Three Dimensional Printing also known as additive manufacturing, uses materials such as plastics and metals, to convert products envisaged on computer aided design to real three-dimensional items. ‘Additive’ refers to the successive addition of thin layers between 16 to 180 microns or more to create an object.
Although 3D printing is commonly thought of as a new ‘futuristic’ concept, it has actually been around for more than 30 years. Chuck Hull invented the first 3D printing process called stereolithography in 1983. In a patent, he defined stereolithography as ‘a method and apparatus for making solid objects by successively printing thin layers of the ultraviolet curable material one on top of the other’. This patent only focuses on printing with a light curable liquid, but after Hull founded the company 3D Systems, he soon realized his technique was not limited to only liquids, expanding the definition to ‘any material capable of solidification or capable of altering its physical state’. With this, he built the foundation of what we now know today as additive manufacturing (AM) – or 3D printing. There are 3 main steps in 3D printing:
1. The first step is the preparation just before printing, when you design a 3D file of the object you want to print. This 3D file can be created using CAD software (or any 3D Printing software) , with a 3D scanner or simply downloaded from an online marketplace. Once you have checked that your 3D file is ready to be printed , you can proceed to the second step.
2. The second step is the actual printing process. First, you need to choose which material will best achieve the specific properties required for your object. The variety of materials used in 3D printing is very broad. It includes plastics, ceramics, resins, metals, sand, textiles, biomaterials, glass, food and even lunar dust! Most of these materials also allow for plenty of finishing options that enable you to achieve the precise design result you had in mind, and some others, like glass for example, are still being developed as 3D printing material and are not easily accessible yet.
3. The third step is the finishing process. This step requires specific skills and materials. When the object is first printed, often it cannot be directly used or delivered until it has been sanded, lacquered or painted to complete it as intended.
The material chosen for the project will determine which printing methods are most suitable. Among these, the most commonly used techniques for each group of materials are as mentioned,
1. Using Plastic or Alumide: Fused Deposition Modelling Technology and SLS technology.
2. Using Resin or Wax: Stereolithography(SLA), Digital Light Processing(DLP), Continuous Liquid Interface Production(CLIP), Multijet Printers.
3. Using Metal: DLP combined with the lost-wax casting technique ,Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), Electron Beam Melting(EBM).
4. Using Multicolor: Binder Jetting, Selective Deposition Lamination, Triple Jetting Technology(polyjet).
The 3D printing industry already serves a wide range of applications, all of which are at different stages of maturation.
1. 3D Printing rapid prototyping: Since the late 1980s, 3D printing has been used to create prototypes and concept models. These can significantly speed and otherwise assist design and pre-production processes, and as a result can save companies a great deal of money as well as improving the function of final products.
2. 3D printing molds and other tooling: The fastest growing area of 3D printing application is the additive manufacture of production tools the molds, patterns, jigs, fixtures and other tooling used to make final products.
3. Custom Medical Implants: In Dental field, dental models, denture framework, surgical guides, wax models, veneer try-ins etc.
4. Other applications: In industrial sectors including space, aerospace, automotive manufacture, healthcare, toy making, art-and-crafts, designer goods and fashion, functionally enhanced products, metal casting patterns etc.
Whether or not they arrive en-mass in the home, 3D printers have many promising areas of potential future application. They may, for example, be used to output spare parts for all manner of products, and which could not possibly be stocked as part of the inventory of even the best physical or even online store. Hence, rather than throwing away a broken item (something unlikely to be justified a decade or two hence due to resource depletion and enforced recycling), faulty goods will be able to be taken to a local facility that will call up the appropriate spare parts and simply print them out. 3D printers may also be used to make future buildings. Another future application is the use of 3D printers to create replacement organs, and even to directly repair the human body in situ. This is known as bioprinting, and is an area of rapid development.
The 3D Printing Technology in India is still maturing, The Indian industry currently supports the following business models:
Reseller companies in India sell premium brand 3D printers manufactured in Germany or USA.
Indian entrepreneurs have set up partnerships with foreign collaborators to share 3D printing technology and manufacture printers in India.
Indian hi-tech companies designing and manufacturing indigenous 3D Printers.
Apart from selling 3D Printers, many India hi-tech companies are also selling 3D printing services.
Among the Indian 3D Printer manufacturers, the one who is worth a mention is Arvind Nadig, who began his Bangalore-based venture in 2014, sold Indian-brand 3D printers at about a base price of Rs 1.2 lac to small businesses, professionals, and designers. Another Chandigarh-based company known as LBD Makers, has managed to manufacture sell a limited number of entry-level 3D Printers that cost between Rs.75000 and Rs.1.5 Lac. The rest of the Indian 3D printing technology business-owners are either reselling imported brands or offering bundled technologies that have imported components clubbed under the “Make in India” label.
Three Dimensional printing, no matter how important it is, will not replace traditional manufacturing technologies such as injection moulding. In some of the applications it might but not in most cases, it will complement existing technologies. When there is high value customization, when there are geometries that require a complex design that conventional technologies cannot achieve, then 3D printing is the right solution.
Author: Akshay Palande
Akshay Palande is a passionate teacher helping hundreds of students in their UPSC preparation. With a degree in Mechanical Engineering and double masters in Public Administration and Economics, he has experience of teaching UPSC aspirants for 5 years. His subject of expertise are Geography, Polity, Economics and Environment and Ecology.