3D printing will soon celebrate its fortieth anniversary since Charles Hull first patented the technology in 1984. It has come a long way since then. And, despite multiple hype cycles, the industry is much stronger today than it has ever been. This robustness can be seen in the Indian 3D printing industry as well, so I believe the time has come to chart a course for the industry’s next phase of development.
By the next phase, I mean that the industry not only continues to grow but also is able to leverage all of the previous actions and initiatives taken collectively by the 3D printing community, end-users, and even the government to become a significant global player soon and eventually a leader.
As India celebrated its 74th Republic Day yesterday, I couldn’t help but wonder what actions helped us get here, what it would take to achieve a sustained growth trajectory in the coming decades, and what needs to be done to achieve it.
Successful Past Actions
Early Initiators and Adopters
One of the most underappreciated aspects of the Indian 3D printing industry is the contribution of individuals and groups who began 3D printing businesses in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the market was virtually non-existent in India.
Early adopters or early initiators are always the ones who set the ball rolling. Companies such as Imaginarium, Intech Additive Solutions, 3D Product Development, and many others have served as a beacon for hundreds of others to follow in order to spread the technology and, in turn, expand the market for all in the country. The same is true for early adopters (read buyers of 3D printing machines and services). Without these buyers, the early 3D printing businesses would not have survived.
It is always critical to not only acquire technology and provide services, but also to develop the technology in-house. The contribution of indigenous technology manufacturers has also made a significant contribution to the current state of the 3D printing industry. India had only a few manufacturers a decade ago, but now it has a huge list of Startups developing FDM/FFF, resin (DLP), concrete, metal, and even bio 3D printers.
While a lot of 3D printing Startups failed and had to close down their businesses, there have been notable successes in the form of technology manufacturers developing reliable 3D printers with hundreds and thousands of satisfied customers across India and beyond. A lot of new Startups have learned lessons from earlier failures and thus are focussing on value rather than hype.
Other factors contributing to the stability of the Indian 3D printing industry has come from indirect government assistance, governmental and semi-governmental buyers of high-cost 3D printers, private companies educating students and professionals in the technology and the arrival of global industry leaders such as 3D Systems, Stratasys, SLM Solutions, Voxeljet, and others.
Recent and Future Steps
Some steps have already been taken to position India’s 3D printing industry as a global leader. We look at these and what additional efforts the stakeholders should take, as well as how these steps should be nurtured to ensure they continue to deliver value.
Establishing a national policy and framework for 3D Printing
One of the first steps a government can take is to recognise the industry and develop a national policy and framework to:
- Encourage existing 3DP companies to continue expanding and growing their businesses,
- Make it attractive for conventional companies to expand into 3D printing or at least incorporate the technology into their processes, and,
- Finally, encourage Startups to start businesses in 3D printing or using the technology.
All of this, or a portion of it, was finally realised in February of last year (2022) with the launch of the National Strategy for Additive Manufacturing by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). It defined the industry’s goal as well as the steps the government intends to take to achieve that goal.
Setting up Training and Educational Programs
The national policy also sets forth the government’s commitment to assist in the development of a skilled workforce in the field of 3D printing in the country. This is a collaborative effort that will involve a range of public-private partnerships. Some of these partnerships have already been established.
For example, Tata Technologies has collaborated with 3D Systems to provide training to ITI students in various Indian states, and Wipro 3D is working with universities on similar programs. Additionally, various state governments and their agencies are partnering with 3D printing companies to establish training facilities in regional universities. Examples include the Gujarat government’s partnership with USI3DT and 3D Systems, and the Tamil Nadu Industrial Investment Corporation’s partnership with Sedaxis Advanced Materials. Additionally, multiple initiatives are underway at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru.
Use of 3D Printing in Key Industries
It is a foregone conclusion that unless 3D printing technology is used in key industries, it will not grow and spread across the country. In the healthcare sector, companies such as Incredible AM, Supercraft, Jajal Medical, Anatomiz3D, and others are printing metal implants. This is so ingrained that most surgeons across the country are now using 3D printing as a default process. Surgeons at top hospitals such as Apollo, Max Healthcare, Fortis, and others are routinely using patient-specific 3D printed implants.
In recent years, the utilization of 3D printing technology has been expanding in India’s aerospace, defence, and automotive industries. While the adoption rate is currently relatively low and primarily limited to the prototyping phase, it is expected to experience significant growth in the coming years. It is anticipated that the integration of 3D printing in these sectors will experience exponential expansion in the next decade.
Jewellery is one industry that is rarely discussed, but it is an early adopter of the 3D printing technology, and according to an estimate, purchasing roughly half of the resin 3D printers sold in India.
Encouraging Research and Development
Though investing in research and development does not yield immediate results, it is what builds a country in the long run. For a long time, India has been hesitant to invest in R&D. The approach could be justified to some extent but it does not make sense any longer. India must invest more heavily in R&D, and this applies not only to the government but also to 3D printing companies in order for them to develop new printers, materials, software, applications, and solutions.
The purchase of 3D printers by Indian universities and research institutes has increased dramatically in the last year. There won’t be a single 3D printing company that hasn’t sold 3D printers to educational institutions.
IITs, NITs, ITIs, hospitals, defence research organisations, automotive research establishments, and many other organisations have purchased various types of 3D printing technologies such as FDM, SLA, SLS, and Metal technologies such as DMLS, SLM, and even a significant number of bioprinters and concrete printers. Some of these will be used for offering services but most are for research.
Though we have seen an increase in investments recently, at least in the hardware sector, the research projects must be encouraged and investments should be continued and sustained and even increases year after year.
Building a Robust 3D Printing Ecosystem
This is a goal that Manufactur3D has supported from the start. In fact, it was the reason why Manufactur3D was founded in early 2018. Since its start, Manufactur3D has worked to connect and bring together 3D printing companies, their employees, end-users, academics, students, and government agencies on its online platform so that everyone can stay up to date on the latest news, trends, and insights in 3D printing. The Manufactur3D platform is the best place to find out about all the latest developments in India. As more and more people join the platform, there will be more interactions and benefits for those who use it.
We’ve helped 3DP companies find the right users and the right users find the right 3DP companies so they can do business together. We’ve also helped students and professionals find jobs in the industry and helped people who are new to the technology learn more about it through our educational content.
With the foundation all set for the industry to grow, we would love to see the following developments in 2023.
Wider Adoption by MSMEs
The objective is to promote a greater utilization of 3D printing technology among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The current high cost of 3D printers presents a significant barrier for many SMEs to fully utilize and benefit from the technology. However, I have recently become aware of a company that is introducing an innovative solution to this challenge. They are offering industrial-grade 3D printers on a subscription basis. While the specifics of this service are not yet publicly available, I can recommend that any SMEs interested in exploring this opportunity further should contact Manufactur3D for additional information.
Rise in Skilled Workforce
Both government entities and private organizations have established collaborative initiatives and training programs to develop the skills of students and professionals in the field of 3D printing. It is desirable to see a significant increase in the number of individuals participating in these programs, as this would result in a more diverse pool of qualified candidates for 3D printing companies to recruit from, ultimately enabling them to hire highly skilled employees and accelerate their growth.
Establishing regulations and standards for the industry
It is imperative that government entities take a proactive approach and task their agencies to address this issue. Through thorough research and engagement with leading experts in the field of 3D printing, it is necessary to establish regulations and standards for the technology. The lack of standards presents a significant obstacle to the safe and efficient implementation of 3D printing in critical industries.
Rise in Research and Development
To become leaders in the field of 3D printing, both government and private organisations will have to increase their investment in research and development (R&D). This can be accomplished by creating new technologies, improving existing ones, and identifying cost-effective and long-term solutions that benefit all stakeholders.
It is a given that becoming a global leader is not a one-year endeavour but a long and grinding effort to continuously tick all the right boxes ti ultimately reaching the leadership position. It is also important to note that many of the actions outlined in this article may already be taking place within the Indian 3D printing industry some overtly, while some behind the scenes.
The purpose of this article is not to present an exhaustive list of actionable points or to serve as a commandment and even as a preachers guideline for companies to follow. Rather, it is intended to stimulate conversation and consideration on how India can establish itself as a global leader in 3D printing. I’m sure there are many more aspects which I may have left out but I hope the most basic ones highlighted in this article will be a good start.
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