FATHOM is the largest 3D printing and rapid prototyping production center in the San Francisco Bay area, so it only made sense that they'd host a celebration of National Manufacturing Day by inviting dozens of entrepreneurs, engineers and investors to tour its facility, showcasing 3D printing technology.
Among the invitees was biologist Tom Zarembinski.
Zarembinski knew what he needed when he visited FATHOM 3D last week. The scientist needed a petri dish of a specific dimension to complete a project he's working on, and he said 3D printing offered a ready solution.
"It's important to a study's results that you find the right size cell dish," said Zarembinski, a researcher at BioTime. "So I had this idea that 3D printing might be a good way to make custom size petri dishes."
Hundreds of manufacturers across the nation threw open the doors to their facilities in an effort to educate the public about how things are made in America. What Zarembinski saw on his visit sealed the deal for him and confirmed his notion that additive manufacturing was just the ticket to create his custom cell dishes.
"It's so convenient," Zarembinski said. "I send over a CAD file, they print it out and I can just drive over here to check it out. This is exactly what I was looking for."
FATHOM is the top performing Stratasys 3D printer distributor for Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, and the tour at their shop included a group of investors, engineers, entrepreneurs and sales reps from various industries who made their way through the company's vintage foundry building.
The tour included demonstrations and discussions as to the form and function of a variety of technologies from PolyJet, Fused Deposition Modeling, Selective Laser Sintering, and Direct Metal Laser Sintering.
It was a hands-on event, and the group had a chance to see some unique prototypes up close. The items on display included a polymer bike chain, a ball of fully functional gears and a model car made from various plastics.
Preeya Singh of FATHOM says the ability of rapid prototyping to handle complex projects lets designers have a functional model of a potential product in hand in a matter of hours and demonstrates how parts can be output in materials from soft and rubbery to rock solid.
It's prototyping at the speed of thought.
"You could start printing something when the doors close at night and have it be ready by morning," Singh said. "It's very fast."
Stephen De Marti, a commercial banking executive with Comerica Bank, was blown away by what he saw on the tour. "We like what we see, but even more we see what this could be," De Marti said. "In six hours you can go from a computer file to a fully functional prototype. That's amazing."
This year, Manufacturing Day, a promotion supported by industry groups like the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute, included some 840 events in 48 states across the nation and in Canada.