Continuous Build 3D Demonstrator
Fathom, an advanced manufacturer with an expertise in 3D printing, is leveraging the Continuous Manufacturing 3D Demonstrator to push the limits of additive manufacturing. Many customers have adopted digital fabrication as a means of production beyond the prototyping phase and are using proven additive technologies like FDM for high-value, end-use applications. Having a six-cell 3D printer configuration in-house at Fathom increases throughput significantly and enables a greater volume of FDM parts with shorter lead-times. With the Demonstrator, there is an opportunity to use FDM more effectively for not just a few hundred just-in-time parts, but for 1,000+ parts on-demand. In this featured post following its media release at RAPID in Pittsburgh this week, Rich Stump of Fathom talks about the teams experience with early adoption of the Continuous Build™ 3D Demonstrator by Stratasys.
In its early years, 3D printing was led by rapid prototyping, with its capacity for fast, cost-effective parts. Today, 3D printing has evolved to the point where customization of end-use parts can lead production and part quantities can be scaled to need, making zero inventory a reality. Fathom, an Oakland, CA-based advanced manufacturing facility, has been on-board with 3D printing since it opened its doors in 2008 and sees unlimited potential for additive technology to disrupt the manufacturing supply chain.
With a focus on production parts, Fathom prides itself on its manufacturing ecosystem, a blending of technologies that enable customers to go from concept to prototype to market in a way not previously possible.
“The vision and focus of our business is to change the way products are designed and manufactured, thanks to additive manufacturing (AM),” said Stump. The fact that 3D printing also allows for greater part complexity, reduced costs and greater customization is no small factor.”
Fathom’s customer base is sometimes hesitant to make the leap to an additive technology for production parts, but those with high-value, low-volume needs are already realizing many benefits from its “sweet spot” of 200-400 parts—the break-even point between 3D printing and tooling up for injection molding. “Our challenge has been to get that number higher so it’s competitive for low-volume production runs,” said Stump.
Pushing the Limits of Manufacturing
Fathom’s early adoption of the Stratasys Continuous Build 3D Demonstrator—a modular, automated FDM-based 3D manufacturing system with interconnected, high-throughput capabilities—is their solution. “This system is going to enable us to sell higher-volume FDM parts for AM application because it’s going to push the barrier of number of parts we can sell competitively,” said Stump. “Our opportunity here is setting up these modules for 1,000-plus parts, which I’m confident we can get to—even higher. And that’s just comparing apples to apples from a cost standpoint; that’s not taking into account designing for more function.”
The manufacturer currently has a rack of six modules in their Oakland facility and Stump says this is only the beginning. “This new Demonstrator is enabling us to look to the future where our production center could look like a 3D printing server farm, where there’s just rows and rows of Stratasys Continuous Build 3D Demonstrators. That’s where our minds are going because the FDM-based technology is that good from a design and cost standpoint.”
The team at Fathom is extremely excited about the opportunity this Continuous Manufacturing Demonstrator brings to drive scale and growth for its AM business. “It meets our customer’s demand for high-quality FDM parts in greater quantities, with shorter lead-times, at a more cost-effective rate,” said Stump. Having the Demonstrator in-house allows Fathom’s customers to further leverage the proven FDM technology for end-use applications. “This Demonstrator can take what’s already working at Fathom and push the limits of additive manufacturing.
One of Fathom’s customers, Intel, worked with its team of advanced manufacturing experts to help design and fabricate Spider Bots for their keynote address at the annual Intel Developer Forum. The complex project highlighted Fathom’s cost-effective design and manufacturing capabilities, as the design went through iterations during production. In the end, the Spider Bots produced by Fathom were comprised of more than 9,700 3D printed parts.
“If we’d molded those parts it would have cost approximately $400,000 and taken a few months. With additive manufacturing, we were able to complete the entire project in five weeks, costing Intel 70% less,” said Stump. “The demand for tool-less manufacturing is ever-increasing. Designers and engineers want even greater design freedom and faster speeds—the opportunity with the Demonstrator is significant.”
Scalability is another factor the Demonstrator addresses for Fathom. “With the growing adoption of direct digital manufacturing, more of our customers are placing these types of end-use orders—all it takes is a few of our customers to submit just-in-time orders at once for our machines to max out on capacity,” said Stump. “The ability to be flexible with this new system, adding more as needed, is really great.”