If there’s one thing you can’t stress enough about additive technologies it’s that they are not a standalone, answer to all of your manufacturing woes or wishes. There’s no one size fits all, a single machine isn’t going to help materialise every idea you ever had and there are plenty of steps that go into making that perfect printed part both before and after you hit that start button - sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that bubble should have been well and truly burst by now.
As one of the largest 3D printing service providers in the U.S. in operation since 2008, one company that knows having the right tools is the key to getting the most out of this technology, is FATHOM. Already one of the largest users and distributors of Stratasys technology and a partner in Autodesk’s Forge initiative, pioneering the SmartQuote system, FATHOM is spreading its roots to bring the best manufacturing options possible to its customers through a series of partnerships and unique business initiatives - the latest being with 3D printed electronics developer Nano Dimension, which will bring the DragonFly 2020 3D Printer to the Silicon Valley and the greater West Coast area.
"We feel that every technology has a benefit its not just one size fits all in the industry, you have to have all the other technologies to really offer our customers the best solution possible,” says FATHOM co-founder Rich Stump.
For modern product development, speed is vital and the company recently launched two ultra fast FDM and PolyJet 3D printing services, which means customers can now have their ideas in their hands in as little as a day. Designs can be submitted in the morning for pick up later that same day or even sent in the night before for pickup in the morning.
“For prototyping, time is everything,” Rich explains. “What we’ve found, especially over the last few years, is customers are demanding faster lead times so they can iterate quicker and get products to the market faster. The industry has shifted as far as what the expectations are - not only from consumers in product development but also from product development specialists so that they can develop better products faster. We found a need in the marketplace to create a service offering where we can produce customer parts quicker.”
The ‘Make it Happen’, same-day 3D printing service offers same day pick up by 5pm for PolyJet technology in single material Vero and multi-material VeroWhite+ and TangoBlack+. The ‘Hustle’ next-day service is available for PolyJet in a wider range of materials (including VeroBlack, VeroClear) and FDM in ABSplus/M30 (white), PC (white), ASA (white), PC-ABS (black) and Nylon12 (white).
“We try to separate ourselves by offering more materials to our customers with faster lead times to the point where we're still trying to push the limits. One of our goals this year is to push the limits of time and complexity for our customers to help them iterate faster,” Rich adds.
With a mixed bag of engineering, design and manufacturing teams, all under one roof, FATHOM is working with customers every day to recommend which technologies work best for their designs and often that means a hybridisation of tools. It’s not uncommon for local designers to come into the studio once their ideas have been prototyped and discuss with FATHOM's teams how they can move their products forward. Outside of the local manufacturing scene, they’ve also got a wide range of innovative projects under their belt, not least printing 9,000 robotic parts for Intel or working with Prototype This! on a 3D printed leg cast featuring embedded electronics that allow doctors to monitor the patients physical state via the cloud.
“FATHOM is all about changing the way that our products are designed and manufactured – solving complex customer projects with speed and also hybridisation of processes so looking at not only 3D printing but also how that coexists with traditional manufacturing. Specifically with this service we've changed our internal processes and structures so that we can react very quickly when customers send us files, get them to the production floor, on the machine and off the machine and into customers hands very quickly.”
On top of bold ambitions for localised manufacturing, FATHOM also donates a lot of its time and resources into the e-NABLE community. As the first large-scale professional partner for the global prosthetics project, FATHOM provides the expertise of its professional design team to help develop designs and solve complex problems and they’re trying to encourage more high-profile AM companies to do the same.
Looking to the future, FATHOM is planning on a huge 10,000 square feet expansion to “literally enhance and produce more manufactured goods” and working with its partners like Autodesk, Stratasys and Lawrence Livermore National Lab to increase productivity with better materials and efficient workflows.
“We're so excited about what opportunities exist for this technology in the future and we can't stress enough the hybridisation of additive and traditional coming together because it's through this co-existence where we're going to see a lot of impact. I think the next couple of years are going to be really exciting for the professional space. We went through the hype cycle which was great in a way because it brought a lot of acknowledgment and education to the market, it hit hard for some of the big manufacturers, for us it's awesome because now there's awareness out there and we're getting improvements in the technology to make a big impact on the future.”