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ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING Additive Manufacturing: Making it cost-effective and affordable

Jan 9, 2020

The hype around Additive Manufacturing (AM) continues, where companies that embrace 3D Printing are soon becoming more capable of responding to the rapidly changing industry demands. While the use of 3D Printing has gone up substantially in the recent years, various challenges can stand in the way of adopting this technology, one being the affordability of it. In many instances, the cost of producing a product using AM processes exceeds that of traditional methods. The Viewpoint section analyses what role AM plays from a cost perspective, how it can be optimised & how SMEs can adopt it in the most economical way.

3D Printing is getting affordable by the day - Ankit Sahu, Director, Objectify Technologies

Additive Manufacturing has just scratched the surface in terms of full manufacturing process penetration across industries. With the growing need for better and improved components, it has a bright future in India. Industrialists from all areas of manufacturing – be it white goods or automotive or aerospace – have vested their trust in AM for their R&D and NPD ventures. Hence, the future looks AM-ready. Advocating the knowledge by means of industrial summits and exposure will help massively in spreading awareness among the common men to use AM and make it a part of their manufacturing process. Think tanks and brainstorming with AM experts can lead to the eradication of certain myths relating to AM as well, thus, optimising its use.

When it comes to costs, for AM, it varies in terms of engineering expertise, the material used, build volume and build time – all these contribute to the build. Components in the initial screening can be judged either for conventional process or for AM process. AM process comes with its set of variables in terms of the orientation of the built to avoid failures. Simulation also plays a major role to decide on the build specifications. All these considerations lead to a higher cost of AM part but a better quality of the component.

At the same time, SMEs are the backbone of the Indian economy and don’t shy away from any new opportunity. SMEs and 3D Printing service bureaus in India should innovate to give unique solutions to the customer and try to solve their real issues. 3D Printing is getting affordable by the day; it all depends on the business or used case of certain application / industry. Productivity/limited material options are the key opportunities where service bureaus can capitalise. Therefore, the selection of use cases with the right solution aligned with the industry demand is the answer to the overlying question.

The optimal use of AM technology is emphasising on the design cycle - Rajiv Bajaj, Managing Director – India & SEA, Stratasys

The current low adoption level of Additive Manufacturing by the Indian industry, as compared to global counterparts, presents a high growth potential in India. AM is poised to grow substantially in the coming years, as it moves beyond prototyping to jigs, fixtures and production parts manufacturing. The optimal use of AM technology is emphasising on the design cycle and blending it with traditional manufacturing.

Faster ROIs can also be achieved by expanding the scope of AM across the whole product development cycle, from prototyping to manufacturing, thereby significantly reducing the cycle time. For example, Ashok Leyland shared that Stratasys’ AM technology had helped them save 14,138 days of hour-utilisation and ₹74 lakhs of manufacturing cost in the last 18 months since adoption. Taking conventional and Additive Manufacturing processes into consideration, AM allows production costs per unit to stay the same, whether there are one or a thousand units. This has several implications – it makes production available to small businesses that don’t have access to enormous funding and don’t know in advance if they’ll have many buyers.

Service bureaus also play an important role in democratising AM, as they allow potential users to experiment with the technology before they make a purchase decision. They also give SMEs an opportunity to evaluate various AM technologies and choose the one that best suits their product needs. 3D Printing keeps improving and becomes more and more affordable. This is excellent news for SMEs in the long-term and companies don’t have to wait that long to enjoy the benefits.

Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) helps optimise the use of AM - Kamlesh Parekh, CEO, Imaginarium India

The potential of Additive Manufacturing in India is great. One can tell that we’re currently on a tipping point and the market is going to explode. Many companies are now manufacturing enduse parts using AM, which is a shift from using AM for just prototyping. However, the main challenge in adopting AM is the narrow scope that many believe it offers. Right now, we see many companies replacing their current parts with parts made using AM and that’s only a fraction of what AM can offer them. For full benefits, one must look at functionality, complexity and the materials that can be used. By making parts that cannot be made by traditional manufacturing methods, one can unlock AM’s full potential.

Moreover, industrial printers are really expensive and may not be feasible for a company to buy outright. So, using a service bureau to print a few parts helps them prototype or manufacture end-use parts and is feasible to them. In an industry where technology evolves rapidly, obsolescence in machines is hastened. By leasing printers, companies can use the latest technology without spending too much money. AM is cheaper when it comes to small batch manufacturing. In large batch manufacturing, conventional manufacturing is cheaper, provided the part is simple – for more complicated parts AM is inexpensive. But to optimise the use of AM, I would recommend Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM). By considering the advantages and complexities that AM allows one to create, one can design parts without constraints and consolidate multiple design assemblies into one single part.

AM should be applied where it can add value - Swapnil Sansare, CEO, Divide By Zero Technologies

India has great capability in terms of Additive Manufacturing as it’s a cost-sensitive market and the most demanding when it comes to expectations in product customisation. We have seen 100% growth year-on-year for the past six years and the Indian market looks like it will bloom into one of the most promising markets for AM. When it comes to manufacturing for mass customisation, 3D Printing can challenge traditional manufacturing methods as every manufactured component is unique and does not require any extra set-up time and set-up cost. ROIs can be much faster here. 3D Printing can save up to 80% cost when it comes to mass customised product and the new-age consumer is demanding customisation in every product they buy.

When we talk about cost structures, it’s not about AM being expensive but all about where one is adding value with AM. Mostly, the cost of AM is higher due to higher cost of machines and will come down and compete with traditional methods in the near future. AM should be applied where it can add value and gives advantage to the end-customer. Application areas like jig-fixtures, mass customised products, small batch manufacturing, medical pre-op models and orthopaedic 3D printed casts are the blue ocean application areas of AM. Also, there are service bureaus that are helping SMEs convert their ideas into reality and SMEs can try this technology with them before deciding to buy it. SMEs should take these problems to the machine sellers and get application proven and also do an ROI analysis before deciding to go ahead with 3D Printers. In some cases, we have seen yearly savings of up to INR 5 million per year after implementing AM.

To optimise the use of AM, one should handover the technology to masses - Abhay Inamdar, Independent Entrepreneur, New Paradigm Modelling Services

If we compare Additive Manufacturing machine or a 3D Printer with other business machines, we will know that we are paying extra attention to 3D Printers. This means that we are allocating extra resources to these machines than required. Thus, we should not think much about the space allocation to this machine (except printing farms).

The cost of ownership for the equipment and costs of the proprietary raw materials are main barriers to apply AM. These obstacles can be easily overcome by determination. We need to overcome the lack of experimentation – developers are afraid of experimenting with machines due to high cost of ownership; experiments with different printing parameters are equally important for efficient use of the technology. Another challenge to combat is the lack of collaboration with peers – we are not looking at this technology as a challenge to the industry, but work in isolation. This way, the learnings cannot be applied across the industry and the technology will take time to spread. Besides, we must pay attention to the lack of subject matter knowledge. Presently, not many have access to AM, especially those who do not have much knowledge of the shop floor problems where this technology is to be applied.

To optimise the use of AM, one should handover the technology to masses. SMEs should be made aware about low cost machines available in the market and they should experiment with these machines with low cost materials. Also, most Indian 3D Printing bureaus are charging heftily to develop a product; these are more of prototype developers and not purely 3D Printing services.

Affordability of AM for SMEs is a secondary thing - Sohrab Kothari, Founder, SAHAS Softech; VP, Indian Additive Manufacturing Forum (IAMF)

India’s potential in terms of Additive Manufacturing right now is only 1.3%, which is somewhere close to $200 million. The growth rate that we are expecting in the next five years is 22% CAGR. The idea for AM, firstly, starts at the designing stage. AM gives the flexibility to design products and there is no restriction to traditional manufacturing techniques. This enables in managing excess wastage of materials which are scarce and plus gives you complete freedom to ideate and innovate. AM also acts like an insurance to new concept ideations. It accelerates time to market for new products. That is why it is also important to do rapid prototyping with AM. It does not mean that AM will always be more cost-effective than traditional manufacturing. There is a sweet spot that has to be identified in the middle of innovative design thinking, weight reduction applications, small batch or mass manufacturing, productivity optimisation, concept validation etc.

If we take SMEs into consideration, affordability of AM for SMEs is a secondary thing. They first need to understand the application and implementation – if they don’t then they can’t get into the business. There are over 500 3D Printing bureaus in India helping SMEs. These bureaus have production machines for economies of scale and small desktop machines, where the cost of investment and material cost are both, low. The SMEs can take the advantage of such bureaus to address their needs initially. One of the challenges to make AM more economical on ROI use is the cost of procuring the equipment – the CapEx is too heavy, including the high cost of processing materials for AM applications. Also, one of the pivotal obstacles is that the industry is in such a phase that one has to push the product – there is no demand for AM apart from a few industries that are into product development. However, AM can also be used in real estate, making customised products, medical applications, etc, where it has not been explored much yet. It is very important to educate people about the possibilities of AM and that is where more demand will be generated. This will lead to scalability for usage, thus creating more requirements for materials and thus, reducing the cost of material production.

AM compliments the conventional manufacturing techniques - Ganesh Babu, National Manager – Application Engineering, DesignTech Systems

Some of the main challenges that are often seen in the industry are related to the cost of AM systems and consumables. Professional AM Systems, today, are more affordable than what they used to be. However, the consumables, such as material price, need to be reduced for having economical results. However, it is subjective to the geometry and the complexity. AM is an associative process which compliments the conventional manufacturing techniques. Nevertheless, there needs to be a clear understanding in terms of adoption of AM, to benefit on the various factors such as cost, creativity, complexity and confidentiality, providing users a whole lot of intangible benefits. Speaking of cost, the cost factors that need to be considered when compared to conventional manufacturing processes are complexity in design, multi-material outputs in a single step process, end-product realisms with the multi-coloured and multi-material AM technologies and consolidated designs.

What’s more, SMEs must consider investment in AM technology, something which will pay off in the long-run. It will help them to identify product design and functionality errors earlier in the design cycle and augment product design innovation. While initial investment might be a challenge for them, they can approach engineering clusters, 3D Printing service providers and bureaus that can help them realise the benefits of AM. But in the long-run, having a 3D Printer in-house will give them greater ROI if their 3D Printing needs increase in the times to come.

Additionally, conducting regular seminars and road shows enables SMEs to clearly understand the true potential of AM technology. Inviting SMEs to join AM webinars leads to better understanding of AM and its applications. Plus, using AM services through AM service bureaus from an early stage in the product development cycle will enhance the use of 3D Printing.

Image Gallery

  • Ankit Sahu


    Objectify Technologies

  • Rajiv Bajaj

    Managing Director – India & SEA


  • Kamlesh Parekh


    Imaginarium India

  • Swapnil Sansare


    Divide By Zero Technologies

  • Abhay Inamdar

    Independent Entrepreneur

    New Paradigm Modelling Services

  • Sohrab Kothari

    Founder, SAHAS Softech;

    VP, Indian Additive Manufacturing Forum (IAMF)

  • Ganesh Babu

    National Manager – Application Engineering

    DesignTech Systems

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