Fathom is hiring for multiple positions across our 11 nationwide sites! To see all open positions, click here.

logo fathom

Desktop Metal 3D Printing Validation Automotive Application Rocker Arm

Changing the Way Products are Designed, Prototyped & Manufactured

Being on the forefront of testing emerging additive technologies for prototyping and production applications is part of Fathom’s mission to change the way products are designed, prototyped and manufactured—in this featured Q&A, Applications Engineering Manager Tony Slavik and his team explore the practical use of its in-house Studio System by Desktop Metal, a lower barrier-of-entry solution for metal-based 3D printing.


To further assess the capabilities of the Studio System, the Fathom applications engineering team took a stock engine component, 3D scanned it, refined the CAD file, additively built it, post-machined key features and successfully installed it in the engine of a Fathomers Volkswagen van. The point of the test was to thoroughly examine the technology—running feasibility and validation tests of additive technologies to determine practicality is a key focus for this Fathom team. Watch the video to learn more then check out the Q&A below.

Why did you choose this stock component for testing the Desktop Metal technology? What was the objective?

The Fathom application engineering team chose this component because it is relatively recognizable, relatable and realistic. This component is typically casted and requires multiple manufacturing post-operations such as CNC machining and welding. The objective was to test the accuracy and function of Desktop Metal’s Bound Metal Deposition (BMD) process in a real-world application. Our goal was to explore an additive alternative for prototyping metal parts (quantities of 10 or less).

Another application being evaluated by the Fathom team is how to use this technology for manufacturing fixtures because the BMD process allows users to create a sparse internal structure within larger solid areas. As a result, this ability can be useful for making lighter-weight, high-strength metal parts without employing more advanced lattice tools such as nTopology or 3-Matic (not every application warrants the cost or it’s considered overkill for simple designs).

Can you walk us through each step, from beginning to end?

We first acquired a standard rocker arm since it is a part that we could easily reverse engineer. Next, the shape was 3D scanned using our in-house FARO laser scanner.


From there, we took the point cloud data that was generated and created a watertight mesh. Using Fusion360, a great tool for working with solid models and meshes, we were then able to model critical features to lay over the scanned data (e.g. creating an internal channel as pictured below). After that, all digital layers were merged and converted it to a single STL file.


The fabrication phase came next. We additively built the final STL file in 17-4 PH stainless steel using a Desktop Metal Studio 3D printer. This was a straightforward process once we figured out the support parameters needed. After 3D printing the part, the rocker arm went through a debinding and sintering process.


We took the shape of the rocker arm and subtracted it from a soft jaw blank shape and 3D printed the fixture in VeroWhite on a PolyJet-based system while waiting for the previous process to complete. This was an important step because choosing to do so made the machining process much simpler. Due to the organic/complex surfaces, it would have been difficult to CNC machine the fixture.


With the soft jaw ready to go, we machined the center hole of the rocker arm to achieve a smooth surface. We also tapped the threaded hole on the end of the arm.


Finally, the rocker arm was cleaned thoroughly and successfully installed in the 4-cylinder engine of a Fathomer’s 1987 Volkswagen Vanagon.


What was challenging about this application example?

  • Accuracy was a challenge at first, but we trialed different orientations and support styles for the Desktop Metal 3D printer to achieve the desired result

  • The internal channel was also a challenge—we would not have been able to remove support material from the inside, so it was modeled in a diamond shape (a continuous self-supporting angle)

  • Lastly, support was not filling below some of the features—since we wanted to maintain as much accuracy as possible, we lowered the self-supporting angle to ensure a support structure was built under the entire model

What’s your overall perspective on metal-based additive technologies today?

Metal-based additive technologies have steadily gained acceptance as a manufacturing process across industries throughout the last few decades, especially in the automotive and aerospace industries. Because of the specialized nature of the parts being produced, processes and technologies have evolved to meet specific needs and applications. However, as these technologies and processes have become more refined, efficient and cost-effective, the opportunity to use metal-based additive technologies is ever-increasing.

Understanding the difference between each type of metal-based additive technology (e.g. Laser Powder Bed Fusion, Direct Energy Deposition, and Electron Beam Powder Bed Fusion) and the applications they are best suited for, is critical to further growing the adoption of Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM).

For more information on the topic, the Fathom team recently worked with Design World to author an 8-page editorial on how to get the most out of additive manufacturing and it includes a section on metal-based additive technologies.

Learn More About Fathom’s Services / / Advanced Prototyping & Manufacturing Solutions

Comprehensive Capabilities for Rapid Manufacturing

At Fathom we offer a unique advantage of speed and agility-our experts help companies go from concept to prototype to manufacturing in ways not previously possible. 

90+ Machines  
SLS / / Two-day  SLA / / Next-day 
FDM / / Next-day DMLS / / Three-day 
PolyJet / / Same-day MJF / / Two-day

Get A Quote

30 Second Quotes
Prototype Tool / / As soon as 10 days
10K Parts / / 10 days
Production Tool / / As soon as 3 weeks

Get A Quote

3 & 5 Axis Milling & Turning
(Plastics, Composites and Metals)

Tolerance Accuracy Range
from +/-0.001″ to 0.005″

Get A Quote

Injection Molding Adjacent
without High Costs of Metal Tools

Most Commonly Used for High-Volume
Prototyping & Bridge to Production

Get A Quote

Finishing, Production Painting and Color Matching

Assembling, Including Embedded Electronic
Components, Threaded Inserts, and More

Get A Quote

CAD, DFAM and DFM Services

Apply Methods to Increase Speed
and Decrease Total Cost

Get A Quote

Highly Trained Staff / / Full-Time & Part-Time
Support as Short-Term & Long-Term Strategy

Decrease Downtime with Customizable
Staffing Accelerates Implementation

Get A Quote

Let’s get started.

Fathom is driven by advanced technologies and methods that enhance and accelerate today’s product development and production processes.


Across National
Time Zones

Precision manufacturing
from coast to coast.

1050 Walnut Ridge Drive
Hartland, WI 53029

444 W. 21st St. Ste. 101
Tempe, AZ 85282

46758 Lakeview Blvd
Fremont, CA 94538

7770 Washington St.
Denver, CO 80229

14000 N.W. 58th Court
Miami Lakes, FL 33014

1207 Adams Drive
McHenry, IL 60051

1401 Brummel Ave
Elk Grove, IL 60007

13758 Johnson Street NE
Ham Lake, MN 55304

1920 Slaterville Rd.
Ithaca, NY 14850

401 W. Shore Blvd.
Newark, NY 14513

1513 Sam Bass Rd.
Round Rock, TX 78660

fathom yellow color logo