Someone from a traditional manufacturing trade magazine sent me a list of questions to answer for an upcoming opinion piece. They even told me how short they wanted my answers to be, which isn’t how I like to operate. Thankfully I have a blog. 🙂
So I’ve used the opportunity to write this blog post in which I express my thoughts on the adoption of additive manufacturing in India. I don’t think the situation in other geographies is very different.
How is the business potential for Additive Manufacturing in India? Do you think it will improve in the coming years?
The potential of Additive Manufacturing is immense. However, as OEMs, we need to play a responsible role and not build upon the misinformation being spread, specially by the media. There are some things that AM is exceptionally good at, there are others that AM is relatively good at and then there is the rest that AM is not suitable for at all. Unfortunately, this distinction isn’t always made clear to the customer who is evaluating the technology for adoption.
What are some of the obstacles/challenges to make AM more economical on ROI use? How can they be overcome?
Identifying the right application is key. AM already provides a far better ROI in certain applications. For example, our Figure 4 technology with the recently launched production materials is an excellent replacement for cast urethane. The numbers are there to prove it and there are companies who are making the switch already.
The cost structures of conventional and Additive Manufacturing processes can differ substantially at times. What are the cost factors to be considered here?
The misconception of AM, especially metal AM, is that it’s too expensive as compared to traditional manufacturing processes. Of course, it is. But most people don’t realize that metal AM is not supposed to be used to manufacture parts that an be traditionally manufactured. Metal AM shines in places where traditional manufacturing is unable to produce designs. For example, take spinal case medical implants that contain volumetric lattices for better osteo-integration. They just cannot be manufactured using milling or any other traditional manufacturing technique. But they can be easily manufactured using metal AM. Conformal cooling is another example, Like I said, the key is the find the right application for AM and then the cost question gets answered automatically.
What would be your recommendations to optimize the use of AM?
I really don’t want to repeat myself. But the use of AM can be optimized mainly by finding the right application for it.
Not wanting to take risks or lack of budget often leads SMEs to not realizing the true potential of AM. What factors must SMEs consider so as to adopt AM in the most economical way? Also, are there 3D Printing bureaus in India that are bringing about a change and helping to make 3D Printing more affordable for these SMEs?
Not wanting to take risks is largely due to a lack of understanding of what AM can and cannot do. Any businessman is willing to invest in something when he sees a clear path ahead leading to profitability. That’s why he is in business in the first place. The problem here is that there is confusing and contradicting information about AM which then makes companies withdraw and hold back investments. I’m basing these statements from conversations I’ve had with businesses in India.
As regards 3D Printing Service Bureaus, at the moment they are more interested in staying afloat in this dark economic situation that we find ourselves in. They are indulging in price wars with each other trying to win over customers. Moreover, Chinese 3D printer companies are coming into India with low cost and low quality solutions which is further accelerating the race to the bottom. So on the one hand, while this turn of events seems to be making 3D printing (essentially, prototyping) more accessible to SMEs in India, it is actually moving them further away from Additive Manufacturing, which is a high quality high volume game.
My belief is that unless service bureaus in India start introducing high quality solutions to their customers, I’m afraid they will only delay the adoption of true Additive Manufacturing for companies in India. This is the challenge for OEM’s like 3D Systems who are focusing their energies on Additive Manufacturing and not just prototyping.
Having said this, I would like to add that this is a golden opportunity for service bureaus in India to stand apart from their competition by offering short and medium run productions of end use parts to their customers. This is now possible with our Figure 4 technology with our recently launched production materials. If this is something that interests you, I urge you to watch our On Demand webinar titled “Breakthroughs in Additive Manufacturing with Direct Digital Production”.