By Olivia Cahoon
Part 1 of 2
Since the late 1980s, three-dimensional (3D) print technology has transformed how we view print. Additive technology changes how products are prototyped and with increasing engineering-grade materials, matured additive manufacturing systems, and industry-specific application development, the technology continues to expand.
Founded in 2008, FATHOM began in a garage in San Ramon, CA with its first employee hired in 2009. The company exclusively sold PolyJet-based 3D printers by Objet. Soon after, it started to offer 3D printing services.
After Objet and Stratasys merged in 2012, FATHOM sold PolyJet and fused deposition modeling (FDM) based 3D printers and additive manufacturing equipment. Rich Stump, principal/co-founder, FATHOM, says at this time the company made a significant investment in production services as an advanced manufacturer.
Today, FATHOM employs 75. 24,000 square feet in office and manufacturing space exists between locations in Oakland, CA and Seattle, WA. The company recently completed its largest expansion with more production capacity for additive technology and traditional manufacturing processes.
Services offered include prototype and production part like 3D printing, CNC machining, concept development, injection molding, research and development, tooling, and urethane casting. The company works with all industry types but commonly works with industrial designers and mechanical engineers in apparel, electronics, consumer products, and medical.
“We support their prototype fabrication and production part needs, as well as provide expertise and guidance that enhances and accelerates the production development process,” explains Stump. For example, FATHOM recently worked with the Mercedes-Benz Xtron Lab to produce more than 240 electromechanical tiles for an internet of things connected cargo delivery management system.
The Beginning of 3D
FATHOM’s team is composed of experts with extensive 3D industry experience. Stump believes 3D technology is trending, and as a result, there is an increase of available engineering-grade materials, matured additive manufacturing systems, and industry-specific application development.
“Users are more knowledgeable and comfortable with 3D printing. Enterprise-level 3D printing has proven itself as a serious means of production,” he continues.
The company first built its manufacturing center around 3D printing and additive manufacturing expertise and then added traditional manufacturing equipment and processes. It started using Objet’s PolyJet-based systems because of its range of material options that meet a variety of application types.
According to Stump, the company believed the platform had future hope for manufacturing applications given its speed, resolution, and material mixing capabilities—and it still does. “The ability to 3D print multi-material parts continues to be a major benefit of PolyJet and the material offering is always being further developed,” he explains.
FDM-based systems by Stratasys create durable 3D printed parts in engineering-grade materials. FATHOM recently installed a beta system from Stratasys, the Continuous Build 3D Demonstrator, to increase FDM throughput to support customer needs for direct digital manufacturing. FATHOM leverages the Continuous Build 3D Demonstrator to go beyond prototyping in the digital fabrication production process.
“Using additive technologies to produce production parts is becoming more common as designers and engineers familiarize themselves with designing for additive manufacturing,” explains Stump.
FATHOM recently worked with the MBARI research team for prototyping and production to create an event-triggered video capture device to use on sharks off the coast of CA. MBRAI prototyped using PolyJet technology. The field testing parts were 3D printed in engineering-grade plastics using FDM technology on the Continuous Build 3D Demonstrator.
FATHOM uses 3D printing and additive manufacturing to solve complex problems. “The result is significant when those differing strengths and weaknesses of advanced and traditional technologies are used to augment each other,” says Michelle Mihevc, principal/co-founder, FATHOM.
One of the company’s strategies—hybridization of manufacturing processes—is used to achieve the greatest efficiencies and innovations. The company encourages customers to focus on product functions to create greater innovation and push manufacturing limits. This includes testing aesthetics, fit, form, and function.
FATHOM’s manufacturing process also includes stereolithography, selective laser sintering, direct metal laser sintering, and electronic 3D printing for fabricating functional PCB prototypes. Mihevc says the company recently announced a partnership with Desktop Metal to adopt bound metal deposition.
The Future of 3D Printing
According to Stump, a recent report published by analyst firm Gartner says that by 2020, nearly 65 percent of discrete manufacturers that expect to use 3D printers will use them to produce product components they sell or service.
In addition, 3D printing and additive manufacturing is used beyond the production cycle to the early stages of development. Mihevc says three major digital fabrication trends will continue in the next five years—design for additive manufacturing, direct digital manufacturing, and hybridized manufacturing methods.
“The fastest adoption of the design for additive manufacturing mentality has occurred in the medical and aerospace industries, which often deal with highly-specific and low-volume part needs,” explains Mihevc. Large-scale production needs do not outweigh these benefits. Mihevc believes that as build times shorten, new production-grade materials enter the market, and additive precision increases, design for additive manufacturing will occur in other applications and industries.
Customization is also important to enhance consumer products with greater personalization to meet specific user demands. The company believes that on a relatively large scale, customization will soon affect the future of 3D printing.
According to Mihevc, everything FATHOM focuses on is based around the need for total design freedom and faster speeds in product development and manufacturing processes. To achieve this, the company invests in 3D print technology and assists companies to discover what ensures the best results at the fastest speeds.
Jul2017, DPS Magazine