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.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.

Compare Brokers