“Our overhead costs are higher in Oakland than they could be in other places, but we stay because we love it here. Our team lives in Oakland.” — Elizabeth Griffin, Marketing Manager of FATHOM

Oakland-based 3D printing studio FATHOM doesn’t bother with taking typical employee team photos. Instead, its office boasts a collection of 2” tall 3D printed busts of each and every employee, achieved by scanning and then printing each person’s likeness in an opaque photopolymer.

It’s a small detail that represents the innovation and quirkiness inherent to working at one of the country’s leading 3D printing studios, which in recent years has grown so quickly that FATHOM first expanded from its original location at 315 Jefferson Street into an adjoining office space at 329 Jefferson, then expanded its second office location in Seattle into a large new location last year. In 2013, FATHOM was ranked #369 on Inc.com’s list of the 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in the U.S., with total revenue at $5.7 million (up from $1.3 million in 2010). This year, FATHOM made the Inc.com list for the second time, coming in at #1,312.

In true form, to celebrate its second year on the Inc. 5000 list, the studio 3D printed a photograph of FATHOM’s founders and principals, Rich Stump and Michelle Mihevc.

FATHOM’s rapid growth is due in large part to its formidable reputation among customers and peers in the field; the studio has made a name for itself in its ability to push the possibilities of 3D printing and additive manufacturing, forms of production that themselves push the boundaries of what was previously thought possible to manufacture.

3D printing is a process quite analogous to 2D inkjet printing. In basic terms, 3D printing uses a model or scan from a computer to “print,” or to create, an object by building up a material layer by layer. The 3D printer’s equivalent to inkjet cartriddges are cartridges that can contain materials ranging from thermoplastics to powdered metal. The material is added in layers as thin as one-tenth of a millimeter at a time, in a process that takes anywhere from a few hours to several days depending on the size of the object.

Additive manufacturing, another term for the 3D printing process, refers to the process of creating an object by adding material (rather than, as in traditional manufacturing process, subtracting extraneous material).

The advantage of 3D printing over traditional manufacturing is most evident in its extreme cost-effectiveness; a one-off or prototype is infinitely more possible when each object is printed individually, with no wasted material and no necessity of perfecting a prototype for traditional mass manufacturing processes. Thus 3D printing is a natural fit for startups and small businesses, who work with studios like FATHOM to design, prototype, and produce inventive new products and ideas at relatively low risk.

In that way, FATHOM finds itself on the cutting edge not only in additive manufacturing technology, but also in other areas of innovation that clients bring to the studio. FATHOM has worked with Siva Cycle to prototype of a bicycle generator designed to power electronic and mobile devices via USB; with Back to the Roots to prototype a self-cleaning fish tank that also grows food; and with Monster to create a set of 3D printed headphones for a runway show in Paris.

And then, going back full circle, earlier this year the studio used additive manufacturing to create a Slinky… and then adapted a file of a 3D scanned employee to create a Slinky that folded back into the shape of that employee’s face and torso.

FATHOM, in brief:

LOCATION: Jack London Square
OFFICE VIBE: Efficient, modern, organized, clean
WHAT THEY DO, IN ONE SENTENCE: “We leverage our expertise in 3D printing and additive manufacturing to help our customers innovate faster and more efficiently.” — FATHOM website
SERVICES OFFERED: Prototyping and product design, 3D printing and additive manufacturing, low-volume production, graphic design, 3D printer sales