“It’s still magic even if you know how it is done” – Nothing explains the fourth industrial revolution better. Technology has transcended the ordinary and has become a surreal mix of science and futurism. Sure enough, today’s technology is tomorrow’s obsolete design but for now, we are going gaga over this era’s incomparable invention – 3D Printers. Understanding the theory behind 3D printing or ‘additive manufacturing’ is a five-finger-exercise; one must simply type a few digital codes and voila, the printer spits out a three-dimensional object. From drone parts to human organs and everything else in between, the printer can reproduce any three dimensional object known to man, including food! Yes, can I have a plate of 3D printed fries, please? A trailblazer in the field of technology, additive manufacturing is slowly gaining momentum in India, while 3D printing has already reached its acme in the West and has advanced to 4D printing (that’s for another day). What is it about 3D printing that is revolutionary, aside from the fact that codes materialise into objects at the touch of a finger? Unlimited potential. Imagine if Cersei, Daenerys and Jon could each 3D print an iron throne for themselves. Would that solve the problem of who gets to warm the jagged ends of a thousand swords? It would be a clash of cartridges then, but the point is, 3D printers can print anything.
Economists are asking if this would bridge the gap between supply and demand because it is all about ‘printing-on-demand’. What happens to market forces that determine prices then? Let’s put that question on hold while we discuss the implications of this technological advancement in India. Medicine, automation, aerospace and fashion are four of the most successful industries in the country that have discovered the potential of this technology. Additive manufacturing is primarily used in the production of automotive parts such as doors, trunks and car panels that are later assembled together. Recently, Wipro 3D assembled India’s first additively manufactured functional metal component that will be flying on ISRO’s GSAT-19 satellite, a communication satellite. Apart from this, the technology is being used by startups such as ‘Augrav’ and ‘icustommadeit’ to produce custom made gifts like 3D printed personalised gold jewellery.
“We believe there is an individual piece of jewellery for every one of the seven billion people on this planet and this technology has made us realise that,” said AuGrav’s founder, Vivek Krishna. When asked about the prospect of the 3D printing market, Mr. Krishna said, “Business is sticking but slow. When we started, we used to get one or two calls a week but now we get 50+ enquiries in a day.
The problem is that hype was too much a few years ago. But business has definitely grown.” Unlike the west, startups operating in the 3D printing space function in two areas – sale of 3D printers and 3D printing as a service. On an average, 3D printers are available from Rs. 30,000 and can go up to Rs. 10,00,000 lakhs – depending on if you want to print a toothpick or a house.
Last year, Global 3D Labs launched Pramaan One, ‘India’s largest 3D printer’, which measures a metre on all sides. It can print whole furniture, home décor, functional robots and other large components at one go.On one hand, complex surgeries have been made easier but on the other, 3D printers have not yet found their end-consumer usage in India.
“The problem with 3D printing marketing in India is not the lack of capital investment, but the lack of ‘end product availability’ to consumers, and not just intermediaries. If that application can be derived, there will be a healthy growth in investment,” said Swetha Ramesh, a 27-year-old software employee. But it looks like investment is burgeoning with IT giants like Hewlett packard Inc bringing 3D printing technology to India about two years after it launched globally.
HP is working with companies like Johnson & Johnson to print 3D parts that can be inserted in the human body—like an artificial hip or a dental implant, and this could potentially revolutionise the consumption of 3D printing technology in the country! Feels like we are stuck in an episode of Black Mirror, right?