Additive Manufacturing A Work in Progress
Published by : Industrial Automation
An emerging technology with great promise, 3D printing or additive manufacturing has come of age but is still a work in progress.
The fact that 3D printing, or additive manufacturing (AM) is an emerging technology with disruptive potential is not in dispute. For a technology that was invented in the early 1980s, it took nearly three decades to capture the popular imagination. Confined earlier to rapid prototyping, development of fast printers and newer materials, including metal substrates and above all, digital technologies facilitating collaborative design has brought it to centre stage now. But a work in progress it essentially is, with several limitations preventing its blooming into a disruptive force in manufacturing, yet many positives as evident from the responses to this roundtable. What exactly are these limitations? The answer to this depends on the experience of professionals working in different disciplines. “Currently, the major limitation of 3D printing is the functionality of materials and our own imagination,” says Nishant Shah, Director, Imaginarium Rapid Pvt Ltd, one of India’s largest rapid prototyping and rapid manufacturing service providers. On the other hand, Janne Kyttanen, a 3D visionary, CEO/Co-Founder of What The Future Venture Capital, and inventor of 3DTI, has a one word answer: “Creativity”! But there are other, more nuanced responses. “The limitations vary depending on the application. Largely however, we see limitations in productivity for mass manufacturing, specialty end use materials and in some cases extensive post processing that make it unviable,” says Nidhi Shah, Managing Director, voxeljet India Pvt Ltd, who has over a decade of experience in AM technology, including a stint at Imaginarium.
According to Gauresh R Khanolkar of Chizel, one of the main limitations of 3D printing, besides materials, is in terms of dimensional accuracy. “3D printers do not produce parts which are as dimensionally accurate as machined parts. Therefore, when it comes to manufacturing critical components requiring tight dimensional tolerances, 3D printing is either overlooked or it has to be accompanied by an auxiliary machining operation,” he says. Chizel aims to build the world’s largest smart network of manufacturing shops using different manufacturing methods, where Ganesh heads Additive Manufacturing & Strategy.
“There is a need for more R&D in this; 3D printing has its own set of limitations such as high energy consumption, huge cost, material limitation (suitability and strength), toxic emissions from the filaments (usually nylon/Styrene), possibility of counterfeiting and patent violations, and increased unemployment of unskilled labour in manufacturing sector. Not forgetting that their socio-economic, environmental impacts are yet to be researched further in detail,” opines Harish G Kashyap, a professional in Design Engineering and a digital disruption enthusiast with execution leadership experience of emerging technologies and their convergence with the traditional business domains.
It is not just the materials but also the cost. How can this be controlled? According to Mahesh P Dhoka, Founder & Director, Incredible AM Pvt Ltd, a young company in this domain, the quality of materials like particle size distribution, powder morphology, filament diameters uniformity, rheological characteristics of plastic, etc., plays an important role in achieving good quality print. “Whichever is the AM process, the raw material production process isncritical because of the fine accuracy and close tolerance requirement. This adds to the cost in raw material manufacturing. Also limited companies globally are involved in raw material manufacturing. Encouraging domestic production of additive manufacturing material in- house can help cope with the price of raw material,” Mahesh points out.
“As R&D units pace up their approach to manufacturing material power, resin or other fluids for additive manufacturing, we shall see a decrease in material prices in the future. For a steady supply of material one needs to rely on multiple suppliers to ensure that the customers receive their prototypes as soon as possible,” says Ankit Sahu, Director, Objectify Technologies Pvt Ltd, a company founded in 2013 at SIIC Incubation Centre at IIT Kanpur, which is today one of India’s forerunners in the field of AM/3D Printing/Rapid Prototyping in polymers as well as metal.
But cost alone is not the deciding factor in AM, which will always be an issue compared to conventional manufacturing techniques, as Nishant Shah points out. “We need to look at the advantage the materials give us in the long term, where we build better and enhanced functional parts. Using AM also helps eliminate investment in tools and moulds, allocating lower logistical needs. For example, GE manufactured fuel nozzles using additive
manufacturing which cost more to manufacture as compared to normal nozzles, but they saved more fuel and cut costs in the long run,” he says.
More than materials and cost, it is skills that present a more pressing problem. “There is a need for complete overhaul of engineering and technical education with reference to AM. We need to include aspects of design, operations, post processing and a detailed study of various AM technologies available in the market,” suggests Nidhi Shah. “Some schools have started integrating 3D printing into their curriculum and aiding in fostering industry partnerships, attract funding, and capture the best students and faculty. Students of a renowned school in the US have already been invited for a special program by NASA called as NASA Hunch, where they get to use 3DP for the task in the project,” adds Harish Kashyap.
Pravin S Misal, R&D Engineer with Incredible AM Pvt Ltd, feels the learning curve is long, which affects training program and expense in industry. “Modifications of engineering education can help upcoming talents to settle in additive manufacturing industry with short learning curve. There is need for dedicated courses in additive manufacturing, subjects and training during engineering graduation which will make graduates fundamentally sound with AM concepts,” he says. Janne Kyttanen is blunt, befitting his style: “Government run education systems have been failing for a long time already. By now YouTube is far better resource for education than colleges.”
Limitations are not going to stop an emerging technology so the next question is how can companies exploit the potential of AM? “Companies need to design parts for the technology that they want to manufacture it in. Simply prototyping a part in AM, which was initially designed for injection moulding, will not add much value to the project. AM provides several advantages like faster timelines, light-weighted parts, etc., but the true potential of AM will not be realised until we design/redesign the part from an AM perspective, and since AM is not governed by traditional design rules associated with tooling and moulding, it gives designers an unprecedented design freedom,” says Gauresh R Khanolkar.
“Additive manufacturing can help companies identify product design, functionality or ergonomics errors through physical validation much early in the design cycle. This can significantly reduce the costs of error and rectification. 3D printing technology is now also being used as a production machine for final parts production. This is ideal in case the companies require limited batch production and the volume is not high. Part can be customised and built as per requirement. Companies do not have to engage their entire production set-up and assembly lines for limited batch productions,” says Ravi Patil, National Manager Technical Support – Rapid Prototyping, DesignTech Systems Ltd.
Nishant Shah is of the opinion that understanding design and DfAM (Design for Additive Manufacturing) functionality will be integral for them to apply AM appropriately. “Companies have to use AM as a tool that enables their manufacturing process,” he notes. “First by asking the right questions from the right people. No need to reinvent the wheel while there are plenty of good consultants who can help,” says Janne Kyttanen matter-of- factly.
The final poser in this roundtable is about new models for AM like leasing of printers or jobshops. “For starters, the idea of leasing machines and equipment does sound better but in the long run it is always advisable to have own machines. But nevertheless advocating on behalf of introducing 3D printing to the world, renting shop floors and facilities can help engineers and manufacturers have a hands-on experience about the technology and how it can be developed into a fully operational process in the organisation’s manufacturing processes,” opines Ankit Sahu. “The leasing of printers is beneficial to both service buyer and service receiver. Service receiver can have the benefit of direct digital manufacturing by transferring
the digital file to vendor and receiving the physical part without caring of machine investment, manpower risk of loss due to part failure. As the 3D printing is geometry specific process there requires a huge experience to make the prints. The service providers with their experience and 3D printing experts with different technologies are good to 3D print parts from,” concludes Mahesh P Dhoka.
(Note: The responses of various experts featured in this story are their personal views and not necessarily of the companies or organisations they represent. The full interviews are hosted online at https://www.iedcommunications.com/interviews)