What do ‘IronMan’, ‘The Hobbit’, ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘Avatar’, ‘The Muppets’, ‘Terminator Salvation’, ‘Real Steel’, ‘Paranorman’, ‘The Avengers’ have in common? Well, all these Hollywood flicks featured heavy 3D printing techniques.

3D printing, which was invented in 1984 by Chuck Hull, is currently used not just by the reel world, but the real world also, as it has sneaked into our day-to-day lives. The latest news is that NASA researches are working on figuring out how to bring 3D printing to space. The idea is to send robots ahead of astronauts to construct buildings and infrastructure on lunar surfaces.

As the adoption of 3D printing proliferates, the costs have come down and as a result, it is being widely used across industries – from apparels to manufacturing to healthcare. However, many of us are still unaware of the dynamics of this industry and its various use cases.

e27 caught up with Tanmay Shah, Head of Innovations at imaginarium, an India-based 3D printing company, to dive deep into the dynamics of 3D printing, its evolution and future.

What is 3D printing? How does it work?

3D printing is an advanced manufacturing technology that allows anyone to create physical objects from digital designs. It is a form of additive manufacturing where real, three-dimensional objects are created by ‘printing’ layer upon layer of material to achieve the desired shape and size.

A 3D printer accepts digital CAD (Computer Aided Design) files as input and prints 3D objects based on this data. These files contain three dimensional information about the required object, like it’s shape, size and density. The printer then digitally slices this 3D model into hundreds of 2D layers, and print the object by stacking one layer of material over the another.

Conventional manufacturing methods involve cutting and carving of a block of material to obtain a part, and hence fall under the umbrella term of subtractive manufacturing. With 3D printing, complex designs that were previously unrealisable due to the constraints of traditional methods, can now be easily brought to life with minimal wastage and short turnaround time.

What is the future of 3D printing? Where is it heading for?

According to Wohler’s Report 2016, the market size for 3D printing industry stands at US$5.165 billion as of 2015, and is projected to surpass US$30.19 billion by 2022. As more and more industries adopt this technology, 3D printing is slated to change the face of consumerism. Everyday products like cutlery, jewellery, decor furniture and possibly even food and designer clothing will be printed right within the confines of home.

Also Read: You won’t believe this: Singapore developing plans to 3D print homes

Localised manufacturing will largely reduce the cost of logistics and need for inventory. Orders will be ‘printed’ based on demand. Retail will see the rise of mass customisation, thanks to 3D printing, where every order can be customised as per specification and quickly printed out. With every domain that it touches, 3D printing will slowly change our lives.

What are the innovations happening in the 3D printing industry worldwide?

Wherever there is a possibility of a great idea changing lives for better, 3D printing shows its potential to bring about a revolution by realising it. In fact, doctors all around the world are already hailing 3D printing technology as a revolution in patient specific healthcare; 3D printing now makes it possible to create implants that fit your body with perfection, obtain prosthetic limbs at a fraction of original cost and even plan surgeries with never-before-seen precision.

Automotive and aerospace companies throughout the world are now drastically reducing the time-to-market for their products, thanks to rapid prototyping by the virtue of 3D printing. Ninety per cent of all the jewellery manufactured in the world is touched by 3D printing. NASA has grand plans for the technology, employing it in everything from constructing houses on other planets to remotely printing spare parts and equipments for astronauts.

If 3D printing isn’t already a revolution in itself, it’s the start of many a revolutions.

3D printing was very expensive till a few years ago, and the cost has now come down. Is it now seeing wide adoption among businesses?

Absolutely true. While 3D printing is still not as cost efficient when it comes to mass manufacturing, it’s an excellent approach for prototyping ideas and developing new products. And businesses from all sectors of manufacturing are utilising this technology to research and develop new products, cutting their time to market by several folds. There has been an exponential growth in the industrial applications of 3D printing in the last decade, with most the big players in manufacturing sectors of automotive, FMCG, jewellery, aerospace and white goods being aware and employing this technology in one form or the other.

What are the potential use cases of 3D printing in the B2C industry?

3D printing has virtually unlimited applications for end consumers with its capability for mass customisation. In future, things you own will not be merely one of the many thousands of similar pieces produced in bulk, rather they’ll be unique to your individuality and customised to your specifications. And they will be created on demand, from the confines of your own home or to a localised set-up of 3D printers close to your home.

Also Read: Singapore launches 3D printing cluster

From the car you drive, to the phone you use, to the apparels and accessories you wear, to even the food you eat, everything will be personalised and manufactured locally and on demand with the help of 3D printing. The word is mass customisation. That’s the future that 3D printing is aiming for.

What are the key challenges faced by this vertical?

Although 3D printing technology has been around since last 30 years, with tremendous opportunities it brings several challenges.

To understand its colossal potential, 3D printing needs to confront three noteworthy obstacles. The obstacles of awareness, acceptance and regulation. A decent level of producers are as yet negligent of this innovation, and the ones that do think about it are frequently reluctant to consolidate it into their organisations.

And after that there’s the subject of regulation. Any rising innovation in technology is often accompanied by potential misuses and the same applies for 3D printing. There is a requirement for managing and institutionalising fabricating processes inside the businesses. Arrangements should be set up that will both control abuses of the innovation and furthermore support mass reception.

Which are the industries Imaginarium works with?

Imaginarium has diverse clientele, serving industry sectors as varied as automotive to FMCG and jewellery to healthcare. We’ve been fortunate enough to work with both the clients that form the top tier in their respective sectors as well as empower the up and coming with our innovative solutions.

The process, at a glance, is straightforward. The client comes in with a design and a vision to realise it, and we turn the it into physical reality. It could be anything; a jewellery design to be manufactured in precious metal, prototyping the dashboard of an upcoming model from a leading car company or even helping doctors design customised braces for clubfoot.

We brainstorm the best approach to go about for turning the concept into a part, which includes everything from choosing the right 3D printing technology to data preparation for 3D printers to the relevant post processes.

How is the 3D printing market in India evolving? What is the size of the market?

While India may not be the pioneer in the business, it is seeing a wonderful increment in the level of awareness and adoption of this technology. 3D printing consummately encaptures the soul of Make In India; after all it can possibly bring the art of designing and creation to every home. Apart from being an extremely profitable time to enter the 3D printing market, this is the spirit that is driving entrepreneurs to establish a business model centred around 3D printing services and products. The evolution is such that we have new entrants in the industry every single month!

While it’s hard to put a number to the revenue generated directly via 3D printing products and services, it’s also important to note that 3D printing is being incorporated into the manufacturing processes of a lot of industries, be it jewellery, automotive, aerospace, FMCG or the white goods. It’s an indirect precursor to billions of dollars of sales that happens in these sectors.

How is the competition going on?

India is slowly, but surely, waking up to the amazing and unique prospects that 3D printing brings with itself. Over the last five to seven years, several players have emerged in both the services and products aspects of 3D printing. From indigenous 3D printing OEMs to enterprises that specialise in 3D selfies, there is rapid exploration and colonisation in an industry which is considered niche. Honestly, it’s an exciting time to be competing with such innovative and ambitious peers.

We are also constantly looking for avenue to partner with other players in the industry, to be a part of something that’s bigger than all of us. As India’s largest 3D printing set, we hold ourselves responsible for bringing the best of 3D printing to the country. We are striving to percolate other segments and educate the masses about this technology in India. 3D printing is the future of manufacturing and will revolutionise several fields with its inventory less retailing characteristics. We are also competing with traditional mindset of retailers and manufacturers who have still not grasped the advantages of 3D printing.

Image Credit: stockasso / 123RF Stock Photo