India’s manufacturing sector is growing to become the fifth largest in the world by 2020. Aided by the Indian government’s initiative of ‘Make in India’, the nation’s vision is to make the country a global manufacturing hub. A resource-rich nation with respect to material and skilled manpower, the country seeks indigenous innovation to create a stimulating landscape of growth.

Along with the growth of the country’s manufacturing sector built on conventional practice, additive manufacturing or industrial 3D printing has made a slow yet steady impact, calling for a change in many traditional applications. 3D printing encourages an application and design-driven approach, which has great scope for innovation and thinking out-of-box solutions.

Industries such as automotive, aerospace and healthcare have been the key drivers for 3D printing in India through their early adoption of the technique. More than a decade ago, 3D printing was primarily used in prototyping, as it allowed engineers to analyse their design in physical structure. This became a key phase of design in a manufacturing cycle. However, using 3D printing for practical, industrial purposes, became more widespread after its evolution from a nascent stage to an advanced, well-researched autonomous technique.

On this note, it is important to understand that additive manufacturing or 3D printing is not here to replace conventional manufacturing. It is a technique that has large usability cases that may just be the better option for a certain existing application or for use cases that weren’t thinkable to date. 3D printing has opened multiple avenues for better, intricate design which is scaleable, while simultaneously offering cost advantage through a wide range of raw material usage, both in polymers and metals. Along with cost effectiveness, 3D printing is congruous with the lean manufacturing approach adopted by Indian industries—especially the startups.

Why 3D printing?

As localisation gains momentum, and manufacturing startups vie for market space, this sector requires large working capital and has begun to see the silver lining in adopting 3D printing. Lean manufacturing is the best option for Indian manufacturers, who often encounter constraints in the form of space, technology, and assembly limitations. Which is why there is a huge scope for 3D printing within the country. Manufacturing requires a long-term vision, but its implementation needs to be quick owing to the fast-paced environment. Here is another advantage of 3D printing, as it allows quick implementation and modification to the 3D printer itself. Most changes are on the design level in CAD [computer-aided design] and simulation software. Built on the foundation of minimal wastage of material, 3D printing follows a build process that goes ground up and layer by layer, and offers reusability of the powder, making for an extremely lean process overall.

How design thinking fits in

The chief driver for the next phase of growth in 3D printing, which is its adoption in more industrial component building, will be the evolution of the design process. And this change has already arrived, with more and more companies incorporating design thinking to their development phases. Not a new concept, design thinking is an approach that opens doors to unconventional ideas with no prejudice, often creating surprisingly viable solutions.

Inspiration, ideation, and implementation are the three main phases of design thinking. In order to use the technology of 3D printing, there needs to be a change in the traditional mindset of the designers and engineers. Once again, India finds itself at an advantage. Undoubtedly, the biggest asset to a country would be its populace; one that is highly skilled. Producing the greatest number of engineers in the world, the country can leverage through introduction of design thinking and 3D printing methodologies in the curriculum.

The change to come

3D printing will introduce a new, leaner, Indian manufacturing industry. In FY19, the manufacturing sector GVA for current prices accounted for 18.32% share. With a growing economy and global innovations that are geared to make an impact—which would be substantial to anchoring industries for the long run—3D printing is ready for widespread adoption. The technology is over 30 years old and the portfolio for its use cases has expanded enough to add credibility to its ever-increasing performance. The shortened lead time will empower industries like aerospace and healthcare to create components with precision in design. Especially when it comes to prosthetics or implants, 3D printing allows for a more customised solution, becoming a boon for the healthcare industry.

The potential of 3D printing has hardly any bounds; it is only limited by imagination. Through the right kind of government support and through industry leaders persevering to admonish the misconceptions of additive manufacturing, we can look at a modernised manufacturing industry in India. One that is aware of all the advantages of both conventional manufacturing and 3D printing, to leverage and design customised, optimised solutions.

Views are personal. The author is regional manager at EOS India.

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