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Proto Labs Inc. CTO Elaborates on CEO's Comments

For rapid manufacturer Proto Labs (NYSE: PRLB  ) to differentiate itself from the competition via faster turnaround times, it must use technology and automation that offer a robust and fluid experience for customers. In the following video, 3-D printing specialist Steve Heller asks Proto Labs Chief Technology Officer Rob Bodor to elaborate on comments made by CEO Vicki Holt about what makes the company unique. Bodor gives an on-camera demonstration about how Proto Labs' technology separates it from competitors. Going forward, investors in Proto Labs should monitor how the company continues to use technology to its advantage.

A transcript follows the video.

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Steve Heller: I recently had an email conversation with Vicki Holt, Proto Labs' CEO, and I wanted you to elaborate for me here. She said something along the lines of what makes Proto Labs so unique is "its manufacturing design analysis and customer service is what really separates Proto Labs from its peers." What do you mean by that?

Rob Bodor: We have a pretty unique process because we're able to engage customers, really end-to-end, online. If they need to escalate something and talk to an engineer, we have customer service engineers who can do that, but for the most part they can really take care of everything through the website.

So, I think what she was talking about is this end-to-end process [that Proto Labs offers]. A customer starts by uploading a 3-D CAD file, we get them a quote back in a few hours. We do this consistently, all day long. We [Proto Labs] service[s] hundreds and hundreds of quotes a day, across all our different services, and we can reliably return that quote in just a few hours.

The quote, which I can demonstrate for you, includes not just the pricing information, but it's highly configurable, and it creates a 3-D rendering of the finished part, which provides the customer with design for manufacturability feedback, so they can see if they need to adjust anything in their design so that it'll be more amenable to molding, and those kinds of things.

Then if the customer orders, then we'll go make the parts and ship them in as little as one day.

Heller: Wow, that's amazing. A [Proto Labs] customer that, say, doesn't have very much design experience; can you help them as well, or is it for more experienced users?

Bodor: We [Proto Labs] will help them as well, but if they really have never designed a part before, we'll usually refer them to a design firm to help them with that. Once they have some basic design, then we can really engage with them about how to make this manufacturable, and transition it from concept models, all the way through to production.

Heller: Could you go ahead and show me a demonstration really quick, and just walk me through the process?

Bodor: Sure.

Heller: Since we can't see the screen, we'll just talk about it.

Bodor: Are you able to see this OK?

Heller: Yes, we're all set.

Bodor: Great.

This is an example of a sample quote from our [Proto Labs'] website. Basically, when a customer sends us a 3-D CAD file, in a few hours we'll send them back an email with a link to a page like this. This is our quote. You can see, in this case, for the mold and the initial parts we'd be charging $2,200.

The customer can come in and change things like the plastic resin that they want to use, and the price will update in real time. They can also change other things about the configuration, like the polish or the finish that they want to put on the mold halves, the number of sample parts they want, and so forth.

Heller: This is just for a sample. If I wanted to order 10,000, could I do it off your [Proto Labs'] website, or [do] I have to call in?

Bodor: You absolutely can do it off the website. Once you have the mold and the samples, then there's an account page for you where you would go and you could order off of any mold that you've made with us in the past.

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Steve Heller

Covering 3-D printing at the intersection of business, investing, and what it means for the future of manufacturing. Follow me on Twitter to keep up with the ever-changing 3-D printing landscape by clicking the button below.

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9/1/2015 4:00 PM
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