Interview India: Tracking additive manufacturing industry

Author / Editor: Ahlam Rais, Associate Editor / Franziska Breunig

Guruprasad Rao,Director, Imaginarium India, one of the players in the additive manufacturing space talks about the market and also reveals the challenges due to which the country has not yet gained momentum in this field.

Guruprasad Rao, Director, Imaginarium India.
Guruprasad Rao, Director, Imaginarium India.
(Source: Imaginarium India)

In India, what is the current market scenario of the additive manufacturing (AM) industry especially in the automobile and aerospace segments?

In India, the manufacturing sectors are quite conservative in adopting new technologies and the market is also price sensitive particularly after globalization.

While the automotive industry was the first to identify, invest and adopt new technologies, it was limited to prototyping. This remains more or less the same as the application which drives its consumption. Sectors such as FMCG, lifestyle products and white goods do have a small share which is growing. The jewellery and dental application segments have moved to the next level of production of ‘end use’ parts, directly or indirectly. Since the past five years, the aerospace industry is also relooking at this technology in order to develop its structures and optimise its payload targets.

India has become the largest two-wheeler manufacturer and the fifth largest passenger and commercial vehicle manufacturer in the world. How do you see the growth in this sector as an opportunity for the AM industry?

Surely, it will add to the growth of the sector. AM does not only cater to manufacturing but also acts as a design enabler that helps in validation of designs through prototyping. This new technology is poised to play an important role as there is a need to reduce cycle time for new introductions and there is also a growing demand for customization.

The industry also requires metal as well as composite materials apart from engineering plastics to produce ‘end use’ parts. Today, we have a few options to produce these parts but its high cost makes it unviable. The advent of new AM technologies is paving the way for a ‘Digital Fabrication Revolution’.

What are the latest trends in AM?

The latest trends can be divided into three broad areas: Technologies, Materials and Applications.

Under technologies, new processes such as Multi Jet Fusion, Continuous Liquid Interface Production technology, Intelligent Liquid Interface, desk top production machines for Stereolithography (SLA), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and metals is not only going to make the process more affordable but also more quicker.

Technologies are now capable of handling multi materials in order to produce integrated components. The leading OEMs will have to considerably reduce their prices to remain in the market and this will bring the prices further down.

More than the technology segment, the materials will bring about profound changes in the AM industry and broaden the applications. The increase in research for materials by mega MNCs such as GE, DSM Somos, Solvay, BASF, etc. will drive the future growth of this sector. Today, the industry requires various high temperature materials, metal alloys, composites and bio-materials to produce ‘real end use’ parts.

In the Application area, there is a clear shift from the historical ‘Rapid Prototyping’ to ‘Functional’ end use parts. The new innovations are pushing it closer to rapid manufacturing of end usable parts, and this has been made possible to a large extent by the growth of metal printing technologies.

Many experts have termed ‘AM’ as the next big phenomenon in the manufacturing space. However, the country has not yet gained significant importance as it has in developed countries. What are the reasons for this?

Well, we too agree with the experts. In fact, we are already seeing its potential.

At this point, the concept of AM, is a bit of a hyped term. Hence, we prefer to call it as ‘Digital Fabrication’. Industries in India are still conservative and do not invest into R&D and D&D as compared to the advanced markets. As a result, the true testing of manufacturing technologies is lagging. We expected the Government of India’s ‘Make in India’ initiative to improve the situation but it is yet to deliver on its promises.

Many countries have announced numerous investments and policies in order to adopt new technologies. However, the Indian industry lacks the support of the state to boost adoption and a further 28% GST (Goods and Service Tax) on AM outputs has made it expensive, therefore, less attractive. To sum it up, we have to go a long way in comparison with the rest of the world. We have been flagging these needs at diverse industry forums and are waiting for some positive steps to be undertaken by the government.

Lastly, many people are concerned that in the future AM will replace the traditional way of manufacturing. What are your thoughts on this?

Well, we see that all technologies are here to stay and complement each other to derive the best at optimised resources. CNC, Robotics and AM will shoulder the future of manufacturing and may also get integrated to create a truly hybrid system which produces anything as envisaged, such as the cyber physical systems in Industry 4.0! Traditional machines such as analogue machines may join its other ancestors such as steam engines and typewriters.

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