Software Review: Online Portal Tracks Plastic Injection-Molded Parts

Aug. 21, 2008
As an independent design firm working for medical and electronics companies, we develop all kinds of products.

By Chris Crowley

Edited by Leslie Gordon

In the past, these have included an industrial thermometer, equipment for a coating process, and a specialized remote control for TV-editing stations. In our work, we often use the services of the Protomold division of Proto Labs Inc. in Maple Plain, Minn., for fast turnaround on plastic injection-molded parts and prototypes.

One of the most useful service aspects is the company Web site. It details best design practices for the company’s molding process and gives access to the online quoting engine which generates interactive, next-day quotes in response to uploaded 3D CAD models. Quotes provide detailed feedback on designs and let users adjust factors such as material, surface finish, part quantity, and delivery speed in realtime to see the impact on cost.

Also helpful, Protomold recently introduced a new online portal that lets customers track interactions with the company including past and current jobs. As a frequent user of the company’s software and services, I was asked to help test the portal. The company has always been responsive, but better yet is the ability to get information myself whenever I need it.

The portal is available 24 hours a day, which can come in handy. We never know when we might need information about past or current projects, or exactly when we might require more prototypes or production parts from an existing mold. With my hectic schedule, there is no telling when I’ll be able to place an order or find information.

The portal connects to Protomold’s central database, so users get answers as they ask a question. The molds our company has at Protomold go back to 2006 and are all on the system. We can see when molds were milled, how much they cost, and what specs they had, for example, surface finish. There are even pictures of the finished parts. Also available is a detailed parts history, including number of parts made in the mold, resins used, production and shipping dates, where each batch of parts was shipped, and how they were paid for. All this information is clearly laid out and the simple navigation is built around big, friendly orange buttons.

Users can also manage new business through the same portal. For example, we can order new molds or select existing molds and order parts from them with the simple shopping cart interface. Purchasing is just a matter of choosing material, quantity, and lead-time, and placing the order with one click.

Particularly nifty is Protomold’s approach to information security. There is no frustrating sign-in just to browse design and material information. To get a quote only requires typing in an e-mail address, nothing else. A simple sign-in for the portal protects company and customer data.

The portal is a straightforward system that does exactly what it’s supposed to do in an easy, understandable way. We appreciate that Protomold also provides more than just parts. Users get customer service, from actual live humans when needed, and automated systems when appropriate. The site provides a useful capability for designers who prefer product development to paperwork. The Protomold customer portal can be found at

Your Molds page on Protomold’s online customer portal lets users track details such as when molds were changed and how much they cost.

Your Orders page lets users track purchaseorder dates, order dates, quantity, and status.

The quoting engine lets users upload CAD models to get quotes on molds, including a sample part quantity.

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