Business challenge

As FATHOM's 3D printing and additive manufacturing business grows, it needs accurate insight into operations to help customers get the best business value from applying these advanced technologies.

Transformation

FATHOM developed a powerful business intelligence tool that is enabling customers to further benefit from the transformation of 3D printing, while navigating changes in scale and production volume.

Results

Maximizes

revenue with continuous feedback on actual materials and build-time data

Monitors

additive manufacturing processes in real-time—anytime, anywhere

Increases

3D printer uptime and utilization through data-driven insights

Business challenge story

Mastering a cutting-edge technology

3D printing is transforming our world, helping to drive ground-breaking advances in industries such as healthcare, electronics, and aerospace. These advanced technologies are enabling major scientific discoveries and revolutionizing manufacturing processes.

“Working with IBM Compose enables us to focus on helping other companies push additive technologies to the forefront of their respective industries.”

—Dr. Carlo Quiñonez, Director of Research, FATHOM

The 3D printing industry itself is also undergoing a transformation, as it shifts to additive manufacturing, using this technology for real products, and not just prototypes. It is now used to create everything from prosthetic limbs for humans and animals, to futuristic concept cars, soft robotics for navigating hazardous environments during rescue operations, and miniature satellites for the European Space Agency.

At the heart of this major growth industry—one that is expanding at around 30 percent each year and is expected to be worth more than USD 30 billion by 2022—is a company called FATHOM. Having started out in 2008 as an authorized partner of Objet and Stratasys 3D printing and additive manufacturing systems, FATHOM has grown to provide full high-end advanced manufacturing services, as well as pioneering research into new uses for additive technologies and the ways in which it can “make the unmakeable”.

FATHOM leads innovative projects across all industries; its work continually demonstrates freedom of design and high complexity in ways not previously possible: Project Crucible, a scientific incubator that enables biologists to develop synthetic organisms in a simulated Martian-like environment; Project Pyra, a 3D printed oven showcasing the divergence between additive technologies and traditional methods, and BOOMcast, an IoT-enabled leg cast, 3D printed for TV show host Mike North, which allowed doctors to monitor his leg from anywhere in the world.

Dr. Carlo Quiñonez, Director of Research at FATHOM, explains: “We provide the full range of manufacturing services during product development from one or two prototypes, to engineering foundation runs, and even short-run production of up to 100,000 units.”

As FATHOM operates with relatively new technologies, the company has had to overcome many hidden complexities to take its place at the forefront of the additive manufacturing revolution, applying skills and experience to this new transformation.

As companies increase the scale and volume of their additive manufacturing operations, FATHOM realized that it had the knowledge and experience to help other companies optimize their advanced manufacturing processes. FATHOM began planning a software tool to improve 3D print business performance, and knew that it would need a rock-solid infrastructure to underpin the solution.

Transformation story

Deploying infrastructure with a single click

To support FATHOM Analytics, its business intelligence tool specifically engineered for companies operating multiple 3D printing and additive manufacturing systems, FATHOM chose to implement IBM Compose database-as-a-service (DBaaS) technology. FATHOM has a lean development team experienced with additive technologies, and required specialists that typically handle databases and system operations—making the DBaaS model an ideal fit for the company.

Compose enables the team at FATHOM to build its analytics application using open source technology—without the need for database expertise. FATHOM deployed instances using IBM Compose for MongoDB as the back-end for the analytics software. MongoDB was particularly appealing to FATHOM on account of features such as simple cluster configuration, high availability and support for changefeeds, which enable real-time updating.

The rapid one-click deployment of database instances through IBM Compose is also particularly useful, as Quiñonez explains: “For us, getting things provisioned quickly is way more important than trying to do it all ourselves and save money.”

The FATHOM Analytics software runs across multiple systems. One part of the system gathers data on manufacturing processes within the 3D printing production center—this manufacturing data covers print jobs, part costs, error states, and more. In short, the solution collects data on every aspect of each printed part and then transfers it to a Kafka cluster.

Cloud-based processes compile the data from the previous seven days of print jobs and events stored in Kafka, extracting meaningful messages and alerts, before transferring it to MongoDB. From there, another service makes the data available via a RESTful API, through which clients have web access to analysis and insights.

FATHOM has also developed an established online ordering platform for 3D printing and additive manufacturing. The platform is based on MongoDB, provisioned and managed through IBM Compose, and enables clients to organize and manage orders for 3D printed parts.

Quiñonez elaborates: “We provide a central portal for ordering, costing and pricing; our clients can then integrate that system with whatever internal systems they need to—whether they are customer relationship management, manufacturing resource planning, or accounting systems.”

The ordering platform builds on an existing development of a tool that FATHOM has been using internally to manage its own production processes. IBM Compose provides the crucial underlying scalability to add more and more users.

Quiñonez continues: “The nice thing is that because we’re a professional production center, we’re actually using FATHOM Analytics internally for our network of commercial 3D printing and additive manufacturing systems—so, in effect, we’re our own first customer.”

Results story

Enabling tomorrow’s breakthroughs

Supported by IBM technology, FATHOM is sharing its extensive knowledge and experience with its customers, and helping to advance the 3D printing industry at large as it continues to grow into new application areas.

Armed with FATHOM Analytics, clients can optimize their manufacturing processes to perform the most efficient print runs possible. Users in 3D print farms receive real-time metrics that show how best to schedule builds to generate the best yields, and how to eliminate even the smallest 3D printing errors.

Underlying the success of the FATHOM applications is the ability to select and deploy the databases required to support FATHOM’s developers’ workloads. IBM Compose puts that critical database infrastructure just a click away, and the fully managed service—covering backups and full server administration—ensures FATHOM’s developers have no need to worry about day-to-day database management, and can focus on adding functionality to the applications.

Quiñonez concludes: “It was really clear to me that the best way is to just go with the managed database service, rather than doing it ourselves. Maybe at some point, we’ll revisit that value proposition. But that’s way down the road—for now, working with IBM Compose enables us to focus on helping other companies push additive technologies to the forefront of their respective industries. As the product grows, I'm confident IBM will be able to help us through the challenges of scaling our platform as well."

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About FATHOM

FATHOM is driven by advanced technologies that enhance and accelerate a company’s product development and manufacturing processes. Every day, industry-leading companies leverage FATHOM’s expertise to put satellites into orbit, electric cars on freeways, and a full spectrum of devices into people’s hands and homes. FATHOM’s services focus on prototype fabrication and production parts by way of uniquely blending additive technologies and materials with foundational manufacturing methods—companies go from concept to prototype to production in a way that wasn’t previously possible.

Take the next step

IBM Compose is a cloud-hosted platform for building enterprise applications on open source database technologies. Offering a choice of the best in open source software databases, ready to go into production within minutes to support web and mobile apps, Compose combines practically unlimited auto-scaling with practically zero administration. For more information or to try Compose, visit: ibm.com/cloud-computing/bluemix/data-services

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