2021 MAY 20

Mains   > Science and Technology   >   Everyday Science and Technology   >   3D printing


  • Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recently inaugurated the country’s first 3D printed house at IIT, Madras.


  • Popularly known as 3D printing, Additive Manufacturing (AM) is defined as the technology that constructs a three-dimensional object from a digital 3D model by adding material layer by layer.
  • The deposition and solidification are controlled by computer to create a three-dimensional object.


  • The addition of material can happen in multiple ways. The common ways are:
    1. Material extrusion: Here, a filament of material is pushed through a heated nozzle, thereby melting it. The printer deposits the material on a platform along a predetermined path, where the filament cools and solidifies to form a solid object.
    1. Powder bed fusion: It is a 3D printing process where a thermal energy source (Eg: laser) will selectively melt and fuse powder particles (Eg: Metal powder) inside a build area to create a solid object.
    1. Vat polymerisation: In this process, a photopolymer is used as the raw material. A light source (like UV light) selectively cures the photopolymer resin in a vat, thereby creating a solid object. (A photopolymer is a polymer that changes its properties when exposed to light.)
  • Most commonly used material in 3D printing are:
    • Thermoplastic polymers: Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polycarbonate (PC) and polylactic acid (PLA).
    • Metals: include precious metals like gold and silver to strategic metals like stainless steel and titanium.
    •  Bio materials: Eg: Stem cell tissues
    • Ceramics


  • Reduces production cost and time:
    • Conventionally manufactured part requires a number of processes like casting, forging, machining, drilling, and welding etc. whereas the same part can be produced by using AM in a single processing step.
  • Create complex objects:
    • 3D printing has the ability to print complex shapes and interlocking parts without the need for any form of assembly. This in turn helps in creating light-weight and more efficient parts.
  • Minimal wastage:
    • In the traditional manufacturing processes, based on subtractive techniques, the final product is manufactured through cutting or drilling an initial object, thus leading to a substantial loss of material. But in 3D printing, as the construction material is added layer after layer, the waste is almost zero.
  • Customisation freedom:
    • Traditional production methods relied on moulds and cutting and this makes customizing a very time-consuming process. As 3D printing is perfect for one-off productions and building single parts in one process, it offers the ability of customisation.
  • Production on demand:
    • 3D printing offers the ability to produce different objects a very small cost and in a short space of time, without the need for specific tooling for each object. This offers businesses a higher level of flexibility.
  • Accessibility:
    • The product’s digital design can be sent over the Internet and printed anywhere. There is already a large depository of ready-to-print designs available in the internet.


  • High initial investment:
    • Since AM technology is still evolving, the equipment and material costs are high. In India, most of the industrial grade AM machines and raw materials need to be imported. Hence, the cost of setting up a AM unit is relatively high compared to conventional system.
  • Limited economies of scale:
    • Unlike traditional manufacturing, the cost of production in 3D printing decreases nominally while printing a large number of objects.


  • Durability and quality:
    • Compared to conventional systems, items produced through 3D printing have a limited surface finish, consistencies in material properties and durability. Most of the objects needs some post processing to before use.
  • Absence of regulations:
    • There are no established industrial standards on the processes or products in 3D printing. This makes it difficult to control the industry in matters such as quality, environmental safety, patent security, safety concerns etc.
    • For example: without regulation, 3D printing can be used to print weapons or counterfeit parts.
  • Technology intensive:
    • The system is heavily dependent on computer systems and skilled manpower - from product design to printing. This not only pushes up the cost of production but also limits its application in developing countries like India.
  • Issue of liability:
    • AM could blur the lines between manufacturers and consumers as consumers themselves can manufacture goods for consumption. Laws and regulations, as they stand today, do not account for such a scenario and hence it may be difficult to fix liabilities in case of an error.
  • Limited options on AM suitable materials:
    • The type of materials that can be used for 3D printing are restricted to few types of plastics and metals. 
  • Promote unemployment:
    • 3D printing requires few, but trained manpower to operate. Hence it can lead to unemployment, particularly in small and medium enterprises.


  • Prototyping:
    • The first and by far the largest application of 3D printing technology is prototype development. Designers and engineers can save time and money by having their prototypes printed instead of machined.
  • Industrial:
    • Due to its ability to produce complex and light weight parts, AM is largely employed in the aerospace and defence industries. Besides them, automotive, electronics and consumer goods industries are also increasingly adopting 3D printing for tool making and spare parts productions.
  • Healthcare:
    • Bioprinting technology can be used to create artificial living tissues that can mimic natural tissue characteristics. It has great potential for regenerative medicine: Bioprinters could create cartilage, skin, and bone, as well as blood vessels and cardiac patches.
    • Due to the geometric freedom afforded by AM, cost effectiveness and the ability to provide more personalised patient care, devices such as prosthetics and implants can be produced faster and more affordably than with traditional manufacturing methods.
  • Education:
    • Schools are incorporating 3D printing methods into their curriculums. It bridges the gap from ideas and images on a page, thereby enhancing the cognitive skills of youth.
  • Construction:
    • 3D printing applications are used in construction, like extrusion (concrete/cement, wax, foam, and polymers) and additive welding.
  • Food industry:
    • In the food sector, 3D printing is widely investigated across areas such as customized food designs and personalized nutrition.
  • Recreational:
    • With the advent of low-cost 3D printers, people have been using them for their personal recreation. Some of the more popular models created are artistic items, jewellery and toys.


In comparison to leaders such as the US and China, AM has not seen as much traction in India. However, it has generated considerable interest in the Indian academic and manufacturing ecosystem.




  • Facilitate ‘Atmanirbhar bharat’:
    • Recent geopolitical and economic instabilities due to COVID-19 has exposed the fault lines in global supply chains. India can use this opportunity to proactively advocate self-reliance by developing strategies and roadmaps for adopting Advance Manufacturing technologies.
  • Democratization of innovation:
    • AM promotes democratization of innovation by empowering individuals to create and actively participate in the global value chain. This can benefit India’s MSME sector and young entrepreneurs.
  • Encourages sustainable development:
    • AM results in a considerable reduction in use of raw materials and also facilitates development of new materials and technologies which are more energy and resource efficient. These advantages would enable India to alleviate its carbon footprint and increases its energy security.
  • Crisis management:
    • During the COVID-19 crisis, 3D printing was used for creating specialised surgical instruments and medicals devices such as ventilators, nose swabs and face shields.
    • AM aided construction can be used to quickly rebuild areas affected by disasters like cyclones and floods.  


  • National Strategy for Additive Manufacturing, 2020:
    • MeITY is working on finalising a national strategy. The strategy aims at promoting creation of a conducive ecosystem for design, development and deployment, and to overcome technical and economic barriers for local manufacturers to seamlessly adopt Additive Manufacturing.
  • Atal Innovation Mission:
    • Under the mission, Atal Tinkering Labs have been set up, where do-it-yourself (DIY) kits on technologies like 3D Printing are installed for school students to learn to create innovative solutions.
    • As part of the programme, initiatives such as 3D design challenges were also launched.
  • “Maker Village”:
    • It is a Government- Academia collaboration between MeitY, IIITM-K, Government of Kerala and Kerala Start-up Mission.
    • The institute provides facilities for ideation of product development in Industrial 3d Printing and Plastics facility, among others. It also provides financial assistance and co investment opportunities.
  • National Institute of Electronics & Information Technology, Aurangabad:
    • The institute has established a 3D printing Manufacturing Lab and a certificate course in 3D Printing.
  • Public-Private collaborations:
    • Department of Heavy Industries has collaborated with Wipro to build India’s first industrial grade 3D printer.
    • Stratasys has announced a collaboration with NTTF (Nettur Technical Training Foundation) to launch India’s first additive manufacturing certification course.
  • 3D printing centres of Excellence:
    • Various states have started to establish centers of excellence in collaboration with international institutions and industries. Eg: HP has signed an MoU with the Government of AP to build a Centre of Excellence for 3D printing.
  • Addwize”:
    • An additive technology Adoption & Acceleration programme by Wipro to encourage metal Additive Manufacturing (AM).


To position itself as a pioneer in additive manufacturing, India must create a necessary ecosystem. To attain this, a national strategy, which emphases on creating necessary regulations, skilled manpower, research ecosystem, Supply Chain Development etc is the need of the hour.


Q. What do you understand by 3D printing. How can India benefit from this technology?