by Melissa Donovan
Almost 40 years old, Fathom Digital Manufacturing got its start as an early development partner when MRI technology was being commercialized and scaled in the 1980s. What began as one location, in Hartland, WI outside of Milwaukee, WI, now compromises of 12 domestic manufacturing facilities across all four U.S. time zones.
Above: Fathom is home to eight different types of AM technology, situated between two separate locations in the U.S.
Offering rapid prototyping and on demand, low-volume production services, it divides its business into two main categories—advanced and additive. The advanced portion includes more traditional offerings like CNC machining, metal cutting and forming like chemical etching and water jet cutting, injection molding, and urethane casting.
Additive or three-dimensional (3D) printing services are located in both WI and CA, in a total of 125,000 square feet of space in what is referred to by Ryan Martin, CEO, Fathom, as “additive centers of excellence.”
With a background in aviation, Martin joined Fathom after working at GE Aviation, which is where he witnessed the impact of 3D printing firsthand. “I saw up close how GE engineers were changing the way jet engines were designed, developed, and manufactured using 3D metal printing. We were taking 20 parts and consolidating them down into one, reducing the weight of the part by 25 percent, and creating parts that were five times more durable than anything before. I knew 3D printing was going to change the game.”
Martin has been with Fathom since 2019. During his tenure, he has witnessed the employee levels expand from 45 to 700. The large staff involved at Fathom serve a national customer base that consists of clients from medical, industrial, technology, EV/automotive, aerospace, defense, and consumer product markets.
The service manufacturing company’s goal, according to Martin, is “to stay ahead of its competitors through its entrenched relationships with Fortune 500 tier customers, helping them to iterate faster and shorten product development cycles closer to home.”
Reported revenues for 2021 were $152.2M, with $17.8M coming from 3D printing revenues.
Eight different additive manufacturing (AM) technologies—digital light processing, direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), fused deposition modeling, Multi Jet Fusion, PolyJet, selective laser sintering, selective thermoplastic electrophotographic process (STEP), and stereolithography—are used at Fathom. With a range of technologies on hand, the service provider is able to work with over a hundred different materials to serve its customer base. Listing just a few, Martin says it does a lot of work with ABS, aluminum, nylon, stainless steel, titanium, and ultem.
One of the earliest adopters of both plastic and metal 3D printing in North America, according to the company, Fathom focuses on a technology-agnostic approach. To this end it works with the latest technologies from AM companies like 3D Systems, Inc., Carbon, Inc., EOS, Evolve Additive Solutions, SLM Solutions, and Stratasys.
In particular, the company owns the EOS M 300-4, which is part of a newer series of recent investments. A user of AM technology from EOS since 2004, Fathom turned to the EOS M 300-4 for faster production and the ability to yield larger parts than previously possible with single-laser DMLS technology. The device is situated in the Hartland, WI headquarters and services DMLS aluminum part orders.
The EOS M 300 Series enables DMLS quality with up to five times higher productivity. Designed for industrial applications, the EOS M 300 Series offers multiple configuration options combined with safety and security features enabling digital AM. The platform provides the flexibility to choose the degree of automation that best suits the user’s needs for an optimized workflow as well as the option to easily ramp up as demand increases. It is also less expensive per part compared to single-laser DMLS technology. Each of the four lasers can scan the entire build plate to eliminate part seams, which is ideal for specific applications such as aerospace components.
Part of that same series of investments, Fathom entered into a partnership with Evolve to use its STEP technology through Evolve SVP, which enables additive production of ABS parts within hours or days instead of the typical several month lead time for traditional injection molding parts. STEP technology was developed for speed and scaled to offer a manufacturing solution for low- to mid-volume thermoplastic parts and created specifically for production manufacturing. Since Evolve STEP Technology relies on digital rather than physical molds, Fathom produces the same part to the exact same specifications with the Evolve SVP system.
To power the hardware, the service bureau relies on a combination of external third-party and proprietary software. Design, simulation, and scheduling solutions include ANSYS, Autodesk Inc.’s Fusion 360, Materialise, and SOLIDWORKS. Internally developed software alongside machine learning is used for quoting and costing.
Transitioning to the Next Thing
Martin recognizes the next move for 3D is from prototyping to production. “It will take a collaboration between the machine OEMs, material OEMs, post-processing OEMs, software providers, and the service manufacturing companies like Fathom. We are committed to leading that transition because we have the expertise, capabilities, and customer base to do it in a way that no other company in our space can today.”
It is an important stance to take, especially as the company focuses on the future, which is not just printing great parts, admits Martin. Instead, it’s figuring out “how we create an efficient process through the entire 3D printing process to drive scale that can be done economically. IPM
Sep2022, Industrial Print Magazine