‘Bringing Ideas to Life’ in India, for India
That is how Guruprasad Rao, Director & Mentor, Imaginarium India Pvt Ltd, describes the mission driving the company with over 25 years of Additive Manufacturing experience
Imaginarium India Pvt Ltd
Additive Manufacturing is not a sudden development but has evolved over several years. What exactly has spurred the current mass interest?
Well, yes, Additive Manufacturing used in present context is at least 30 years old.
Additive manufacturing those days used to be called Rapid Prototyping. Many also prefer calling it as 3D printing. Patent of one of the AM technologies, Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) got expired in late 2007 and in 2009, Open Source Desktop models of the technologies made it to the market by name MakerBot.
This opened up access to these technologies and many makers started contributing to its improvements and soon it led to many proliferations of the technology. This opened the technology for consumer use not only because of its availability but also affordable price. According to me, this availability and affordability spurred the current mass interest.
Theoretically, any part can be manufactured, but practically, what are the difficulties? Can additive manufacturing compete with traditional methods in some segments?
Well, in my opinion, theory of making parts has got a Grammar and we call it as Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DFMA). There are conditions where we often have difficulties such as an undercut, nesting, linking without joining, organic shapes are very difficult to make even in a 5-axis CNC milling machine! Even if one can program it, holding the part becomes not only difficult but also impossible. So, this difficulty to a large extent is overcome by 3D printing.
As for 3D printing competing with traditional methods, in my opinion, they all co-exist and in fact, we already have hybrid technologies emerging.
What products or industry segments are best suited for Rapid Prototyping/Manufacturing technology?
We can see 3 distinct areas where 3D printing has a definite edge over traditional methods: 1. Small Batch Production with lower cost 2. Designs which are impossible to make using traditional methods, and 3. Custom parts made for user specific needs and these benefits we can see across industry sectors.
While, 3D printing can be used beneficially in any product/industry segment, best suited for Rapid Prototyping are aerospace and custom medical implants. The other segments which use this technology extensively are Dental and Jewellery to produce the end use parts. Today, at Imaginarium we serve 30 distinct industry segments. It is only growing.
‘Parts on order’ is what we hear, something Imaginarium has been doing. Is this a new field for entrepreneurship?
Well, “Parts on order” or “Parts on Demand” is not a new concept. We used to call it as “Made to Order”. Today, due to changing customer aspirations and need, demand for customisation has grown and at some point, we cannot manufacture them, we need to fabricate them. This is technically termed as Agile Manufacturing. Well, it is definitely a new field for entrepreneurship, we call it an opportunity we are trying to serve.
Speaking of engineering industries, how do you see the market emerging over the next few years?
The Engineering Industry is redefining itself. Emergence of new customer aspirations pushes for more verity in design. So, in future, Design will lead Manufacturing. The parametric design tools will enable user end customisation. So, industry is looking for Agile Manufacturing enabled by IT & Analytics for optimum execution. With the advent of sensor technologies and computing power, analytics driven digital fabrication would be the future. This is also called as Industry 4.0 and 3D printers with robots and CNC systems would play an important role as Cyber Physical Systems. Till now, AM was used for prototyping and design validations. With faster technologies such as clip and multi jet fusion, etc., we can expect quicker end user part making on demand. This will drive the 3D printing market and we can hope that the demand will be tripled in next 5 years.
What are the different types of manufacturing methods in additive manufacturing?
As per the ASTM defined AM methods, we have Photo Polymerisation, Binder Jetting, Material Jetting, Fused Filament Fabrication, Laser Material Fusion, Laminated Object Manufacturing and Ultrasonic Material Consolidation are the growing set of technologies that we address as Additive Manufacturing.
What are the most common materials used? Are the products ready to use or need further processing for finish or accuracy?
The material offered in Additive Manufacturing can be broadly classified as Plastics and Metal. Common materials available under Plastics are Nylon, ABS, PLA, PC, PEEK and some composites with elastomers. Under Metal, we can get Cobalt Chrome, Titanium, Iron Alloys, Aluminium Alloys, Gold Alloys, Inconel alloys. There are other materials that fall in between such as Aluminide which is a composite of Nylon and Aluminium. Ceramics, Glass and even Diamonds are arriving as 3D printable materials. Recently there has been a lot of research on Biomaterials, Pharma and even food for consumption. Of course, all of them need further processing to get final finish and accuracy.
Do you see a kind of franchise model emerging? What are the plans at Imaginarium in terms of expansion?
When a business process is streamlined, we have a model that can be replicated. This can be scaled up with investments or can be done with active investors or Franchise. I think 3D printing model at Imaginarium is not only streamlined but also quite advanced. We are growing in all directions of business opportunity and busy fixing each before thinking of other types of expansion. The main reason for creating franchisees is to get closer to the customers and enable faster distribution. With the development of products at high speed, logistics of getting to the customer might not be as important. So right now, it is mostly organic growth. We are very open to explore inorganic growth too. We are driven by a single mission, “bringing ideas to life” for India, in India.
With the fourth industrial revolution or smart manufacturing, is additive manufacturing the future for industry as a whole?
As explained earlier, 3D printing co-exists with conventional methods of manufacturing along with Robotics, CNC and the Hybrids. Additive Manufacturing will work in unison with others to deliver smart manufacturing driven by IT enabled design, planning, control and analytics.
Finally, will there be any environmental impact in future? How recyclable are 3D printed products after end of life?
Yes, every type of manufacturing has its own good and bad impact on environment. It is for us to take care by designing it to be safe. This is a collective responsibility. The principles such as Reduce, Reuse and Recycle are very well applicable to AM. Also, good news is that there is a general awareness and there is a mission driven research into eco-friendly materials. We already have materials like PLA which are plant derivatives and are bio-degradable. By very nature, AM wastes little material and low on energy demand, which gives it a distinction as a Green Manufacturing Process. So, one must design 3D printed products with a conscious eye on its eco impact.