With increasing global competition & changing global standards, manufacturers are becoming aware of the strength & potential of Additive Manufacturing (AM) in responding to market challenges & industry transformations and meeting tough performance standards. There is a continuous aim to bring down costs, achieve faster speed to market, and most importantly, reduce the impact of manufacturing on the environment, where AM plays a pivotal role. In this context, Publish Industry India recently organised the Virtual Additive Manufacturing Congress, with Autodesk Fusion 360 & Phillips Machine Tools as Technology Partners and AMSI (Additive Manufacturing Society of India) as Association Partner. The summit addressed common challenges, discovered opportunities and found ideas to accelerate the use of Additive Manufacturing.
Opportunities & challenges in AM
The summit began with the opening address by Dr L Jyothish Kumar, President, Additive Manufacturing Society of India. He focused on the AM opportunities & challenges in India. He pointed out the opportunities in various sectors, like the healthcare sector and the military superiority. For instance, in the healthcare sector, AM has the potential to fabricate biomedical implants, prosthetics, skin & tissues and intricate organs. Or how in military, technological advancements in AM have the potential to fortify India against military warfare. Plus, it also reduces logistical challenges faced by military forces in the battleground.
Coming to the challenges, he spoke about the challenges to adopt Additive Manufacturing. “As industrial AM is still in the early stages of development, there is a lack of formal AM industry standards,” Kumar explained and added, “Also, AM technology in India is still evolving; the equipment & material costs are high. Most of the industrial grade AM machines and raw materials need to be imported.” He also added that there is a lack of AM ecosystem and that most of the AM Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are foreign companies.
This was followed by a technology presentation by Vipul Agrawal, Technical Specialist, Autodesk Fusion 360. He spoke about software tools for Additive Manufacturing and threw light on a few technologies which will be helpful when one is doing Additive Manufacturing. He focused on three technologies – Parametric Mesh Modelling, Additive Printing & Generative Design. Starting with Parametric Mesh Modelling, Agrawal showed the viewers a sample of a mesh file and its repairing being tough. Through his presentation, he pointed out an unwanted area and a part that needed to be flattened, which can be easily done with the mesh modelling technique in Fusion 360.
Coming to the Additive Manufacturing side, he gave the example of assuming that a model has been prepared and then further divulged into how to check what kind of settings will be good for one’s printing, what kind of settings should be adopted, how to optimise it and what the best practices are. “We have a manufacturing environment integrated with Fusion 360 which is very useful to do all kinds of activities,” Agrawal highlighted.
Coming to Generative Design, Agrawal put across that generative technology intelligently tells one what design one can make and give one a whole lot of designs to choose from. Taking an example of a bike, he said, “Let’s say I want to make the connecting of a rod in the bike. So, I have to give it the end condition. I’ll go into the generative design workspace, define these end conditions as this is where all the fixing should be happening and give it the constraints & loadings. We can also give it the objectives, meaning what objectives we want to achieve. And then we can further give the manufacturing techniques. Then, one can go ahead and do the study. You can differentiate between the study with the filters and see that data in a graphical form. Arrange the data in whatever factor you consider most important, then select the appropriate results which you need and then compare those results inside Fusion itself. One can again take out the design as a parametric form, and if one feels that any changes are needed, then they can be done manually and then use the design again.”
It was then time for the fireside chat and Surendra Vaidya, EVP & Business Head, Godrej Aerospace and Dr Dheepa Srinivasan, Chief Engineer, Pratt & Whitney, United Technology Corporation were a part of this chat. The chat was moderated by Shekhar Jitkar, Chief Editor, Publish Industry India. The session analysed the role of AM in the future of manufacturing and how strategies & business models will evolve further with this.
Jitkar started with Vaidya and asked him how he sees the acceptance and use of AM technology in the aerospace sector and if he sees any challenges in it. Vaidya replied that Additive Manufacturing has the potential in the aerospace sector. “There are many processes required after one does the 3D Printing. I don’t see 3D Printing as a replacement,” he put across and added, “I look at 3D Printing as a technology changeover, where the combination of materials can be added into one part and the number of parts can be reduced down to only one part. This will give designers far better flexibility once we stabilise the process. Also, if we keep the rules & regulations the same and adopt the newer technologies, then we can really bring down the cost to a great substantial extent.”
Emerging trends in 3D Printing
Coming to Srinivasan, who has been in the R&D profession for long and also the inventor & developer of many new technologies, she was asked to highlight some of the emerging trends and new applications in AM which the manufacturing industry can get benefitted from, now as well as in the next few years. Srinivasan mentioned that composite materials have a couple of players across the world who have marched ahead. “Another one is ceramic materials and hybrid manufacturing,” Srinivasan asserted and went on, “These areas are where emphasis is being made in terms of R&D. There are also a lot of advances in software & institute defect monitoring. Besides, people are also talking of multiple lasers, electron beams, etc.”
Sharing his thoughts on bringing down cost, Vaidya cited that for any part or innovation that has to be brought into the market, one first has to do a lot of protos and lab tests. The typical time the auto industry, for example, takes to do so is six to 12 months. “So, if we have to make a different tool & machining process to be designed for each one of them, it’s going to take a very long time. Therefore, it saves on time if one goes for 3D Printing,” he quoted and continued, “Another important aspect in 3D Printing is that while any product requires sheets, plates, tubes, etc, in 3D Printing, one requires to procure only a different combination of powders or wires and print anything. The only restriction is that the size, purity, etc of the wires or powders is limited. But, of course, as the technology gets established, the raw materials will also start improving.”
Further throwing light on the key approaches to optimise each step in 3D Printing to achieve consistency in production, Srinivasan claimed that a lot of people are jumping into the bandwagon because they don’t want to feel left out. When you do so, without due diligence done in any area, you do not move very far. One needs to do the homework. The beauty of additive is that we do have a benchmark in the conventional process. As for the repeatability, reproducibility issues, there was not as much data available four years ago and everybody was starting with a coupon-level test. Today, we don’t need that coupon-level test; one can straightway start with the design criteria. But the fact of the matter is design engineers straightaway go and do the defame and manufacture it, without bothering about the due diligence part in the beginning.
Developing an AM strategy
Vaidya went on to talk about how to develop an AM strategy and how to convince the top management or manufacturing companies why they need it. He declared, “There are key factors we need to look into before we can give a proposal to a top management to invest into 3D Printing. First of all, we need to select the right machine – the size, specifications, etc. Secondly, we must have a good control of where we are going to have the sourcing of our input material – either in wire form or powder form. Today, both are imported – they are very expensive and are available in limited quantities (here, I talk specifically about aerospace & defence). Thirdly, we need to ask if we will be able to maintain the kind of environment this particular process requires, which is very important for exotic alloys. Plus, we need to look at the cost of maintaining that environment. Lastly, we need to ask if we have adequate, non-destructive technologies in-house, so that we will be able to give the reliability.”
Complementing conventional manufacturing with AM
Later on, there was a technology presentation by Sumeet Bengeri, Head, Phillips Additive India. He spoke about complementing conventional manufacturing with Additive Manufacturing. “3D Printing was actually adapted in manufacturing by aerospace & defence in 2014, followed by tooling & fixture in 2017, then high & mix-low volume production in 2018. But in 2019, the actual usage of 3D Printing in the manufacturing industry started replacing the traditional processes,” informed Bengeri and continued, “Earlier there were no other options, but now, there are possibilities where we can use the composite technology that has been adopted by Markforged, which is being brought into the manufacturing processes.”
Giving examples of how 3D Printing is complementing traditional manufacturing, Bengeri gave an instance of customers. One such customer is Lean Machine that used 3D printed parts on a vice or soft jaws, with complex geometries involved. It is not just a proto but is being used in the actual manufacturing process. Another factor Bengeri threw light on was Custom End Arm Tooling, which Markforged has a USP in. “A lot of automation companies can adopt the 3D Printing process from Markeforged, using the Onyx material with the reinforcement from the carbon fibre, where we can get extra strength. Also, the time consumed is less and any complex parts can be 3D printed using Markforged machines,” Bengeri delivered to the viewers. Going forward, he showed the audience some images where Guhring adopted the Markforged machines to implement the special tools using 3D Printing.
Plus, he gave a unique example where Siemens also adopted the 3D Printing technology in their manufacturing shop floor on a field; the field engineers required a faster rate and Markforged had a solution where a kit can be installed on the field itself. So, one can design the part and print on the field. He further mentioned the high value aerospace applications, like lightweight cabin components, precision inspection tooling, functional prototypes, etc, which can be printed on the 3D Printing machines.
It was then time for the panel discussion on “How 3D Printing will impact traditional manufacturing & supply chain”. The revered panellists were Kripal Bedi, Head of Design, Sridevi Tool Engineers; Dr Vishwas Puttige, Business Head, amace Solutions; Ashok H Varma, Advisor to Board of Directors, xBeam 3D & Owner, E-FESTO-3DP; Raja Sekhar Upputuri, Co-founder & CEO, think3D.in and Swati Suman, Founder, The Art of Making Foundation & State President, 3D Printing Council. The discussion was moderated by Juili Eklahare, Features Writer, Publish Industry India.
Cost, time & properties
The concept of digital inventory is a big talking point, in terms of the digital transformation AM brings. So, the first question was put to Upputuri, asking him the ultimate checklist for a good digital inventory strategy. To this, Upputuri disclosed that it ultimately boils down to cost, time & properties. “Firstly, one needs to have the repository of all the components,” he expressed and went on, “Secondly, one needs to study what can be 3D printed, what is recommended to be 3D printed and what can only be 3D printed.”
Furthermore, it is no exaggeration to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it. So Eklahare went on to ask Upputuri how we can help build more resilient supply chains in the future through 3D Printing through this period. To this, Upputuri replied that when such disruptions happen, 3D Printing can play a role. He revealed, “Whenever there is such a gap in finishing the stock, we can use 3D Printing to manufacture for that particular time period and then later go for mass manufactured components. This will help make a more resilient supply chain for us.”
3D Printing impacting traditional manufacturing
Following this, Bedi went on to share his thoughts on how 3D Printing will impact traditional manufacturing and the supply chain. Coming from the plastic mould making industry, he spoke from the user perspective. “As for 3D Printing impacting traditional manufacturing, we are getting much better product designs for mould making or for tooling because all the testing, virtual assembly, physical assembly, prototyping, etc has been done in the design stage. People are really confident about their designs. This is an indirect way in which 3D Printing has affected us in traditional manufacturing. Secondly, we can now produce critical mould inserts with the help of 3D Printing. Previously, we didn’t have the advantage of conformal cooling; now we can do conformal cooling on our moulds, and this can help reduce cycle times & give better quality products.”
Stating his thoughts on the same point as Bedi, Varma told the viewers that the number one benefit with Additive Manufacturing is reduction in lead time. He communicated to the audience, saying, “The number one benefit for supply chain that I have learnt from about 30 company interactions now is reduction in inventory, because everything has to result in a profit. The other thing about supply chain mitigation is that you reduce the obsolescence of spare parts. Also, if you can print in-house, in-country, on location, then you protect yourself from the embargoes that a government can put on you.”
The post-processing angle
Post-processing is something that's not talked about enough in 3D Printing. So, Eklahare turned to Puttige asking him what some of the current challenges companies are facing when it comes to post-processing specifically, in 3D Printing. Puttige implied, “In general, post-processing is something that is mostly ignored, mainly because people assume that it is something that can be done as a form of a jugaad. Coming to specific challenges, when you get to tolerances close to what you would want on a conventionally made part and finish it to the tight tolerances that are there, you have to understand the machinists’ concerns, what sort of dimensions & tolerances are achievable and what you have to do in terms of correction to allow certain things to be achieved as post-processing. Besides, something that people do end up missing out is supports – removing the supports is a challenge. Post-processing needs a bit of a mindset change, needs to be looked at from the very initial stage and should be discussed at a great length with the end-customer’s requirement.”
Skills in 3D Printing
Moving to the skills aspect of 3D Printing, Suman, who has an expertise in building training/teaching curriculum for industry-specific needs in Additive Manufacturing, was asked if there is a skill gap within AM and if yes, what is being done to address it. Suman opined that there is a lack of ecosystem in the Additive Manufacturing landscape and at the same time, there is a skill gap. “In India, we have limited tinkering labs where students get hands-on learning experience. A few of the curriculums are being developed at a hobbyist level and not a professional level, “she pronounced and went on, “A few colleges in India, like COEP Pune, are providing post-graduation degrees in Additive Manufacturing, while the rest, like IIT Kanpur, are providing short-term courses. There should be a curriculum standard in all the universities, just like we have for mechanical engineering or electronics engineering. There is huge acceptance coming in now. There should be a demand for the skills required and then people can have a channel for it.”
The summit was an insightful one, giving in-depth insights on 3D Printing technology and where it’s taking the manufacturing world. The advice, inputs and thoughts put across were practical and logical, proving useful for the industry, where companies are likely to develop more curiosity & interest in the technology and implement it in their organisations.