Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is still in the early stages of adoption in India. The country accounts for just 1.4% of the global spending on the technology, which is miniscule compared to leaders in the space, like the US, EU and China. However, with increased focus on manufacturing, the industry may be at an inflection point. In an interview, Yoav Zeif, CEO of Stratasys, one of the top providers of 3D printers, solutions, and materials in the world, said the company has seen increased adoption in healthcare and drone sectors in India. Edited excerpts:
Do you think India has the potential to be a 3D printing hub?
India is still at the beginning and is mainly at the prototype stage for 3D printing, but there is a lot of potential as India is also at a starting point of manufacturing. The country has done a great job in software and services and 3D printing can allow India to leapfrog in manufacturing. In India, a combination of the private, government, and education sectors will drive adoption. We need to invest in schools and in educating people about 3D printing.
Most of the application of 3D printing has happened in prototyping and not much in final products. Has that changed?
3D printed parts are no longer limited to prototyping and are now being used in final products. Around 25-29% of our overall sales are going to end-user parts. We are reaching an inflection point.
The pandemic had a huge impact, companies now want to be more independent in terms of manufacturing capabilities. Every company is facing issues with logistics as supply chains were broken after the pandemic. The ability to transform physical inventory to digital inventory and produce near the customer when you need it and where you need it can be a game-changer.
Producing near customers also saves on the carbon footprint. We can do geometries and solutions that are much lighter because of the different materials and designs you can use in 3D printing. This makes products economically more viable and also sustainable.
Where is 3D printing being used in India?
During the pandemic, we developed one of the largest ever distributed networks. Each one of our large customers, such as Toyota and Boeing, was making masks at their sites and sending them to us. We distributed them to different hospitals, which created a lot of awareness about technology in healthcare. The use of 3D printing has also grown in the drone and the defence sector.
How is healthcare in India leveraging 3D printing?
Its use is booming in the medical sector, especially in pre-surgical planning to train doctors on 3D models. We provide tools such as digital anatomy printing and digital anatomy creator, which are being used by surgeons to print with properties of the tissue. These 3D printed models are then used for training before surgery. Since doctors have already trained on it they know where to drill and what to drill during operations. This saves time and cost. Hospitals like AIIMS are using some of these technologies to train doctors.
Similarly in dental care, we are in the process of the ability to 3D print dentures directly. We can go to any remote village, scan the mouths of old people and provide them with a 3D printed denture in a day at much lower costs.
Since companies will need to turn to traditional manufacturing to achieve scale, won’t 3D printing eventually be relegated to a secondary role?
3D printing will not replace all traditional manufacturing. Currently, it accounts for less than 1% of manufacturing. But there are drone companies that want to use 50% 3D printed parts due to flexibility of design and weight.
It is about identifying use cases. We did a study and found 183 use cases where 3D printing has an advantage. The economics are ten times better than injection moulding (the traditional system of manufacturing). Certain geometries, weight, or size of batches can be achieved only with 3D printing with fewer inventory issues. There is immense potential for scaling and with specific applications it can replace 5 to 10% of manufacturing.
We need to improve the technology, material, and software to take the industry to the same level as manufacturing. We are investing a lot of money in it.