Here’s why Protolabs acquired Rapid Manufacturing Group

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When Protolabs acquired Nashua, N.H.–based Rapid Manufacturing Group late last year, the deal was about expanding Protolabs’ CNC machining capabilities. It also added sheet metal to Protolabs’ list of quick-turn manufacturing services.

For Rapid, Protolabs buying the company offered the opportunity for Rapid to become, well, more rapid, Burke Bero, a product manager at Rapid, recently explained to Medical Design & Outsourcing.

Rapid had a reputation as a sheet metal shop able to meet customers’ finishing, powder coating, and CNC needs, Bero said. The company’s turnaround time, was good, but nothing like the speed Protolabs has been able to achieve. “We looked up to them,” he said, because of the software Protolabs employs for lean times.

Protolabs and Rapid had worked with each other in the past. In fact, Bero said the year leading up to the acquisition was a “beta test.” Protolabs had a Rapid sales sheet to see how customers responded to Rapid’s services. In the initial press release announcing the merger, Vicki Holt, CEO of Protolabs noted the customer research efforts: “We listen to our customers very closely to understand their needs.” She also noted, and Bero confirmed, the alignment of culture from both companies. Through the acquisition, Protolabs added 300 people to its employee count, bringing its total worldwide employee count to more than 2,000.

Bero noted that when the merger first happened, the companies had a series of Kaizen meetings to improve processes. “We were all pumped up [after those meetings], but two weeks went by, and suddenly we were asking, ‘How do we get started?’” That’s when Bero knew everything was going to work. Protolabs jumped right in and helped Rapid choose the projects to start. “We knew the end goals but didn’t know what to do first. They helped us prioritize the goals.”

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