The advent of 3D printing is nothing less than a revolution in the manufacturing industry. You must have read about advances in 3D printing and its many advantages. But have you seen or used a product which is 3D printed? Or do you know anyone who has used or seen such a product? The challenges in the 3D Printing Industry is what we are going to look into in this article.
Answer to this question from the majority of us in India would be “NO”. Have you ever thought why 3D printing is not common yet or what are the challenges in the widespread adoption of 3D printing in India? In this article, we will learn about different types of 3D printing technologies and will analyze the challenges faced by the industry.
Types of 3D Printing Technology
For a layman, 3D printing is more of a buzzword where a product can be designed and printed just like 2D printing on a piece of paper. 3D printing takes a design file and raw material inputs and works by building a product layer by layer hence it is also called “additive manufacturing.” It can produce a nearly finished part in a matter of hours. Currently, there are five 3D printing technologies commercially available-
• Selective Laser Melting (SLM)
• Electron Beam Melting (EBM)
Challenges in 3D Printing
Equipment and Material Cost – 3D printing technology is still evolving hence the equipment and material costs are high. Most good quality 3D printers and the raw materials need to be imported from Western countries. Higher pricing structures for 3D printers/materials in India makes the entry point more expensive compared to other manufacturing technologies such as CNC machining, injection molding etc. India is a price sensitive market, if the cost of 3D printing a product is high compared to other options, customers will go for the next best option available. The higher price might be justified in Western countries due to the high cost of manpower but same price structure won’t work in the Indian market.
To overcome this important barrier, 3D printing industry in India must invest in building the machines and the raw material in India and find ways to reduce the overall cost of 3D printing.
Lack of Formal Standards – As 3D printing is still in the initial stages of development, there is a lack of formal standards in the industry. In June 2018, ASTM International, formerly known as American Society for Testing and Materials, released a set of standards detailing best practices for metal powder bed fusion processes to ensure quality for critical applications such as aerospace and medical industry but these are very limited and narrow in scope. A lot more work is needed in this direction because lack of standards in 3D printing is seriously hampering its adoption. Standardization will ensure consistency and quality for products created using 3D Printing which will encourage its adoption.
Lack of Ecosystem – In India, there are very few providers for 3D printing services. These providers are mostly stand-alone shops, many of them do not have a strong online presence, some might be provided just one of the 3D printing technologies or limited choice of raw materials so the overall ecosystem is lacking. These providers need to be brought together under a platform to provide comprehensive 3D printing solutions. Chizel has created a comprehensive Cloud-based platform www.chizel.io and is planning to connect such stand-alone shops to the Cloud, known as manufacturing hubs.
The 3D Printing market is monopolistic – The OEM, who manufactures the 3D printers, also produces materials for these machines. Due to this monopoly, consumables are expensive. Thereby hampering the adoption of 3D Printing. The industry has to be democratized. For example, HP has democratized its machines for others to develop their own materials.
3D printing materials must be standardized. Since general material norms do not exist yet, companies need to set and meet quality standards not only for the products but also for the materials and the processes.
Lack of knowledge about various 3D Printing processes – For most consumers, 3D Printing only means FDM technology. There is a lack of awareness about various 3D printing technologies and use cases for them. One needs to educate the users about the potential of these technologies and how they can be used for their product.
Designing for Additive Manufacturing – Indian companies today, simply manufacture a part in 3D Printing that was designed using the rules of conventional manufacturing. Therefore, although the part is manufactured faster and in fewer quantities, the part design is not as efficient as it could have been because the part was never designed for Additive Manufacturing (AM).
Design engineers need a new skill set to start designing for Additive Manufacturing. They need to keep AM thumb rules in mind. For example, 3D printing allows designing without constraints. This means not having to worry about undercuts or draft angles and having total freedom to play with the form and function. If the companies start designing for AM and then manufacture the part in AM, the benefits will be manifolds.
Awareness – Companies need to not only identify applications and parts to build with 3D printing but look at their manufacturing strategy as a whole. Businesses need to find how the technology can be applied and add value to overall operations. For example- in the case of Airbus Jetliner Parts 3D Printing unlocked an optimized design that uses 90% less raw material, 90% less energy during production and 55% weight reduction.
Business leaders, policy makers and end users should be educated on 3D printing technology – how it can be used when it is effective and what value it can create. Building awareness will promote growth both in terms of adoption and demand for better products.
The dearth of skilled manpower – While manpower is plentiful in India, getting trained and experienced designers, engineers, and technicians to operate the machines is a challenge. To address this issue, educational organizations can start offering training on 3D printing related designing, coding, machine operation/optimization, etc. Building educational centres, and development or accelerated adoption of 3D curricula in undergraduate engineering programs will build the skills required to excel in 3D printing.
To nurture the next generation of innovators and thinkers, under the Atal Innovation Mission, the government of India has given a mandate to various public schools to set up “Atal Tinkering Labs” equipped with 3D Printers. Government is also sponsoring INR 10.00 Cr worth rapid prototyping related machinery under Atal Incubation Mission. These steps will definitely help with the widespread adoption of 3D printing in India in the near future.
To overcome these challenges, the industry needs to shift its focus from the technical advantages of 3D printing to overall value it can provide to a business. Instead of finding the products that fit the technology, technology must be customized to fit the business model and products. Government has to step in and create policies to promote innovation and provide incentives to entrepreneurs venturing into 3D printing.
Like any new technology, 3D printing in its early stages of development is grappling with challenges. But the good news is – in spite of challenges, the 3D printing market in India is growing at the rate of approximately 20%. Market research company 6Wresearch has projected Indian 3D printer market to be worth $79 million, by 2021. Companies that invest in it now will gain a competitive edge over those who don’t.
Image Credits – Pixabay