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Cover Story | March 2015

The evolution of 3D printing technology

Srinivas Shastry Technical Director, Altem Technologies
Three-Dimensional (3D) printing technology, earlier known as additive manufacturing, has been around for more than a decade. The key difference in the past few years is the evolution of the technology, reduction of production and material-related costs and the speed of 3D printing.

In developed economies like the the USA, China, Germany, Australia and other European countries, 3D printing has found its base in a wide range of industries.

In India, however, the technology is still at a nascent stage mainly driven by the demand from the automotive OEM? and percolated down to their tier 1 and 2 suppliers. However, the aerospace, education and the electronic enclosures from the consumer durable industry is gaining traction towards adopting 3D printing in their main stream design activities. This is predominantly used for concept and early design prototyping of complex intricate designs and geometries. This is also extensively used in customization of designs which is possible because of the addition of new industrial grade materials in the industry vertical.

However, the technology grew multi-fold in India in the past five years, as more industries such as aerospace, ESP´s, consumer durable industries are discovering the benefits of the 3D printing technology.

The key reason behind the growth was the entry of international companies into the Indian market. These companies, who were establishing factories in India, brought their ideas and innovations with them, Indian companies began to realise the need to adapt to the current technology.

3D printing technology helps save considerable amount of time in the design prototyping stage, which was a key factor in their popularity.

The year 2013 saw the ´invention´ of low-cost 3D printers. The expiration of certain key patents enabled enthusiasts to build their own cheaper printers for public use. While these printers do not have the same capabilities of a professional-grade 3D printer, they helped to create awareness about the possibilities of the 3D printing technology.

The arrival of 3D scanners in India has changed the face of the technology again. 3D scanners further reduces the time and effort required in the design prototyping stage. This technology also provided a new lease of life for the MRO and service industry and has implications for the revival of several automobiles and vintage vehicles, particularly in combination with metal 3D printers.

In the span of decade, 3D printing has gone from being the stuff of science fiction to a valuable driver of real-life product design and manufacturing. Today, the technology is helping Indian companies in a wide range of industries to realize their design ideas at every stage, from concept to end-use parts ´ and to save time and money while doing so. What´s more, the diversity of 3D printers available in the marketplace now makes it possible for even very small start-ups to implement this paradigm-shifting technology.

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