Protolabs celebrates 20th anniversary, opens 215,000 sq ft manufacturing facility
Minnesota-based digital manufacturing company, Protolabs celebrates its 20th anniversary this week. Founded in 1999, the company has grown its capabilities with four flagship services and 11 manufacturing technologies, and has added capacity with more than 1mn sq ft of manufacturing space that houses over 1,000 machines producing nearly 4mn parts each month.
Now, the company specialises in rapid-manufacturing of 3D printed, CNC-machined, sheet metal, and injection-molded custom parts for prototyping and short-run production serving the medical devices, electronics, appliances, automotive and consumer products markets.
The company celebrates two decades of operation with the grand opening of a new, high-tech manufacturing facility in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. The 215,000 sq ft CNC machining facility will house approximately 300 mills and lathes and is the company’s eighth plant in the US.
“Protolabs has exceeded my wildest dreams,” said Larry Lukis, Protolabs’ founder. “The company was born out of personal frustration that manufacturing parts took months, when it could take days or even minutes. There needed to be a way to make it easier and faster for product developers to get prototype parts and accelerate development cycles. Protolabs has achieved that goal and made advanced manufacturing technologies accessible for everyone, from makers to startups to Fortune 500 companies.”
Earlier this week, Forbes columnist Michael Mandel theorized that, due to the low price of Chinese imports, digital manufacturing in the US has been suppressing domestic investment in the field. “The process of digitization is expensive and risky, and rational investors and managers won't spend money if they know they will be immediately undercut by Chinese competitors,” wrote Mandel.
He theorizes that, due to the recent reinitiation of the US’ trade war with China, new tariffs will drive up the price of imported consumer goods from Asia’s biggest manufacturer.
As a result, “for companies in the digital manufacturing space, there's a silver lining to the dark cloud of the trade war. Suddenly the risk-benefit calculation of investment in digitization starts to look more attractive, purely as an economic proposition. For one, sourcing parts out of China is becoming riskier and potentially more expensive.”
As a leading US investor in digital manufacturing process, Protolabs is in an advantageous position to capitalize on increased US dependence on domestic manufacturing, should the current state of affairs persist.
Additionally, the continuing development of 3D printing technology and IoT enabled smart factories is expected to further benefit companies at the forefront of the field.
“We are truly living in an on-demand consumer economy and that’s no different for manufacturing. Our customers are hungry for manufacturing partners that can see their products through ever-shrinking life cycles and Protolabs is uniquely positioned to serve our customers’ needs from early prototyping to on-demand production,” commented Vicki Holt, President and CEO at Protolabs.
Ultium Cells LLC/Li-Cycle: Sustainable Battery Manufacturing
Ultium Cells LLC - a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solutions - has announced its latest collaboration with Li-Cycle. Joining forces the two have set ambitions to expand recycling in North America, recycling up to 100% of the scrap materials in battery cell manufacturing
What is Ultium Cells LLC?
Announcing their partnership in December 2019, General Motors (GM) and LG Energy Solutions established Ultium Cells LLC with a mission to “ensure excellence of Battery Cell Manufacturing through implementation of best practices from each company to contribute [to the] expansion of a Zero Emission propulsion on a global scale.”
Who is Li-Cycle?
Founded in 2016, Li-Cycle leverages innovative solutions to address emerging and urgent challenges around the world.
As the use of Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries in automotive, industrial energy storage, and consumer electronic applications rises, Li-Cycle believes that “the world needs improved technology and supply chain innovations to better recycle these batteries, while also meeting the rapidly growing demand for critical and scarce battery-grade materials.”
Why are Ultium Cells LLC and Li-Cycle join forces?
By joining forces to expand the recycling of scrap materials in battery cell manufacturing in North America, the new recycling process will allow Ultium Cells LLC to recycle cobalt, nickel, lithium, graphite, copper, manganese and aluminum.
“95% of these materials can be used in the production of new batteries or for adjacent industries,” says GM, who explains that the new hydrometallurgical process emits 30% less greenhouse gases (GHGs) than traditional processes, minimising the environmental impact. Use of this process will begin later in the year (2021).
"Our combined efforts with Ultium Cells will be instrumental in redirecting battery manufacturing scrap from landfills and returning a substantial amount of valuable battery-grade materials back into the battery supply chain. This partnership is a critical step forward in advancing our proven lithium-ion resource recovery technology as a more sustainable alternative to mining, " said Ajay Kochhar, President, CEO and co-founder of Li-Cycle.
"GM's zero-waste initiative aims to divert more than 90% of its manufacturing waste from landfills and incineration globally by 2025. Now, we're going to work closely with Ultium Cells and Li-Cycle to help the industry get even better use out of the materials,” added Ken Morris, Vice President of Electric and Autonomous Vehicles, GM.
Since 2013, GM has recycled or reused 100% of the battery packs it has received from customers, with most current GM EVs repaired with refurbished packs.
"We strive to make more with less waste and energy expended. This is a crucial step in improving the sustainability of our components and manufacturing processes,” concluded Thomas Gallagher, Chief Operating Officer, Ultium Cells LLC.