The manufacturing industry has a new hero, and it isn’t internet of things (IoT).
The global spending on 3D printing will reach nearly USD 12 billion this year, an increase of 20 percent over 2017, says IDC. And by 2021, IDC expects worldwide spending to be nearly USD 20 billion.
The technology has accelerated within a relatively short period of time, from 2010 to 2014, says Guruprasad Rao, Director at Imaginarium India. “It’s almost like a meteoric rise, after a long lull since 1986," he adds.
The numbers highlight a possible meteoric growth in the near future as well. Gartner estimates that by 2021, 40 percent of manufacturing enterprises will establish 3D printing centers of excellence.
Pratik Kumar, CEO, Wipro Infrastructure Engineering, says, “If we look at the rate of enterprise adoption across the globe, it’s been pretty rapid in the last few years, with metal 3D printing being the highlight.”
He believes 3D printing is going to become a critical and integral part of an enterprise’s digital manufacturing strategy.
Supply chain disruptor?
The industrial application of 3D printing has led to the growth of metal additive manufacturing (AM) market. This growth is expected to be much faster in aerospace, automotive and medical segments, Kumar adds.
With this technology, enterprises can get rid of capital-intensive setups and manufacturing lines that are committed to one specific product. “The number of operations required to manufacture products can drastically reduce owing to the ability of the technology to achieve complex, monolithic, functionally optimized products," explains Kumar.
Renuka Srinivasan, Director - SIMULIA, at Dassault Systemes India, points out that 3D printing allows personalization based on functional needs. “You could have patient specific implants being printed. This has a huge potential not just in life sciences but even in consumer goods and other industries as well.”
Has it moved beyond prototyping?
“Though the US and Europe are the most mature and high visibility markets in terms of the 3D printing ecosystem, specific pockets in Asia especially China, are seeing intense activity. India is catching up,” explains Kumar.
Citing examples of how it is being used beyond prototyping, Srinivasan says, “It's used for industrial applications, either to create tool and fixtures for manufacturing or for creating low volume production parts. Aircrafts with 3D printed parts are already flying in the skies.”
What’s happening in India?
In India, both OEMs and startups are exploring 3D printing and trying to leverage this for their business advantage, she adds.
Eventually, the technology has to provide business value, agrees Kumar. So, where is the roadblock?
“Switching from traditional manufacturing to 3D printed parts requires redesign of the parts – or even the assemblies,” explains Srinivasan. It requires a systematic exploration of the printing process parameters (path speed, path layout, for instance) to ensure durable, high quality parts. Therefore, companies need to transform themselves to leverage 3D printing, she points out.
“As we go forward, in terms of tech maturity, you are going to see increased build speeds, different energy sources, raw materials and build techniques with a fair degree of democratization as opposed to a limited number of OEMs/providers that one sees today,” highlights Kumar.
According to Rao, the government should step in to help the industry by setting up common facilities, similar to what China has done. There are a lot of new materials in the market and several OEMs are experimenting with open material development, which will bring in healthy competition.
Will 3D printing fully replace conventional tech? No, but it will fully complement it, he adds. “Manufacturing systems in the future will be driven by three technologies – CNC, robotics and 3D printing.
"We can call it the holy trinity of hybrid manufacturing. In less than 10 years, most of the sector would be on Industry 4.0 environment, complemented by the manufacturing trinity,” says Rao.