06 February 2018

Sourcing in India: Focus on 3D Printing

3D Printing: The Next Industrial Revolution

3D printing as the name suggests is printing in 3 Dimensional. But it is not printing per se, and it is an innovative manufacturing process in which the desired 3-dimensional shape to material is given by adding thin layers of the material in succession, that is why it is also called Additive Manufacturing (AM). And the machines used for this process are called 3D Printers. We can also say that AM is opposite of conventional manufacturing as in conventional manufacturing the desired shape is given by cutting/machining (subtracting) of the material. 

Commonly used materials

As the material in 3D Printing is added layer by layer so the input raw material has to be available in powder form or in wire feedstock to feed through nozzle of the 3D Printer. In initial days thermoplastics or polymers like ABS and Polycarbonate were only used material however now with advancement in technology other materials like metals (Steel, Aluminium, Titanium et al), Ceramics, Glass, Composites, Graphene-embedded plastics, Paper, Concrete, Food (chocolate, Cheese et al), Yarn and even bio-inks can us used. 

Note: Material selection process is based on the application, function, stability, durability, aesthetics, economics and designer’s priorities. 

Design Process

In 3D printing parlay "If You Can Draw It, You Can Make It". The first step is to digitally draw the desired shape using CAD (computer-aided design).Then the CAD file is converted to a format that a 3D printer can understand which is usually STL format (STereoLithography) and is the universal language that 3D printers read.


Basic principle behind all 3D printers is to turn digital files containing 3- dimensional data into physical objects. The three main widely used technologies for 3D Printing are:

  • FDM - Fused Deposition Modeling:  FDM printers use a thermoplastic filament, which is heated to its melting point and then extruded, layer by layer, to create a three dimensional object
  • SLA - Stereolithograhpy: one of the first additive manufacturing technologies to be theorized and patented (in the 80s). SLA uses a laser to cure liquid resin into hardened plastic in a process called photo polymerization.
  • SLS - Selective Laser Sintering: It uses a high-powered laser to fuse particles of plastic, metal, ceramic, or glass. It is the most common AM technology used for industrial applications.

Globally FDM is the most used technology (36%), followed by SLS (33%) and SLA (25%). (source: study by Sculpteo)

Note: Each technology is unique and has its own Pros and Cons and it requires users to consider factors such as cost, time, and materials. 

Cost Comparision with conventional manufacturing

3D Printing or Additive Manufacturing is most cost effective when the design/shape of the product is complex and the volume is low (bespoke products). The below Fig 1( charts depicts the breakeven analysis of 3D Printing viz a viz Conventional manufacturing process.

Main advantages of 3D printing

  • Good for manufacturing of customized products.
  • Faster time to market: Easy to make complex prototypes, helps to reduce the development time.
  • Allows for rapid design changes, less tooling and saves money on certain complex products
  • Eco-friendly as 3D printing is also considered environment friendly since it produces less waste compared to other techniques


  • Limitation in Size: The size of objects created with 3d printers is currently limited however in the near future large items such as architectural structures can be created using 3d printing
  • Limited Raw Material: The variety of raw materials used is currently limited however with advancement in technology new materials are being added
  • Scaling to mass production has limitations
  • Violation of Copyrights: One major challenge is misuse of 3D printing for Counterfeiting. Anyone who gets a hold of a blueprint will be able to counterfeit products easily.
  • Production of Dangerous Items: With 3D Printers plastic knives, guns and any other dangerous and hazardous objects can be created


3D printing has been deployed across various industries and has been used for a variety of creative endeavours around the world. Some examples of application in various industries are:

  • AEROSPACE: 3D printing helped French aircraft maker Latécoère to cut lead times by 95% and reduce costs by 40% 
  • AEROSPACE: GE, with additive manufacturing, reduced the combustor test schedule for ATP engines from 12 months to 6, reduced weight by 5 % as well as the part count. In fact 855 parts were taken out during the redesign, and replaced with just 12 additive parts.
  • AEROSPACE: Airbus A350 XWB has over 1000 components manufactured by 3D printing
  • AUTOMOTIVE: Volvo Construction Equipment has reduced tooling costs by 92% using 3D printing functional prototypes.
  • HEALTHCARE: In healthcare prosthetics (artificial part) and medical tools are manufactured with 3D printing at reduced cost. In the UK, a start-up named Open Bionics creates bionic hands at low-cost by 3D printing. 
  • INDUSTRIAL: In Amsterdam, architecture firm Dus Architects developed a ‘3D print canal house’ as part of a three year research and design project.
  • SEVICES: Amazon recently filed patent for the concept of ‘mobile 3D printing delivery trucks’ to deliver products even faster to consumer. The idea is as soon as someone orders a specific product from Amazon, it will send signal to the nearest truck with 3D printer, to produce and deliver the product on the fly without any need for storage/warehouse.

Top 10 Vendors 

Global top vendors for 3D Printers (machines) are a mix of incumbents and new entrants. Below is the list of some top players in 3D printing. 

  1. Stratasys (Incumbent)
  2. EOS (Incumbent)
  3. 3D Systems (Incumbent)
  4. SLM Solutions (Incumbent)
  5. GE Additive (Incumbent :recently bought two 3D printing cos viz  Arcam and Concept Laser)
  6. HP (Incumbent)
  7. Formlabs (New entrant)
  8. Nanoscribe (New entrant)
  9. DesktopMetal (New entrant
  10. Carbon (New entrant)

Marketsize/ Forecast

  • As per rough estimate the current 3D printing market size is around €5 billion. It is projected to grow at annual rate of more than 30% and is expected to cross €18 billion in next 5 years.
  • As per Gartner report, worldwide shipments of 3D printers will reach 455,772 units in 2016, more than doubling the 219,168 units shipped in 2015. And the increase in 3D printer shipments over the next four years will see the number of units shipped in 2020 total more than 6.7 million

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