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On 8th July, 2022, the world was shocked when a prominent leader in Asia and former PM of Japan, Shinzo Abe was shot dead while addressing an election meeting. When the details of the assassination trickled out, there was a lot of discussion around the weapon used for the vile act, more than about the perpetrator. All concerns were around whether the gun used was 3D printed, and that not only are 3D printed guns virtually untraceable but that they are easy for anyone to make at home as 3D printing machines are easy to purchase.

Like many remarkable inventions in history, 3D printing got into the limelight for all the wrong reasons. History is dotted with many key innovations that later turned out to be cornerstones in human evolution, such as nuclear energy, guns, photography etc.

Additive manufacturing — unlike conventional manufacturing where material is removed to manufacture an item —  is a process in which a component is manufactured by material being deposited, joined or solidified to form a 3D shape defined by a CAD model. The 3D geometry is defined in CAD software on the basis of which steps for the manufacturing process are defined.

For decades 3D printing, which has morphed into a larger manufacturing methodology called additive manufacturing, had been languishing at the brink of cutting edge manufacturing practices. For decades it existed as stereolithography-based manufacturing used mainly for rapid prototyping. Every major conference on manufacturing would have this as a side show, or at best an afterthought.

With advances in the medical industry in prosthetics and inserts, developments in aerospace and defence industry using non traditional materials and shapes, and similar changes in energy and other key sectors, the need for a newer faster way of manufacturing with a wide range of materials and shapes came about, which the traditional material removal manufacturing processes couldn’t address

All that changed in the last decade. Major corporations saw 3D printing as a big ticket disruptor in manufacturing. With advances in the medical industry in prosthetics and inserts, developments in aerospace and defence industry using non traditional materials and shapes, and similar changes in energy and other key sectors, the need for a newer faster way of manufacturing with a wide range of materials and shapes came about, which the traditional material removal manufacturing processes couldn’t address.

Traditional manufacturing versus additive manufacturing (3D printing) explained in images found in a paper on the subject authored by Prashantha K and Roger F

For example, a prosthetic implant for an arm, which replaces bones in patients, cannot be of a fixed form like a perfect cylinder, sphere or any other defined geometric form. Additionally, the thickness also cannot be uniform. Also, every implant needs to be different based on patient need and cannot be mass produced. All these have made it an insurmountable cost challenge for traditional manufacturing processes that operated in the confines of defined geometry with uniformity and large volumes. Even with advances in injection moulding, delivering a product with such complexity would have been prohibitively expensive, in the least.

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Classic additive manufacturing is a process that involves building up a physical object by adding successive layers of material. However, with rapid advances in this field, there are many different types of manufacturing processes based on the types of material and method of fusing those materials together. Some common types of additive manufacturing machines include:

1. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM): This is a common type of 3D printing process in which a filament of material is melted and extruded through a nozzle to create layers of the object.

2. Stereolithography (SLA): This process uses a laser to cure layers of liquid resin into a solid object.

3. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): This process uses a laser to sinter powdered material into a solid object.

4. Electron Beam Melting (EBM): This process uses an electron beam to melt metal powders, creating a solid object.

5. Inkjet Printing: This process involves using an inkjet printer to deposit layers of material in a specific pattern to create an object. This is the popular domestic version that has reached the homes of enthusiasts.

6. Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM): This process involves using a laser or blade to cut layers of material, which are then bonded together to create an object.

Out of these, the FDM, SLA, SLS and EBM are the most popular in the industry. Based on the technology used, there are a number of manufacturers that offer such machines with varied costs and availability.

There are many other types of additive manufacturing processes, each with its own unique features and capabilities. The choice of process will depend on the specific requirements of the object being printed, its budget, the scale of the operation as and the materials and equipment available.

On November 8, Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation Limited (TIDCO), a government undertaking, and GE additive, on a joint initiative started an additive manufacturing Center of Excellence (TAMCoE) in Chennai

With its new market reach and its potential disruption value, this technology has had many MNCs and large corporations investing in it as the next big growth opportunity. Companies like GE and Siemens have started their own divisions with a strategy to drive and be masters in this field.

Compared to the media attention on the negative aspect of 3D printing caused by the assassination of Shinzo Abe, some of the positive developments in the same field that happened in recent times in Tamil Nadu have not been picked up by the mainstream media.

Agnikul Cosmos, a chennai-based startup, which got a patent for an additive-manufactured rocket engine and has generated a lot of interest in the aerospace and defence sector. It was part of a similar set of startups incubated by IIT Chennai.

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Similarly two other companies — Skyroot Aerospace based out of Hyderabad and Pixxel based out of Bangalore — are fast developing technologies to aid fledgling defence and aerospace industries. Significantly, most of these startups were founded by students in various top educational institutions and are mostly located in south India. It is also to be noted that most of their innovation is based on additive manufacturing technology.

While these ventures may be confined to elite schools, what’s more significant is the diversification of this technology across the state and its impact on the larger industrial growth of the state.

On November 8, Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation Limited (TIDCO), a government undertaking, and GE additive, on a joint initiative started an additive manufacturing Center of Excellence (TAMCoE) in Chennai. This has been done under the Industry 4.0 initiative of the state government.

A new and large facility has been set up at Chennai’s Tidel Park in Tharamani focussing on 3 main missions around additive manufacturing technology:

  1. Skill development for supporting local industrial ecosystem development in the state
  2. Creating industry specific knowledge centred primarily around aerospace, but extending also to medical and automotive sectors
  3. Working closely with industry bodies to build a platform for local industry to benefit from the work generated by the CoE

With traditional industries like automotive ancillary, textiles, pumps, and apparels & hosieries facing huge challenges and suffering in recent times, a lot of businesses have either shut down or are doing poorly in the industrial belts of Tamil Nadu. There are also a lot of accusations that these industries are deliberately being led to losses as there is a focus on moving these established industries to Gujarat. Either way, traditional industry sectors are in bad shape due to various factors including increased input and labour cost and a new tax regime.

With these in mind, there is a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs in the state to start small- to medium-scale ventures in the short term in additive manufacturing. The initial investment for additive manufacturing is meagre compared to traditional manufacturing. The limiting factor might be acquisition of the skills required

As for the medical and healthcare sectors, Tamil Nadu has been the preferred destination for medical tourism. Many hospitals in Tier 1 and TIer 2 cities have been treating patients successfully and have a very good name as far as the medical facilities are concerned. Their credibility as a preferred destination has been well established due to the specialised skills of doctors to perform various critical treatments and surgeries. In the light of this, it would be easier to drive the additive manufacturing industry around medical devices and for prosthetics & implants, against such a bankable credential. Further, the skills and a basic framework for the quality assurance and certification can be accomplished with the cooperation of the state government.

With these in mind, there is a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs in the state to start small- to medium-scale ventures in the short term in additive manufacturing. The initial investment for additive manufacturing is meagre compared to traditional manufacturing. The limiting factor might be acquisition of the skills required. But hopefully, with the state government taking on an enabler role, this could be a shot in the arm for the next level of industrial growth in Tamil Nadu.


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