Additive Manufacturing has ushered in a revolutionary wave in the world of manufacturing. Dr Sanjay Joshi, Professor, Harold & Inge Marcus Department of Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering, PennState, offers an expert insight into the technology that has made traditionally used methods of making things seem a far cry from it.
Additive Manufacturing (AM), as a manufacturing technology, has gained momentum in India for the last couple of years. How much potential does it hold for the Indian market?
Dr Sanjay Joshi: AM holds a vast potential for the Indian market. The market for AM and related products is expected to grow significantly over the next few years; several analyst projections put it at around $20 billion by 2020 with the total economic impact being even higher. Although the Indian manufacturing market tends to be more conservative and limited in spending capital, a large number of industries have started to figure out where AM can add value to the consumer and still be profitable to the provider. Already there are success stories in several areas: rapid prototyping; reduction in the design and manufacturing lead times; customized products in the dental, medical and healthcare domains; and improved functionality in design due to the ability of AM to manufacture complex geometries that cannot be manufactured by traditional manufacturing techniques in a cost-effective manner. The ‘Make in India’ initiative and the added investment in manufacturing that it brings should help this technology to further gain momentum in the country.
Due to its rapid prototyping applications, AM has lent itself to large-scale industrial applications. Which are the sectors that are expected to get a boost from the technology?
Dr Joshi: Worldwide, industries such as aerospace, defence and medical have been the early adopters of AM. They have already shown and established the benefits of using the technology. The pattern will be similar in India with the above industries being the first to adopt AM and experience the boost.
As is typical in the evolution of AM, the early use is often focused around rapid prototyping and enabling rapid validations of design to reduce the product development time and become more responsive to design trends. The next step up is creating one off parts – these are often customized parts where the cost of traditional manufacturing is quite high. Hence the sectors that deal with this – medical,
art, decorative consumer products – can get a boost from this technology. Industries that rely on tooling such as casting can benefit from making patterns or even directly printing sand moulds to enable low volume production. Aerospace industries are often under constraints to reduce weight, and AM technology can provide help in manufacturing low-volume, complex and light-weight parts that cannot be easily manufactured by traditional machines and manufacturing processes.
AM is gradually evolving and moving beyond prototyping. It is slated to be implemented for mass-scale customization and personalized implants and prosthetics. How far, do you think, India has reached in this endeavor vis-à-vis its global counterparts?
Dr Joshi: My general sense is that India is lagging behind in this endeavor. We are starting to see foreign companies throughout the AM supply chain – from powder manufacturers, software developers, machine builders and resellers, part manufacturers – collaborating with Indian entrepreneurs to accelerate bringing this technology to India. There are increasing number of 3D printing HUBs in India, and as the accessibility of the technology grows, skill gaps both at the design and manufacturing stages of AM will reduce. The rate at which these gaps can be closed depends upon the accessibility and availability of the technology.
What are the challenges in implementing the AM technology, especially in an MSME or SME set-up?
Dr Joshi: The typical challenges in implementing AM technology in such a set-up are:
Cost of the equipment and maintenance: The startup costs can be quite high, especially when dealing with production-grade machines, metal AM machines, which then require a large enough use to keep the machines from sitting idle. Small manufactures may not be able to generate enough work to keep the expensive machines busy. The maintenance cost of the machines is also quite high. This can make it difficult for small manufacturers to use AM profitably in a cost-driven manufacturing environment.
Lack of training and knowledge: This is a new technology and there are not enough trained workers and engineers who understand its nuances. They lack the expertise to deal with the problems and to advance the state of manufacturing using this equipment. To be successful at AM, it is not just the AM technology, but the whole design workflow which needs to be impacted and revisited. The level of training in 3D modeling, simulation and topology optimization needs to be improved to take full advantage of the technology.
How can the adoption of AM help up the game of its end-users in terms of ROI – investment, savings and productivity?
Dr Joshi: The key here is to start looking at ways in which AM can add value to the company. Using AM just to manufacture parts that are currently being mass produced is a losing proposition. The costs of mass production are hard to beat. So it is important to start looking at where AM can provide the benefit and how it can be monetized throughout the life cycle of a product. AM has added value in the areas of weight reduction in airplanes, which directly translates to fuel savings over the life of the airplane; consolidation of assemblies into single parts which leads to savings in inventory and procurement costs; customization of medical implants which leads to improved healthcare and cost-effectiveness; and development of new materials that improve product performance etc. It is this value provided by AM that needs to monetized in order to determine how it might impact the ROI. It’s not going to be as simple as the traditional ROI analysis.
It is important to start looking at where additive manufacturing can provide the benefit and how it can be monetized throughout the life cycle of a product.
Dr. Sanjay Joshi
Harold & Inge Marcus
Department of Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering
Modern Manufacturing India