New Delhi: Early this month, a sculpture called ‘Jhada’ was installed at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai. So what, you may rightly ask? Well! The eight-feet high and six-feet wide structure was created using 3D printing technology by London-based studio Fractal Works.
Similarly, Jaipur Watch Company has added a new collection of stainless steel watches that were 3D printed. While 3D printing has seen a lot of hype around it, the adoption has been limited to a few markets in North America and Europe.
In India, the adoption has been largely scattered. “Industry analysis from the Wohlers Report, published in 2018, shows that India accounts for roughly 3% of total units installed across the Asia Pacific region when China hits 35% and Japan 30+%,” says Rajiv Bajaj, managing director, Stratasys India. However, according to 6Wresearch, 3D printer market in India is projected to cross $79 million by 2021.
Bajaj believes the Indian market is at the edge of advancing its adoption and application to a level that is similar to the few leading countries though the customer mix may be different for each country.
While automotive, healthcare, housing, and defence are some of the areas where 3D printing is expected to make the most impact, there are new examples from other sectors too. “In India, the adoption did not happen in the expected areas but there are new avenues and application areas like education and medical pre-surgery where 3D printing is being consumed,” says Swapnil Sansare, chief executive officer, Divide By Zero Technologies, a Mumbai-based 3D printer company.
The slow adoption in India can be attributed to the lack of understanding about 3D printing. Bajaj feels a better understanding of 3D solution by customers will definitely help increase adoption in growing markets such as India.
It includes an understanding of compatible software, basic concepts behind different 3D printing technologies, application difference from traditional fabrication methods, and of materials and their matching properties with manufacturing requirements and industries.
“This is why we are adding resources in the field to transfer knowledge to our resellers and customers in both theories and hands-on application as much as we can,” says Bajaj.
According to an EY report on 3D printing industry, parts to build the printer are still very expensive. Actual printing is cheap. In addition, there is a lingering concern about warranty. Resource companies are hesitant to put 3D-printed parts into their machines if they are not covered for damage in case the parts fail.
Also, the arrival of desktop 3D printers created a lot of hype and it was said that everyone will have a 3D printer on their desk along with a paper printer. However, in reality, this technology is much slower and not completely ready to go into the hands of consumer, rues Sansare.
Small desktop 3D printers can be handled by designers. In some desktop 3D printers such as MakerBot, no skill is required to operate the printer and even primary school students can download printable files from 3D community and print 3D objects. However, to operate large format 3D printers, a better understanding of design for additive manufacturing (DFAM), along with knowledge of polymers and computer numerical control (CNC) operation background is required.
Changes in some key sectors such as automotive are holding back investment in 3D printing. Globally and even in India, the largest consumer of 3D printing is the automotive industry and right now it is going through a lot of changes, BS-VI and electric vehicles being two of the main challenges.
Hence, new vehicle design development has slowed and so has the demand for 3D printing, according to Sansare.
There is a lot of interest in 3D printing in education sector as well. It is being used by engineering students to design prototypes, in medical labs to study body organs, and by art students for artwork. According to reports, IISC’s Society of Innovation and Development and WIPRO 3D are working to build India’s first industrial scale 3D printing machine.
Equipment and manufacturing costs are some of the other barriers to the adoption of 3D printing. “Cost ranges from as low as ₹80,000 to ₹1.5 crore, depending on technology and build size for polymer printing. Material cost varies from ₹2 per gram to ₹15 per gram depending on the choice of material. One-time deployment cost with all the infrastructure will range from ₹150,000 to ₹750,000, depending on the printer technology and size,” says Sansare.
Divide by Zero Technologies is working on a lease model for customers wherein they can just lease machines for as low as three months with monthly rentals starting from ₹35,000 which includes material cost up to 5kg per month. This will enable industrial users to lease machines as and when they need and scale up or scale down quickly.
For small- and mid-sized companies, a mid-range professional 3D printer may serve most application needs with standard engineering-grade materials. Companies that plan to start new businesses with 3D printed parts may invest more in a variety of high-end manufacturing-grade 3D printing systems that support multiple materials from the standard ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS, is a common thermoplastic polymer) to production-grade carbon fibre and even metal. New methods of 3D printing like honeycombing are making them relevant for manufacturers in aerospace. Honeycombing allows printing of light weight parts, by creating material called metallic microlattice, which comprises 99% air in a 3D open-cellular polymer structure made up of interconnected hollow tubes.
Bajaj notes that the India market is a high potential ground as we see adoption of 3D printing solutions is continuously rising for the past few years with increased general market awareness and there is still a lot of growth here compared to markets that are more mature such as Japan, Germany or the US.
Sansare believes emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) can make it very user-friendly for end customers and ensure widespread use.
“Artificial intelligence can help orient the components, estimate material shrinkage and add correction factors to the print code ensuring higher success rate of the printing process,” he explains.
Lack of investment and fewer R&D centres for 3D printing are some of the additional factors that is holding back a large scale adoption. However, a better understanding of 3D printing technology and its applications among users will definitely help increase its adoption in India.