS, and we will continue to work with those companies. But we do understand that there are other technologies out there with companies like Stratasys, so we'll continue to evaluate those as well. That's one of the advantages and differentiators Proto Labs' Fineline service -- that we can invest in a number of different technologies to match an engineer's design and prototyping needs with the right process.

Heller: How does Fineline determine what printers to buy? 

Holt: We're seeing growth across all three Fineline processes -- SLA, SLS, DMLS -- so the feedback we receive from our customers will help dictate which types of machines we will invest in.

One must-own stock in 2014 and beyond
Give us five minutes, and we'll show how you could own the best stock for 2014. Every year, The Motley Fool's chief investment officer hand-picks one stock with outstanding potential. But it's not just any run-of-the-mill company. It's a stock perfectly positioned to cash in on one of the upcoming year's most lucrative trends. Last year, his pick skyrocketed 134%. And previous top picks have gained upwards of 908%, 1,252%, and 1,303% over the subsequent years! Believe me, you don't want to miss what could be his biggest winner yet! Just click here to download your free copy of "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2014" today.

Steve Heller owns shares of 3D Systems and Proto Labs. The Motley Fool recommends 3D Systems, Proto Labs, and Stratasys. The Motley Fool owns shares of 3D Systems, Proto Labs, and Stratasys. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

Click here to learn about this incredible technology before Buffett stops being scared and starts buying!

David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

©1995-2014 The Motley Fool. All rights reserved. | Privacy/Legal Information