How long have you been working in technology for and what is your technical background?
About 15 or 16 years. My background is pretty multidisciplinary. I have degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering, and also a Ph.D. in computer science. I am drawn to the boundaries where various technology disciplines meet. This is where some of the most exciting opportunities are, in my opinion.
What are you focused on right now?
Advanced manufacturing. Proto Labs is a great example of a MN manufacturer. At Proto Labs, we make custom plastic and metal parts on demand for our customers across many industries. We currently do that through injection molding or CNC machining the parts. I am focused on R&D to expand that set of capabilities to include more manufacturing processes and broader service offerings within our existing processes. For example, we recently introduced several additional materials including stainless steel in our machining service, and we are exploring molding metals.
What are the some of the technologies within your company and IT environment?
We take 3D CAD files of custom part designs from engineers and product designers, and manufacture parts from those files, in many materials, in as little as 1 day. This is an order of magnitude faster than most other contract manufacturers. To support this speed we developed highly customized software solutions for 3D geometry analysis, 3D rendering, parallel algorithms, CNC machine toolpathing, and online e-commerce. This software platform allows us to convert customer’s CAD designs into milling instructions for our manufacturing floor, and to provide our customers with quotes and design feedback on their parts.
How do you ensure that IT plans, projects and objectives are aligned with business outcomes?
We collaborate closely across functions. More so than any company I’ve ever worked with. While our business is to make parts for our customers, software and IT technologies are deeply integrated into every aspect of our business. There is not a single change to our service offerings that we can deliver without IT and software development – these are core to our differentiation, and to many of our customer interfaces.
How does your company approach recruiting and retention for technical positions in an increasingly competitive market?
Proto Labs has been consistently voted one of the Top 100 Workplaces in Minnesota for the past several years. We have excellent retention, and we hired over 80 people last year in Minnesota alone. We have an exciting culture of innovation, and we empower our employees to make real contributions and take ownership. We’ve been able to maintain a start-up energy, while growing to significant scale. This is what made me excited about the company when I joined 8 months ago.
How do you personally keep up with the ever changing technology landscape?
I read a lot, and as widely as I can. I also try to attend conferences every year, in a variety of industries. I try to develop a broad perspective. Technology development is changing quickly, and one development may have impact in many fields.
What excites you about where technology is heading?
There are many exciting things happening in multiple technology fields that I think will have huge impact on business in the future. One of the most interesting is the ability to embed intelligence into processes and devices. The potential of this megatrend is vast, and goes by many names: SaaS, big data, the Internet of things. Proto Labs created a new kind of manufacturing and prototyping service by incorporating software automation and intelligence into established manufacturing processes in new ways. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
What concerns you about where technology is heading?
Speaking generally, I think that we as a society are challenged to keep our regulatory landscape in pace with technological development. When these 2 forces are out of sync, it causes uncertainty, which impacts both business and personal lives.
What are you into outside of technology?
Years ago I played a lot of soccer, and dabbled as a playwright. Today I spend most of my time with my 2 daughters. I’m trying to get them interested in Lego robotics kits, but they still prefer the ones where you build a beauty shop. At least they are building something.
What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry?
I think we have a tremendous talent base here. We benefit from a very broad industry presence, so there is a wide range of technology opportunities in this area. I am excited to see a growing community and collaboration among these practitioners. I also like what Tech.MN has done to help facilitate that.