Industrial 3D printing has begun to transform manufacturing in Western countries. Although people view it as a toy making machine, if we replace the name to “additive technology”, we will see the real power of it.
Additive manufacturing –
- In additive manufacturing, the physical object to be built is first designed in software. This design is fed to computerised machines, which build that object layer by layer.
- The technology is suitable for building the entire system in one go, with hollow interiors without assembly or interlocked parts.
- Changing features or tweaking shapes is a simple software change effected in minutes. Retooling of machines is not required and each unit can be customised.
- By eliminating the need to hold a large inventory of parts, set up an assembly line and purchase costly machines, adaptive manufacturing reduces capital and space requirements as well as the carbon footprint.
How is it different from traditional manufacturing?
Traditional manufacturing leads to high inventory costs of multiple parts that need to be produced and stored before being assembled. This makes the design phase complex and costly, rendering it expensive to redesign to correct initial mistakes or innovate to meet changing consumer needs.
Expansion of additive manufacturing –
- One recent survey of U.S. manufacturers shows that about 12% have started using additive manufacturing for their products and expectations are that this will result in about 25% of products in the next three-five years.
- This technology is used to build helmets, dental implants, medical equipment, parts of jet engines and even entire bodies of cars. In some industries, the progress is astonishing. Nearly all hearing aid manufacturers now use additive manufacturing.
Opportunities for India –
Fortunately, this manufacturing paradigm has several features that play to the strengths of the Indian ecosystem.
- First, it eliminates large capital outlays. Machines are cheaper, inventories can be small and space requirements are not large. Thus, jump-starting manufacturing does not face the massive hurdle of large capital requirement and the traditional small and medium enterprises can easily be adapted and retooled towards high technology manufacturing.
- Second, the Indian software industry is well-established, and plans to increase connectivity are well under way as part of ‘Digital India’. This would allow for the creation of manufacturing facilities in small towns and foster industrial development outside of major cities.
- Third, it is possible to build products that are better suited for use in harsh environmental conditions. Products that required assembly of fewer parts also implies that they may be better able to withstand dust and moisture prevalent in our tropical environment and be more durable.
- Fourth, in a country where use-and-throw is an anathema, maintaining old products is far easier because parts can be manufactured as needed and product life-cycles can be expanded. Finally, maintaining uniform product quality is far easier because the entire system is built at the same time and assembly is not required.
What needs to be done?
- We need to accelerate research at our premier engineering schools on manufacturing machines and methods and encourage formation of product design centres so that the products built suit the Indian environment and consumers.
- We also would need government support to provide incentives for distributed manufacturing in smaller towns, and for the IT industry to work on creating platforms and marketplaces that connect consumer demands, product designers and manufacturers in a seamless way.
- A combination of science and art, with a pinch of Indian entrepreneurship thrown in, will allow us to develop a manufacturing ecosystem that will not only allow India to compete with global manufacturing, it will also create products that are uniquely suited to Indian conditions.
The Industrial revolution somehow bypassed India, but we have a unique opportunity to catch the wave of the manufacturing revolution if we can learn to surf.
Source – The Hindu
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