The third dimension: All you need to know about 3D printing in India!

From the jewellery industry to the medical field. From academia to home improvements, the marvels of 3D printing seem boundless, as Marisha Karwa discovers

Latest News
The third dimension: All you need to know about 3D printing in India!


It's not rocket science, and yet most of us do that utterly Indian thing wherein we unconvincingly nod our head in agreement upon hearing the phrase "3D printing". It's time to get to the printbed and filter the filament from the fluff as we dispel a few myths about 3D printing that appears complex, but is fairly simple to grasp.

What is 3D printing?

It's printing in the third dimension i.e. printing on the 'Z' axis in addition to the X and Y axes, where X and Y are the length and breadth/width on a flat surface and Z is the height. You can think of it as an origami lantern, which gets its full form when pulled up or pried open. Except that 3D-printed objects emerge in full form from a 3D printer.

And what makes it unique?

The third dimension, obviously. A 3D printer will use the input material – a powder or liquid – and deposit it layer by layer as per the given computer aided design (CAD). "The way the technology works is that it uses input in one state (powder, liquid or solid) and as it deposits it on the printbed (the part, on a 3D printer, where the form takes shape), it compresses the material in place using a high amount of heat, typically a laser," says Tanmay Shah, innovation head at Imaginarium, India's largest 3D printing company.

So how is it done?

3D printing is possible only with 3D printers, of which many varieties are available for different purposes. The most common or the 'desktop' entry variant 3D printers are the ones that use plastic (thermoplastic variants called ABS or PLA) as the main input materials. These printers are widely used in schools or by hobbyists and 'tinkerers' or 'makers' to print anything from toys such as bobble-heads to household items such as doorknobs, hooks and phone covers. A hand-held pen-like device, which uses filaments (long plastic wires), is probably the smallest 3D printer in the market. It's convenient to use, and is used to doodle forms that have to be pried out and assembled.

Then there are industrial printers that use materials such as resin, wax, nylon, ceramics and metals (silver, gold and titanium). Earlier this year, Bengaluru-based Global 3D Labs launched Pramaan One, which they claim is the biggest 3D printer in Asia. "Our clients wanted us to regularly 3D print large-sized prototypes for them. For example, foundries wanted large-scale moulds for pipes and architects wanted building mock-ups," says Gopal Krishna, the chief executive officer of 3D Global Labs. "The hitch with existing 3D printers was that we'd have to 3D print parts and then assemble them together. But with Pramaan One, we can print large-sized mock-ups in a comparatively shorter duration." The Pramaan One occupies 2mt x 2mt x 1.6mt space and can print upto dimensions of 800mm x 600mm x 300mm, or to put it simply, it can print an entire piece of furniture, say a coffee table or an armchair, without having to print its backrest, seat, armrest, legs, etc., individually.

Wait, there's more. There are 3D printers that are capable of printing their own parts too. A RepRap is a self-replicating machine in the form of a 3D printer, which essentially means that if you have a RepRap, you can print out all its parts and assemble another RepRap. Time to up those Lego skills.

What is 3D printing used for?

3D printing finds applications in many consumer and industrial product prototyping processes, ranging from car components and dental implants to food (yes, you read that right; you can 3D print everything from chocolate toppings to burritos) and clothing items. "You'd be surprised to learn that 90 per cent of all manufactured jewellery uses some 3D printing application or the other," says Shah. "It could be the creation of a 3D-printed mould, which is then cast in precious metal to create an ornament, or an entirely 3D-printed ring, earring or a pair of cufflinks."

Jewellery and the auto industry have been among the early adopters in India, and the technology is now beginning to make rapid strides in the field of healthcare. 3D printed anatomical models, based on CT scans, allow surgeons to minutely plan precision surgeries, and also execute them with the help of 3D printed surgical guides. Besides, says Shah, his company has also custom-printed metal plates for prosthetic needs as well as ceramic dental implants.

Among consumer applications, spaces such as Maker's Asylum in Mumbai lets one see the immense potential of 3D printing. Maker's... here have 3D printed as wide-ranging objects as Scrabble (using leather, wood and jute) and even an electric car. And if you hop over to Time to 3D, a 3D printing cafe in the city's suburbs, you will be able to print everything from photo frames and high heels to your own coffee mug and '3D selfies' – a three-dimensional likeness of yourself.

What is the biggest advantage of 3D printing?

For a layperson, 3D printing opens up a world of possibilities to realise their designs without the expertise and infrastructure of a manufacturer – a blacksmith, plastics company, carpenter, etc.Whether it's a salad bowl or a mini-statue of your favourite Star Wars character, you can get it 3D printed hassle-free.

For manufacturers, it reduces cost and time. Be it a new bar of soap or an intricate jewellery design, 3D printing allows a quick way to see, touch and feel a new product. An added advantage: it's possible to experiment with materials during the prototyping phase – a luxury not many organisations can afford because prototyping is expensive. "Prototyping for any industry – be it a new bottle design for a shampoo or a mock-up for a new washing machine or an auto part – is a time-consuming process. Besides, with 3D printing, it is also possible to do one-off models as opposed to having a minimum order," explains Shah. "So it turns out to be cost-effective, more efficient and significantly reduces time-to-market."

But must only geeks have all the fun?

No. You don't necessarily need any technical expertise for 3D printing. "Anyone who has a 3D design for an object, say a keychain or a lamp, can walk into the cafe and print it in 3D," says Rahul Shah of Time to 3D. It's because of this convenience that 3D printers are becoming increasingly popular in schools and academic institutions such as the IITs.

How expensive is 3D printing?

This depends on the material being used and the time it takes to 3D print. A three-inch, plastic bobble-head at Time to 3D would cost about Rs 1,000, whereas at 3Ding, you can pay Rs 5per minute to try its 3D printing service (note that it would take about two hours to print the three-inch bobble-head).

Where can I get my designs 3D printed?

Practically every big city in India now has 4-5 labs that offer 3D printing services. In Mumbai, you can check Time to 3D, Maker's Asylum, Imaginarium or Clarity 3D Printing. There's also think 3D (with a branch in Delhi) and 3digiprints, (with a branch in Bengaluru). In the capital, LBD Makers and 3DBazaar offer printing and designing services while in Bengaluru, there's 3D Global Labs and REALiz3D. Chennai headquartered 3Ding is another organisation that offers 3D-printing services and has outposts in Bengaluru and Hyderabad. Many of these offer 3D design services as well. The best part, though, is that a lot of them accept designs online. This means that if you get the MakerWare software or want a design from the database Thingiverse, you can directly upload it on the 3D printing company's website/platform and get it 3D printed.

Can I buy a 3D printer? How do I choose the best printer for my needs?

You most certainly can. The hand-held 3D-printing pen costs about Rs 4,000 and is available online as well as at Time to 3D in Mumbai. It also retails entry-level 3D printers. Desktop 3D printers too are available online, but if this is your first purchase, it's perhaps better to seek help. Most 3D-printing service companies offer consultancy services in helping others – hobbyists, institutions, small- and medium-manufacturers – procure the right 3D printer for their needs.

Wow, so can I print my own jet plane?

You possibly can, but it'll take a really long time and it probably won't fly. Or for that matter a 3D- printed gun, which you can certainly print, but the weapon won't last beyond a few shots with real bullets. But it is possible to 3D print many other cool things, such as musical instruments, a functional office or even human tissue.

Find your daily dose of news & explainers in your WhatsApp. Stay updated, Stay informed-  Follow DNA on WhatsApp.

Live tv