Art of 3-D Printing


The current market for 3-D Printing is valued at around $ 6 billion and has been projected to exceed by $17 billion by 2020 to meet the vast variety of industry requirements, says Dr N Arivazhgan

The third Industrial Revolution is all about personal fabrication, and it’s happening now. Powered by information age advancements, it is poised to unlock  a man’s potential to create, innovate and fabricate. While computer-aided additive manufacturing processes have been around for more than 30 years, technology, now widely known as 3-D printing, has reached a tipping point. It is advancing rapidly, making its way to consumers, and reshaping manufacturing in the 21st century. 3-D printing opens up inspiring possibilities and opportunities such as the ability to produce a fully functional ‘machine’ in one print. The process of 3-D printing uses computer-created digital models to create real-world objects ranging from simple chess pieces to more complex components used in aerospace applications. It can be termed as ‘from art to part’. 3-D printing has parts that follow the shape of the model by stacking layer upon layer of material to make the objects.

Evolution of additive manufacturing— the industrial version of 3-D printing for metallic parts is a significant milestone in 3-D printing. Technology has already reached a stage where complex items such as medical implants, automotive and aerospace components are made out of this additive technology. The real advantage of the additive manufacturing is not only eliminating the wastage but reducing the number of components and the assembly time. For example, a typical rocket engine fuel turbo pump has hundreds of parts including a turbine that spins at over 90,000 rpm. But a turbo pump made with additive manufacturing has 45 per cent fewer parts than pumps made with traditional manufacturing.


Commercial Feasibility

The current market of this technology is valued at around 3-6 billion USD. Moreover, it has been projected to exceed $17 billion by 2020 due to its rapid growth and the ability of the technology to meet the need of the vast variety of industries requiring such complex components.

The 3D printing industry has a very bright future as various 3D printing patents are expiring leading to opening up a lot of opportunities for Indian entrepreneurs to build high-quality printers with better efficiency. It is a matter of time before some compelling applications will be built using 3D printing technologies. As the advancements in 3D printing technology is rapid, it is quite evident that it will be adopted soon by various industries and consumers.


Digital Scanning 

Research is underway for a complete suite of digital manufacturing from scanning to manufacturing. With this technology, a structured light scanning shall be used to create a digital model of the component object. This digital model shall be sent for direct manufacturing using the additive methods, eliminatingreducing the need for cad modelling.


Made In Space

With the availability of 3-D printing technology, the astronauts can now manufacture the aircraft parts sitting in the space instead of getting it manufactured in the space lab and transported from the Earth through another spaceship. Once they receive the data from the scientists sitting in the Earth, it is possible for them to get it parts for the spacecraft made there.


In Education

Learning methods have drastically changed in the 21st century, and 3D printing plays an important role in the transformation. It challenges students with real-time problems and spurs their creativity. Students exposed to 3-D printing will have a deeper relationship with technology that will increase their performance in job market. Research analysts predict that global 3-D printing in education will grow steadily over the next four years. It is becoming a primary educational tool as schools across the globe adopt 3-D learning models to cater to the growing demand in science, engineering and technology-based curricula.

Government’s initiatives have now put 3-D technology in the hands of students to provide skills for the future. An industry research report identifies the ability of 3-D printing to enhance the learning process as one of the major factors that will have a positive impact on the growth of this market in the coming years. This technology not only helps enhance the quality of illustration but also simplifies complex concepts through interactive visualisations.

The adoption of 3-D printing for education will contribute to improve the commitment of students towards assignments by assisting them in creating objects and making detailed reports based on their point-of-view experiences.


3-D Printing course

VIT takes pride in preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs using 3-D printing. A dedicated technology incubator cell for the 3-D printer was established a decade ago, and a lot of industrial prototypes of various leading automotive industries in India have been made here. In fact, the careers of students in the future are determined by the preparation they undergo in the present. The 3-D printing in classrooms builds critical thinking skills in the students which the employers are looking for.

It is high time that all the universities take this new technology to the student community. The 3-D printing curriculum should combine in-depth lectures, class discussions and a dedicated 3-D printing lab made available for the hands-on projects to inspire the students.  The challenge before the engineers now is to make this technology affordable and to mass-produce the components using this technology to cater to the needs of the society.

The writer is Dean, School of Mechanical Engineering, VIT University, Vellore



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