Imagine if you could print your house or take out a plastic miniature clone of your loved ones in 3D (dimensions), before your very eyes, all in a matter of hours, using your computer and a printer that is no larger than a normal desktop.
Yes, indeed. Both these things and a lot more is possible using 3D printing, a nascent technology, which has the potential to exponentially speed up the process that takes manufacturing businesses from the idea stage to the execution stage.
The concept is simple. You can ‘print’ any object (in theory) for real and in 3D from a screen image.
The raw material needed is a 3D printer, a soft copy of the design you want to make and the material (mostly plastic for now).
How does all this translate into a business and what we, as end-users, can expect from the technology?
“3D printing is a technology that helps businesses arrive at point where the real and virtual converge. Businesses can design their prototypes, moulds and test how they look. A 3D printer costs around Rs 1 lakh. Then, the printing cost is around Rs 1,000 an hour for a single copy of the product,” says Jatin Sharma, 25, co-founder of LBD Makers, a Delhi-based company that makes 3D printers and supplies to businesses and educational institutions.
Sharma, a Panchkula resident, and a 2008 batch graduate from PEC University in Chandigarh, started his venture in the city, but shifted to Delhi to tap the better business opportunities. The company, built from scratch by him and co-founder Nitin Gandhi, sells two printers a month.
“The only problem with the technology is that is not in mass use at this moment. We get retail orders for printing of say a i-pad cover. This is done in 40 minutes at around `600,” adds Jatin.
In Chandigarh, Karan Checker, CEO, rot8.co, based in Sector 7, makes 3D printers and prints stuff for hobbyists and also caters to researchers. He is bullish on the technology (it is already a multi-billion dollar industry) and the business opportunities and the efficiencies it will spawn, particularly as it can cut down on inventory.
“In shoe making and in medicine, where prosthetics are needed to customised, 3D printing is the future. In the US, the technology has wide acceptance with a good proportion of homes equipped with a 3D printer,” adds Karan, an MBA from the US, who has sold three printers.
The limitations of the technology are that the material printable can be only plastic of varying kinds, on most printers. Metal and other material can be used, but in printers that can cost up to Rs 50 lakh.
“Even a workable gun has been printed in the US. A 3D printer is a mini-factory in itself and can be used in robotics, medicine, shoe industry,” adds Karan.
Some have called the technology as a mini-factory that could power the ‘Make in India’ campaign. What is clear is that this could well be a break-though in science that ends up rivalling the internet in its impact on our lives and businesses.