Insights into Editorial: Make it the Indian way: Why the country must adapt to additive technologies
The manufacturing landscape is ever-changing. One of the most significant drivers of this change is the emergence of advanced manufacturing technologies that are enabling more cost effective and resource-efficient small-scale production.
In combination with other prominent trends such as servitisation, personalisation and presumption, the emergence of Additive Manufacturing (commonly known as 3D printing) as a direct manufacturing process is leading companies to rethink where and how they conduct their manufacturing activities.
The adoption of additive manufacturing (AM) and other advanced manufacturing technologies appears to herald a future in which value chains are shorter, smaller, more localised, more collaborative, and offer significant sustainability benefits.
The Industrial revolution somehow bypassed India, but we have a unique opportunity to catch the wave of the manufacturing revolution if we can learn to surf.
3D printing is a phrase coined by the media and is often used to refer to all types of additive manufacturing.
However, 3D printing is defined as “fabrication of objects through the deposition of a material using a print head, nozzle or other printer technology”.
Industrial 3D printing has begun to transform manufacturing in Western countries. The 3D printing has not yet entered our everyday lexicon, and even people who have heard of it view it as a toy technology that geeks play with, creating prototypes of robots using small machines.
By eliminating the need to hold a large inventory of parts, set up an assembly line and purchase costly machines, 3D printing and adaptive manufacturing reduces capital and space requirements as well as the carbon footprint.
What is Additive Manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing which was defined by the industry as “making objects from 3D data, usually layer upon layer”.
In additive manufacturing, the physical object to be built is first designed in software. This design is fed to computerised machines, which build that object layer by layer.
In practice the phrases 3D printing and additive manufacturing may be used interchangeably by some sources so it’s important to understand the process which is actually being discussed.
- Additive manufacturing is the industrial version of 3-D printing that is already used to make some niche items, such as medical implants, and to produce plastic prototypes for engineers and designers.
- And while 3-D printing for consumers and small entrepreneurs has received a great deal of publicity, it is in manufacturing where the technology could have its most significant commercial impact.
- There are in fact a number of different subtypes of additive manufacturing including 3D printing, but also rapid prototyping and direct digital manufacturing (DDM). Recent advances in this technology have seen its use become far more widespread and it offers exciting possibilities for future development.
- Additive manufacturing machines work directly from a computer model, so people can devise completely new shapes without regard for existing manufacturing limitations.
- Breaking with traditional manufacturing techniques, such as casting and machining material, Additive Manufacturing product gives designers far greater flexibility.
The Benefits of Additive Manufacturing:
Conventional manufacturing techniques are capable of producing a great range of shapes and designs but additive manufacturing takes production to the next level.
One of the greatest benefits of this more modern technology is the greater range of shapes which can be produced.
Designs that can’t be manufactured in one entire piece with traditional means can easily be achieved.
- For example, shapes with a scooped out or hollow centre can be produced as a single piece, without the need to weld or attach individual components together.
- This has the advantage of being stronger that no weak spots which can be compromised or stressed.
The additive manufacturing process is very quick too, rather than needing an endless round of meetings from engineers in order to be able to tweak designs.
With the assistance of the software and programming, making any changes takes simply the click of the mouse.
Rapid prototyping (type of Additive Manufacturing) in particular is very quick, with full models produced quite literally overnight in some cases. This provides companies with far more flexibility, and also has the result of slashing costs too.
Results of Successful Utilization of Additive Manufacturing:
- Additive manufacturing (AM) creates opportunities for improving sustainability.
- Opportunities are being realised across the product and material life cycles.
- AM can improve resource efficiency and enable closed-loop material flows.
- Established organisations are focusing on product and process redesign.
- New ventures are exploring niches and growing the AM ecosystem.
Opportunities in India:
Fortunately, this manufacturing paradigm has several features that play to the strengths of the Indian ecosystem.
- First, it eliminates large capital outlays. Machines are cheaper, inventories can be small and space requirements are not large.
- Thus, jump-starting manufacturing does not face the massive hurdle of large capital requirement and the traditional small and medium enterprises can easily be adapted and retooled towards high technology manufacturing.
- Second, the Indian software industry is well-established, and plans to increase connectivity are well under way as part of ‘Digital India’. This would allow for the creation of manufacturing facilities in small towns and foster industrial development outside of major cities.
- Third, it is possible to build products that are better suited for use in harsh environmental conditions. Products that required assembly of fewer parts also implies that they may be better able to withstand dust and moisture prevalent in our tropical environment and be more durable.
- Fourth, in a country where use-and-throw is an anathema, maintaining old products is far easier because parts can be manufactured as needed and product life-cycles can be expanded.
Finally, maintaining uniform product quality is far easier because the entire system is built at the same time and assembly is not required.
In the past, the limitations of production have all too often influenced design, ruling out ideas because they weren’t practically achievable.
The introduction of this technology and its development means the process has been spun on its head, with design now driving the production.
If ‘Make in India’ is to succeed, it needs to encompass ‘Make it the Indian Way’. It need not emulate mass production technologies, fuelled in Detroit by massive capital investment or in Beijing by cheap labour.
We are fortunate to be in a historic moment when the manufacturing sector is about to go through a transformation wrought by disruptive technologies.
A combination of science and art, with a pinch of Indian entrepreneurship thrown in, will allow us to develop a manufacturing ecosystem that will not only allow India to compete with global manufacturing, it will also create products that are uniquely suited to Indian conditions.
We have to find a way of making it work in India’s favour rather than against it.