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MakePartsFast.com Q&A: Tips on Making the Best Use of 3D Printers

In a recent interview with FATHOM’s Principal Rich Stump on Make Parts Fast, Managing Editor Leslie Langnau asked, “What is the application for 3D printing/additive manufacturing systems that engineers are not deploying as often as they can?” and “What capabilities of 3D printers could engineers make better use of?” Learn tips from Leslie and Rich on these topics and more by listening in on the full discussion available at MakePartsFast.com, or view the transcribed Q&A dialogue below.

Original Podcast: makepartsfast.com/2013/08/6071/tips-on-making-the-best-use-of-3d-printers/


Leslie Langnau: Hi, and welcome to Design World Podcasts. I’m Leslie Langnau, Managing Editor at Design World Magazine and with me today is Rich Stump who is a principal at FATHOM, a full service product development company specializing in 3D printing, rapid prototyping, and design. So, thank you for joining me today, Rich.

Rich Stump: Thank you for having me, Leslie.

Leslie Langnau: Okay, we’re going to talk a little bit about some developments, trends, things going on in 3D printing. One of the questions I wanted to kind of start out with is what are some of the advantages of 3D printers that perhaps users are not making the most use of?

Rich Stump: I think when we work with a lot of customers today and looking at the types of applications that they’re using 3D printers and additive manufacturing systems for, often times we find that a lot of applications that are left off of the horizon for evaluation purposes are jigs and fixtures. That’s one of the primary things I talk to customers that they don’t think about initially when looking at 3D printing, so jigs and fixtures are often times something overlooked as far as application and they can be very powerful as far as utilization of them because when you’re typically making a jig or fixture say an assembly fixture, or some type of jig, you’re typically machining that part. So, machining can take some time and can be costly as far as the amount of time and energy that goes into making it — 3D printing is a great application for that, but jigs and fixtures are definitely something that are underutilized with 3D printing.

Leslie Langnau: I would think that would be kind of an easy application to use 3D printing for, you don’t really need a whole heck of a lot of software or capability, and you can make jigs and fixtures exactly to what you need.

Rich Stump: Yeah, it’s very powerful, and very quick and low cost. When you’re purchasing a 3D printer or evaluating to purchase a 3D printer, it’s one of those things that will pay you back on your investment in ROI purposes very quickly. Another item that’s left off quite often that’s kind of more in the advanced technology realm is rapid tooling, what we call rapid tooling. And that’s actually using the 3D printed parts in some type of manner to make an end use part. For example maybe a 3D printed mold, an injection mold, that’s then put into an injection molding press to mold a part. Conventionally you would machine that mold out of aluminum or steel or some other type of material, usually aluminum or steel, and it would take two to three, up to nine, twelve weeks to make that mold depending on the geometry. Today with the advantages of 3D printed materials, we can quickly design a part, quickly design the mold, actually make the mold on a 3D printer and get it into an injection molding press in less than one or two business days which condenses your product development time very, very drastically.

Leslie Langnau: Is it an issue of education? Is it an issue of not familiarity with the materials available? What might account for this, overlooking of this application?

Rich Stump: I think it’s all of the above. Yeah, I think it’s definitely an education gap. Often times when I’m talking to customers or engineers at different product development companies, I find they’re not up to date on what the latest material properties are that the machines can use. Also, I think we’re kind of bounded by conventional manufacturing techniques historically, and now we’re reaching kind of a tipping point where these systems are able to make parts that, in an engineer’s mind they kind of box themselves out of, because we’ve always been taught, you know, stay away from undercuts on molded parts, you need drafts, you need all these things, depending on what the end manufacturing process is, that we don’t think creatively about, ‘Hey this new technology is here, how can we use this to benefit from on the manufacturing side.’

Leslie Langnau: And that leads right in to my next question, what capabilities of 3D printers could engineers make better use of?

Rich Stump: I think that the material properties is something that has a lot of focus. I think in the next couple years with the research and development efforts going on at the big manufacturers, material is going to be the most exciting, at least from our stand point because once we start to get more production-like materials or strictly production materials, then the applications will really open up. I think as an engineer when you start to look at how the part is going to be made and you start evaluating, ‘Okay, what’s the volume of parts I need, is it low volume, high volume, is there customization in the parts’ you can start to look at some of these material properties and understand you know how you can utilize them on additive manufacturing and 3D printing ends. So, materials is definitely something I think that engineers need to take a look at and in combination with the technologies that use the materials

Leslie Langnau: Yeah, there’s more materials being introduced all the time. It’s starting to get pretty amazing with some of that.

Rich Stump: It is — every week I hear about another material.

Leslie Langnau: So, now are there ways that management could support engineers better in the use of 3D printers?

Rich Stump: Definitely. I think, you know, we are a distributor of Stratasys’ technology and when we go out to companies to talk to them about their evaluation of bringing a system in-house, often times we find that is hard to get management adoption on bringing the technology into their company. I think it’s because they’re not sure what all the applications the machine can be used for, they’re not up to date on the latest technologies. I think management really needs to look at the 3D printing industry and additive manufacturing today as a way that they can really innovate within their company and cut their product development cycles. I mean, I was just with a customer yesterday in the consumer products realm that conventionally their product development cycles are three to six months. We evaluated it just by using some applications like I talked about earlier, jigs, fixtures, general prototyping, rapid tooling, you can condense that down to less than a month. When you start to look at the business as a whole and you start to understand where your product development costs are and how you can shorten those development cycles, it plays a big role and I think management is kind of not looking at the big picture often times. In my opinion that’s something that the mangers, the vice presidents, and owners of companies should really take a look at.

Leslie Langnau: Now what kind of supporter services does Fathom offer for customers?

Rich Stump: We are a full service product development company and we focus on 3D printing and additive manufacturing. We really have four business units to our company. The first is we are a distributor for Stratasys, so we sell 3D printing, additive manufacturing equipment. The second is we provide services, we provide prototyping services, anything from 3D printing including FDM, SLS, DMLS, different technologies within that space to silicone molds and urethane casting, machining, basically everything around the prototyping umbrella getting into low volume production like rapid tooling, low volume injection molding, everything on that perspective. The fourth business unit that we have is, we have all these technologies and these creative people, we have a design team, we offer our design services, we actually come up with some of our own consumer product ideas and we distribute those into retailers so kind of fun business venture for us, using all the creative and fabrication tools that we have to come up with some fun products.

Leslie Langnau: Give me an example of one of your products.

Rich Stump: One of the products that we have is called the CaliBowl®. It’s basically a revolutionary bowl design. I know it sounds simple, but the inside of the bowl is concave so it’s a huge undercut. Anything you eat out of the bowl, the side of the bowl acts as a scooper and it scoops the contents onto whatever you’re eating with. So, let’s say you have chips and salsa, the side of the bowl actually scoops the salsa onto the chip. Or you know if you’re mixing, the contents don’t spill over the side of the bowl, they stay inside the bowl.

Leslie Langnau: Very interesting, so, now how would an engineer get more information about your company?

Rich Stump: If you want to find more information about our company our website has a lot of information. We try to put everything up on the website as far as our abilities and our services (it is studiofathom.com).

Leslie Langnau: Great thank you so much for joining me, Rich, I appreciate your time.

Rich Stump: Leslie, thank you so much for having me, we appreciate it.


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