Print­ing goes 3D

With right raw ma­te­ri­als and the know-how, one can cre­ate al­most any­thing us­ing 3D print­ers


Cre­ate your own three-di­men­sional ob­ject with a 3D printer

3D PRINT­ING is an emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy of­ten com­pared to the In­ter­net and com­put­ers in its abil­ity to change the world. A 3D printer can cre­ate three di­men­sional ob­jects by lay­ing down thin, suc­ces­sive lay­ers of plas­tic, metal or even live cells in the pat­tern spec­i­fied by a com­puter-de­vel­oped dig­i­tal de­sign. All one needs is a 3D printer, a fil­a­ment (raw ma­te­rial such as plas­tic) and a dig­i­tal de­sign. ( See ‘ What is 3D print­ing?’ on p40)

The tech­nol­ogy has grown enor­mously in the past cou­ple of years, pig­gy­back­ing on open source de­signs (li­cence-free re­sources). Ac­cord­ing to a March 2014 re­port by in­ter­na­tional mar­ket anal­y­sis com­pany Canalys, the size of the mar­ket for 3D print­ers, as­so­ci­ated ma­te­ri­als and ser­vices will rise to $3.8 bil­lion in 2014 and to $16.2 bil­lion by 2018. This is a com­pound an­nual growth rate of 45.7 per cent from 2013 to 2018. The in­dus­try is ex­pected to grow at a faster pace be­cause many of the patents on the ini­tial tech­nolo­gies are set to ex­pire in 2014 and 2015.

It is likely that most of this growth is driven by the use of this tech­nol­ogy in in­no­va­tion. “All of us have ideas but we do not have ac­cess to tech­nol­ogy. 3D print­ing al­lows in­no­va­tors to make pro­to­types which they can show to in­vestors,” says Vi­jay Varada, CEO and di­rec­tor of Frack­tal Works Pvt Ltd, a start- up launched by the Ma­ni­pal In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, Kar­nataka. The tech­nol­ogy cuts down the time taken from con­ceiv­ing an idea to de­vel­op­ing a pro­to­type. Changes in pro­to­type de­signs, too, can be made in hours.

“Ev­ery­one, be it ar­chi­tects, hob­by­ists, doc­tors, jewellers, en­gi­neer­ing stu­dents, au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try or re­searchers, will end up us­ing it,” says Vishesh Shishodia, co- founder of 3DPrin­tron­ics, a 3D print­ing ser­vice provider based in Noida, Ut­tar Pradesh. While most users in In­dia de­pend on open source tech­nolo­gies, the mar­ket has be­come vi­able for in­ter­na­tional play­ers too. Zalak Shah, re­search an­a­lyst with Gart­ner Inc, one of the world’s leading in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy re­search and ad­vi­sory com­pa­nies, says that in the past 12 months, ma­jor com­pa­nies like Mak­erBot and Strata­sys have en­tered the mar­ket. Print­ers made by such com­pa­nies cost over ` 10 lakh while do- it- yourself- kits based on open source tech­nolo­gies cost be­tween ` 60,000 and ` 90,000.

Sav­ing the en­vi­ron­ment

The tech­nol­ogy is not only about prof­its. Ex­perts point out its po­ten­tial in sav­ing the en­vi­ron­ment. “3D print­ers al­low

fab­ri­ca­tion of com­plex ge­ome­tries with no waste,” say Joshua Pearce, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Michi­gan Tech Open Sus­tain­abil­ity Tech­nol­ogy Lab, Michi­gan Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity, US. You can make a mostly hol­low ob­ject with just the right struc­tural sup­port, he ex­plains. One can make prod­ucts at home and avoid trans­porta­tion and pack­ag­ing. His team did an eco­nomic study where they chose 20 com­mon house­hold ob­jects and showed that print­ing them with ex­ist­ing open source de­signs could re­sult in sav­ings be­tween $300 and $2,000. “People will do this to save money and the en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits are a bonus,” says Pearce. The anal­y­sis has been pub­lished in the July 2013 is­sue of Mecha­tron­ics.

Pearce’s group has also shown that re­cy­cled plas­tic, such as dis­carded milk con­tain­ers can be used for print­ing. The team de­vel­oped an open­source Re­cy­cleBot which turns waste plas­tic into 3D printer fil­a­ment. While nor­mal plas­tic fil­a­ment costs $ 35/ kg or more, the re­cy­cled fil­a­ment is just around $0.10/kg. Pearce calls them “fair trade fil­a­ment”.

The re­cy­cling process uses about 1/ 10th the en­ergy needed to ac­quire commercial 3D fil­a­ment. De­tails of the re­search are avail­able in the March 2013 is­sue of Rapid Pro­to­typ­ing. “I think this holds a lot of prom­ise for de­vel­op­ing coun­tries to leap frog the en­tire in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion and go straight to commons based- dis­trib­uted man­u­fac­tur­ing of open source ap­pro­pri­ate tech­nolo­gies,” says Pearce. As to whether the tech­nol­ogy will help save the en­vi­ron­ment, Shishodia says that it is dif­fi­cult to as­sess be­cause very few stud­ies ex­ist on the sub­ject. But it will not harm the en­vi­ron­ment, he says.

Man­u­fac­tur­ing fil­a­ment

In In­dia, fair trade fil­a­ments are al­ready be­ing made. Pro­to­Print is a Pune-based so­cial en­ter­prise that works with ur­ban waste pick­ers by pro­vid­ing them the tech­nol­ogy to con­vert waste plas­tic into 3D printer fil­a­ment. It is also col­lab­o­rat­ing with SWaCH, a waste picker co­op­er­a­tive. “Each waste picker col­lects roughly five kg of plas­tic per day. Pro­to­Print pro­vides them the op­por­tu­nity to earn over 15 times more for the same amount of plas­tic,” says Suchis­mita Pai, spokesper­son for the com­pany.

Pro­to­Print is run­ning a pi­lot project called Fil­a­ment Lab. This unit can pro­duce 40- 50 kg of fil­a­ment daily. The com­pany is tar­get­ing the global fil­a­ment mar­ket. The fil­a­ment is cur­rently pro­duced in five colours and Pro­to­Print is test­ing the fil­a­ment on a num­ber of commercial print­ers. The com­pany is look­ing to make fil­a­ments com­mer­cially avail­able from mid- 2014. Pro­to­Print is the first cer­ti­fied part­ner of Eth­i­cal Fil­a­ment Foun­da­tion, an ini­tia­tive launched by techfortrade, a UK- based char­ity, and Dreambox Emer­gence, a com­pany which pro­vides 3D print­ing units for com­mu­nity- based 3D man­u­fac­tur­ing in Gu­atemala and in Michi­gan Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity.

Govern­ment ap­a­thy

Ex­perts are of the view that sup­port from the govern­ment in es­sen­tial for the tech­nol­ogy to achieve its po­ten­tial. Shishodia says that in coun­tries like China and UK, the gov­ern­ments have set up spe­cial in­dus­trial zones to cater to the 3D print­ing in­dus­try. In In­dia, the govern­ment is yet to even set down any qual­ity stan­dards for the print­ers, fil­a­ments or the prod­ucts. Cen­tral Tool Room un­der the Union Min­istry of Mi­cro, Small and Medium En­ter­prises does pro­vide as­sis­tance to the 3D print­ing sec­tor, but ex­perts say that more needs to be done. L Jyoth­ish Ku­mar, pres­i­dent of the Ad­di­tive Man­ufa - cturing So­ci­ety of In­dia says that they are in talk with the govern­ment to garner sup­port for the sec­tor.

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