Off the Mark: Assessing 3D Market in India
3D market, globally, is a billion-dollar market but in India, it is yet to flourish
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3D printing came to the fore in 1980s. Since then, it has evolved from being merely a process of creating prototypes to being used in production of multiple consumer products. With its market expected to touch $32.78 billion by 2023 globally, in India 3D printing is still far from flourishing. But one can expect it all change in the years to come.
3D printing or additive manufacturing may not be the last leg of the disruption caused by modern technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, robotics, and blockchain. But it seems likely that, in India, atleast, it would take 3D printing some time before its demand would surge.
However, it is poised to bring an unprecedented shift in the $12 trillion global manufacturing sector and slingshot world economy. The global consulting firm for additive manufacturing Wohlers Associates in its 2018 annual report noted 21 percent increase in the industry's growth in 2017 —from $6.06 billion in the preceding year to $7.3 billion. This transformation is set to bring production of goods closer to the consumer and "democratize' (as every knowledge content on 3D printing quotes) the manufacturing process across the globe.
NEED FOR SPEED
However, in a market like India which lacks macroeconomic factors, the relatively new market for 3D printing is yet to be defined. The use cases have been limited to prototyping (in various industries) and are largely still at development stage. So far, 3D printing is being used for making high quality products in lower volumes but not for mass production, which is done through conventional methods like injection moulding. Some of the factors at play are the speed at which the printer prints and the cost of the printer. For instance, a Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printer – one of the most common 3D printers, costs around Rs 2 lakh onwards.
Rohit Asil, co-founder of Fracktal Works, which is a 3D printer manufacturing and product development start-up says, "If you want to print a few 100 or 1000 units then it is best to make it through injection moulding method. It might require a bit more investment but for the overall cost versus time factor, injection moulding might be better than 3D printing."
In January this year, Hewlett-Packard Inc (HP) launched 3D printers in India, priced at Rs 2.5 crore. The company claimed that its printers can create products up to 10 times faster and at less than half the cost of the existing printers. The speed of these printers is relative to the FDM printers, which makes them closest competitors of injection moulding. "The printer's cost is massive that's why customers don't buy it. Five years down the line, we might probably have printers that can compete with injection moulding. But unless we compete with time at high scale, it won't make a difference. It will still be an aiding technology in manufacturing instead of a disruptive technology," asserts Asil.
Consequently, the idea is to use 3D printing in the right application with the maximum value such as generating energy out of sustainable plastic. Under the government's initiative of Atal Tinkering Labs (ATL), knowledge about 3D printing is being imparted at school-level to boost innovation. 3Dexter is a Delhi-based company, which provides experiential learning on 3D printing at schools and has benefited from ATL scheme. "We sell printers and set up 3D designing labs at schools and we also offer training and education around 3D printing at schools right from third grade onwards. While we saw students at college-level learning about the technology, we decided to take this learning to the grass root level," says Raunak Singhi, founder, 3Dexter.
At the onset every new technology and business grapples with the trust issue. And the same happened with 3D printing. Most Indian customers using 3D printers have been importing machines from China and some European countries. While Chinese machines are cheap, they don't have a repute that European machines have — the latter are expensive but reliable. Kaushik Mudda, founder and chief executive officer at 3D printer and equipment manufacturing start-up Ethereal Machines had to find the fit between the two. "The assumption has been that the machine's quality isn't good if I am selling it at a cheap price. Thus, I had to hike the price, to show people that we are offering a quality product. So, customers have this price and trust issue as there has been no legacy of Indian manufacturing companies with 3D printing machines, unlike in sectors such as steel, automobile etc," Mudda says.
Ethereal Machines — registered with Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP) — began with subtractive manufacturing machines called CNC routers and then moved to 3D printing. Ethereal Machines was the first Indian company to win the "Best of Innovation' award at Consumer Electronics Show 2018, Las Vegas. As it is a DIPP start-up, Mudda has been able to self-certify the start-up around multiple laws. "Initially our office was checked for the amount of noise pollution being generated in making printers etc. I didn't know such laws exist for starting something in hardware," he recalls.
Apart from cost and trust issues, Indian resellers have been choosing Chinese printers over Indian printers as they give them slightly more margin and market visibility. "In China, on the other hand, the government controls the information and it pushes you to buy Chinese products. Similarly, Indian customers should be more willing to acknowledge Indian products," Asil says. To change that Indian government can impose an embargo on Chinese printers or can increase the import tax on printers but that would kill the notion of a free market. At school-level, however, the government is funding various schools to adopt 3D printing and other technologies.
"The government is giving Rs 20 lakh to each school to get technologies like robotics, 3D printing, etc. ATLs have helped spread awareness around these technologies," adds Singhi. 3Dexter recruit college freshers who have gone through design training and pay Rs 15k–30k monthly based on the skill and experience.
Broadly 3D printing is an innovation to augment manufacturing rather than a disruptive one, except for a few key areas such as 3D printed buildings, medical applications like recreating tissues, kidneys, and heart etc. "It is a great innovation but it is not going against manufacturing. Both will co-exist for a long time ahead," maintains Asil.
This is because the growth of existing technologies happened over the decades is deeply integrated into the manufacturing ecosystem in India. Yet, there will be a myriad of opportunities in the future for 3D printing — from spare parts in automobile industry, sporting goods, mobility devices to more or less everything under the sun in the future.