[Burning Issue] 3D Printing

Introduction

  • The manufacturing landscape is ever-changing. One of the most significant drivers of this change is the emergence of advanced manufacturing technologies that are enabling more cost-effective and resource-efficient small-scale production.
  • In combination with other prominent trends such as servitisation, personalisation and presumption, the emergence of Additive Manufacturing (commonly known as 3D printing) as a direct manufacturing process is leading companies to rethink where and how they conduct their manufacturing activities.
  • The adoption of additive manufacturing (AM) and other advanced manufacturing technologies appears to herald a future in which value chains are shorter, smaller, more localised, more collaborative, and offer significant sustainability benefits.
  • The Industrial revolution somehow bypassed India, but we have a unique opportunity to catch the wave of the manufacturing revolution if we can learn to surf.

3D printing

  • 3D printing is a phrase coined by the media and is often used to refer to all types of additive manufacturing.
  • However, 3D printing is defined as “fabrication of objects through the deposition of a material using a print head, nozzle or other printer technology”.
  • Industrial 3D printing has begun to transform manufacturing in Western countries. The 3D printing has not yet entered our everyday lexicon, and even people who have heard of it view it as a toy technology that geeks play with, creating prototypes of robots using small machines.
  • By eliminating the need to hold a large inventory of parts, set up an assembly line and purchase costly machines, 3D printing and adaptive manufacturing reduces capital and space requirements as well as the carbon footprint.

What is Additive Manufacturing?

Additive manufacturing which was defined by the industry as “making objects from 3D data, usually layer upon layer”.

In additive manufacturing, the physical object to be built is first designed in software. This design is fed to computerised machineswhich build that object layer by layer.

In practice, the phrases 3D printing and additive manufacturing may be used interchangeably by some sources so it’s important to understand the process which is actually being discussed.

  • Additive manufacturing is the industrial version of 3-D printing that is already used to make some niche items, such as medical implants, and to produce plastic prototypes for engineers and designers.
  • And while 3-D printing for consumers and small entrepreneurs has received a great deal of publicity, it is in manufacturing where the technology could have its most significant commercial impact.
  • There are in fact a number of different subtypes of additive manufacturing including 3D printing, but also rapid prototyping and direct digital manufacturing (DDM). Recent advances in this technology have seen its use become far more widespread and it offers exciting possibilities for future development.
  • Additive manufacturing machines work directly from a computer model, so people can devise completely new shapes without regard for existing manufacturing limitations.
  • Breaking with traditional manufacturing techniques, such as casting and machining material, Additive Manufacturing product gives designers far greater flexibility.

 

Evolution of 3D Printing:

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The process of 3D Printing

  • 3D printing starts by making a virtual design of the object to be created. Virtual design can be made using a 3D modelling program such as CAD (Computer Aided Design) or 3D scanners.
  • The 3D digital copy is then put into a 3D modelling program. The model is then sliced into hundreds or thousands of horizontal layers in preparation for printing.
  • This prepared file is thus uploaded in the 3D printer which reads each slices in 2D format and then proceeds to create the object layer by layer and the resulting object has no sign of layering visible, but a 3 dimensional structure.

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Advantages/ Benefits of 3D printing

  1. Low cost: 3D printing is cheaper than traditional method of manufacturing. Cost of producing or manufacturing products using 3d printing technology is equal for small-scale and mass manufacturing. For example: China was able to able to construct 10 one storey houses at less than $5000 per house
  2. Less Time: Printing of the 3D object can be done directly, differing from the traditional manufacturing where different components had to be joined to form the final product.
  3. Efficiency: Generating prototypes with 3D printers is much easier and faster with 3D printing technology.
  4. Increased Productivity:  It enables quick production with a high number of prototypes or a small-scale version of the real object
  5. Flexibility: Different materials can be used in the 3D models. This makes it very easy to create construction models or prototypes for a wide variety of projects within many industries.
  6. Customization:  Every item can be customized to meet a user’s specific needs without impacting the manufacturing costs.
  7. Quality assurance: the technology builds robust products with superior functionality
  8. Employment opportunities: The widespread use of 3d printing technology will increase the demand for engineers who are needed to design and build these printers and design blueprints of products.
  9. Reduced wastage: AM process produces less waste in comparison with other traditional manufacturing techniques

Disadvantages/ Issues with 3D Printing

  1. Limited size: The size of objects created with 3d printers is currently limited
  2. Limited Raw Materials: With 3D printing being an additive method (layer after layer), the materials available suited for it are limited- ceramics, resin, plastics, etc.
  3. Effect on employment: Jobs in manufacturing will be rendered obsolete which will have a negative impact on developing economies.
  4. Concerns over copyright infringements: There is concern over counterfeit printing of copyrighted or patented products. Anyone who gets a hold of a blueprint will be able to counterfeit products easily
  5. Production of dangerous items: There are concerns over deterring or controlling people from 3D printing potentially dangerous items. Example: International regimes such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime and the Wassenaar Agreement that control technology have been concerned about the proliferation of high-performance 3-D printers, which have the capability to print parts for missile or nuclear weapon.
  6. Cybersecurity concerns: Studies have shown that the 3-D printer connected to the online network is vulnerable to cyber attacks.
  7. Ethical concerns associated with use of 3D technology in healthcare:
  • justice in access to health care: One major concern about the development of personalised medicine is that it might increase cost of treatment and widen the disparity between rich and poor in terms of access to healthcare
  • Testing for safety and efficacy: second concern is how it is to tested that the treatment is safe and effective before it is offered as a clinical treatment.

Results of Successful Utilization of Additive Manufacturing

  • Additive manufacturing (AM) creates opportunities for improving sustainability.
  • Opportunities are being realised across the product and material life cycles.
  • AM can improve resource efficiency and enable closed-loop material flows.
  • Established organisations are focusing on product and process redesign.
  • New ventures are exploring niches and growing the AM ecosystem.

Applications of 3D Printing

1. Defence and Aerospace: At present, AM technology in the aerospace and defence sector is broadly used for prototyping, repair of small parts and component manufacturing. Examples: The UK Royal Air Force and Navy use AM for repairing spare parts.

2. Health:

  • Hearing aids have been made using 3D printing technology.
  • Bio printers: Organ printing or body part printing is being printed and some parts being used as implants of actual body parts. Example: Titanium pelvic, plastic tracheal splint, titanium jaws
  • Tissue engineering: Tissue engineering made remarkable progress with printing of 3D blood vessels. This was achieved 3D bio-printing technology and biomaterials through vascularisation of hydrogel constructs.
  • Dentistry: Dental Implants are being made on a commercial level using 3D printing technology
  • Prosthetics: 3D printing is being used to make surrogate body parts
  • Artificial organ: Additive manufacturing of stem cells has also led to various possibilities in printing artificial organs, although most of the work is still in the experimental stage

3. Manufacturing: 3D printing can be used to manufacture varied forms of products- from car or plane parts to sport goods, toys etc. Customised products are able to be manufactured as customers can edit the digital design file and send to the manufacturer for productions.

4. Domestic Usage: 3D printers can be used in the home to make small objects such as ornamental objects, small toys etc.

5. Architecture, housing: The technology can be used for a variety of housing projects with application in custom luxury designer homes, large scale development projects, to temporary housing projects. It could also enable engineers to design and build stiffer and safer geometries for houses. Further, can also help engineers to rebuild and restore old heritage designs quickly yet accurately.

6. Food: 3D printing enables fast automated and repeatable processes, freedom in design, as well as allowing large and easy variability of the cooking process which can be customized.

7. Education: Affordable 3D printers in schools may be used for a variety of applications which can aid students with learning better.

3D Printing in India

  • The government has launched several initiatives such as ‘Make in India’, ‘Digital India’ and ‘Skill India’ to improve investment opportunities and to enhance manufacturing capabilities in the country.
  • Given the government’s interest in boosting manufacturing, major manufacturers have established 3-D printing assembly lines and distribution centres in partnership with foreign technological firms.
  • A PwC report titled ‘The Global Industry 4.0’ in 2016 shows that in India, 27% of industries have either already invested or will be investing in AM technology within the next five years

Opportunities for India

Fortunately, this manufacturing paradigm has several features that play to the strengths of the Indian ecosystem.

  • First, it eliminates large capital outlays. Machines are cheaper, inventories can be small and space requirements are not large.
  • Thus, jump-starting manufacturing does not face the massive hurdle of large capital requirement and the traditional small and medium enterprises can easily be adapted and retooled towards high technology manufacturing.
  • Second, the Indian software industry is well-established, and plans to increase connectivity are well under way as part of ‘Digital India’. This would allow for the creation of manufacturing facilities in small towns and foster industrial development outside of major cities.
  • Third, it is possible to build products that are better suited for use in harsh environmental conditions. Products that required assembly of fewer parts also implies that they may be better able to withstand dust and moisture prevalent in our tropical environment and be more durable.
  • Fourth, in a country where use-and-throw is an anathema, maintaining old products is far easier because parts can be manufactured as needed and product life-cycles can be expanded.
  • Finally, maintaining uniform product quality is far easier because the entire system is built at the same time and assembly is not required.

Consequences

  • It decreases reliance on assembly workers and bypasses the global supply chain that has allowed countries like China to become prosperous through export of mass-produced items.
  • This may lead to the creation of software-based design platforms in the West that distribute work orders to small manufacturing facilities, whether located in developed or developing countries, but ultimately transfer value creation towards software and design and away from physical manufacturing.
  • This would imply that labour-intensive manufacturing exports may be less profitable.
  • For countries that have already invested in heavy manufacturing, this shift to adaptive manufacturing will be difficult and expensive.

Challenges for India

  1. Lack of domestic manufacturers of 3D printer: Though, there has been some attempts in producing 3D printers domestically they are not of industrial grade and industries largely depend on imports
  2. High cost of imports: There is a lack of clarity relating to the import of 3-D printers that attract close to 30–40% customs duty, over and above the shipping cost. The huge cost associated with importing industrial grade 3-D printers is too much for the medium and small-scale industries in India.
  3. Employment: 3D printing carries dangerous implications for employment scenario in developing nations such as India as it decreases reliance on assembly workers. It may lead to the creation of software-based design platforms in the West that distribute work orders to small manufacturing facilities, whether located in developed or developing countries, but ultimately transfer value creation towards software and design and away from physical manufacturing.
  4. Awareness: Due to lack of awareness many business entities do not opt for design-prototyping-manufacturing assistance which largely reduces the reach of 3D printing.
  5. Research: Research involving AM and its allied technologies in India is inadequate for competing in the global arena. Lack of a centralised approach to AM has been constraining Indian institutions from undertaking intense research on AM-related technologies.

International best practice

China had launched the first national plan for 3-D printing, called ‘Additive Manufacturing Industry Promotion Plan 2015–2016’. Later, a new additive manufacturing Action Plan (2017-2020) for the further development of the technology in the country was launched. The Plan focuses on strengthening research and development, as well as accelerating applications of 3D printing and its adoption in the industry.

Way Forward

  1. There is a need for strong support from the government and business houses for AM-related studies and R&D for the growth of the technology in India
  2. Research in India with regard to AM technology needs to be significantly scaled up if it is to emerge as a competitive player in this field.
  3. It is important to create an environment that is conducive for industry to form collaborations with foreign firms to co-create the technology
  4. Training and skilling is another important aspect which requires considerable attention. There is huge scope under the ‘Skill India’ initiative to reach out to the many technical institutes in the country to sensitise them regarding the opportunities in 3D printing
  5. The “Make it the Indian Way” approach needs public-private partnership and multi-pronged efforts.
  6. There is a need to accelerate research at our premier engineering schools on manufacturing machines and methods and encourage the formation of product design centers so that the products built to suit the Indian environment and consumers.
  7. There is a need for government support to provide incentives for distributed manufacturing in smaller towns, and for the IT industry to work on creating platforms and marketplaces that connect consumer demands, product designers and manufacturers in a seamless way.

Conclusion

  • In the past, the limitations of production have all too often influenced design, ruling out ideas because they weren’t practically achievable.
  • The introduction of this technology and its development means the process has been spun on its head, with design now driving the production.
  • If ‘Make in India’ is to succeed, it needs to encompass ‘Make it the Indian Way’. It need not emulate mass production technologies, fuelled in Detroit by massive capital investment or in Beijing by cheap labour.
  • We are fortunate to be in a historic moment when the manufacturing sector is about to go through a transformation wrought by disruptive technologies.
  • combination of science and art, with a pinch of Indian entrepreneurship thrown in, will allow us to develop a manufacturing ecosystem that will not only allow India to compete with global manufacturing, it will also create products that are uniquely suited to Indian conditions.
  • We have to find a way of making it work in India’s favour rather than against it.
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