VICKI HOLT Bruce Bisping Star Tribune Getty Images

Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune/Getty Images

Vicki Holt

CEO, Protolabs

Vicki Holt has spent over 40 years in manufacturing, including 18 years at the agrochemical giant Monsanto. But it wasn’t until she joined Protolabs in 2014 that she saw the effects that tech could bring to the sector.

The company prints custom parts, and while it specializes in injection molding and other more common techniques, it’s also quickly building up a client base for more advanced methods like 3D printing.

One area where Protolabs is paving the way is e-commerce manufacturing, which is not nearly as prevalent between businesses as it is between customers and companies. As many as 94% of transactions in the industry are still ordered by the traditional methods, according to Holt.

Protolabs' own ecommerce site allows it to work closely with clients from start to finish. Designs are uploaded onto the store, which enables customers to track the file through the production process. Holt refers to it as "a single digital thread," a concept she says will become increasingly important for the industry as the coronavirus pandemic upends global supply chains.

Protolabs, for example, is doing more digital audits instead of having customers fly in to their facilities to meet in person about the designs.

“I strongly encourage traditional manufacturers to open up their eyes and be open to new ways of doing things to be more digital,” Holt tells Business Insider.

Protolabs went through an initial public offering in 2012. Since then its stock has risen 313%.