Quick-turn manufacturer Protolabs has an enviable problem: It needs hundreds of qualified advanced manufacturing workers, and it needs them fast.
When Protolabs CEO Vicki Holt started with the Maple Plain, Minn.-based company five years ago, it had 750 employees. Now it has 2,700, with plans to add 650 more this year. Most of Protolab’s growth has been organic, too.
“We like to grow leaders from the people that come into the company. … The technology is changing so quickly, and we have to be at the forefront of those technologies,” Holt said yesterday, after helping to show a few dozen Dunwoody College of Technology students around Protolabs’ CNC machining plant in Brooklyn Park, Minn.
The event was part of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) State of Manufacturing Tour, which also included Protolabs’ 3D printing plant in Raleigh, N.C.
Touring the Brooklyn Park plant with VP Rob Bodor, one could get the gist of how Protolabs has been able to grow so fast, with its revenue increasing about 29% to $446 million in 2018 alone. (Profits grew about 48% to nearly $77 million.) The company’s software automates many of the things that engineers typically do manually, such as optimizing designs in CAD files so that the least amount of material is wasted during production.
The CNC machines in Brooklyn Park were neatly arranged in rows; blocks of various raw material metals were organized on racks — each with a bar code matching the bar code of the job it was destined for. In some ways, the plant felt more like an Amazon distribution center than a typical CNC machining operation.
Protolabs’ fast manufacturing processes have helped created medical-related products ranging from fitness trackers to a blood-clot-detecting ultrasound system to ear-cleaning headphones.
The 215,000-square-foot Brooklyn Park facility includes 50,000-square-feet that Protolabs added after buying the building last year. The recently constructed space remains open, as Protolabs officials decide what their future growth needs require.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey stopped by the building yesterday. He said the Minneapolis area needs more of the types of advanced manufacturing jobs that Protolabs is creating because they’re the easiest way for people to quickly make money and improve their status after getting out of school.
“You’re at the very beginning of it all,” Frey told the Dunwoody students. “By being there at the beginning of it all, you’re going to rise quickly.”