3D Printing – UPSC GS3

3D Printing:
  • 3D printing or additive manufacturing(AM) is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file.
  • 3D printing is the opposite of subtractive manufacturing which is cutting out/hollowing out a piece of metal or plastic with, for instance, a milling machine.
Process of 3D Printing:
  • The process starts with making a virtual design of the object that has to be created.
  • This virtual design is made in a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file using a 3D modelling program (new object) or using a 3D scanner (existing object).
  • Slicing software slices the final model into hundreds or thousands of horizontal layers. When this prepared file is uploaded in the 3D printer, the printer creates the object layer by layer.
  • The 3D printer reads every slice (or 2D image) and proceeds to create the object blending each layer together with no sign of the layering visible, resulting in one three-dimensional object.
Applications of 3D Printing: The 3D printing technology is used for both prototyping and distributed manufacturing with applications in architecture, construction, industrial design, automotive, aerospace, dental and medical industries, biotech (human tissue replacement), fashion, jewellery, education, geographic information systems and many other fields.
Advantages of 3D Printing:
  • Low cost: 3D printing is cheaper than traditional methods of manufacturing.
  • Less Time: Printing of the 3D object can be done directly, differing from the traditional manufacturing where different components had to be joined to form the final product.
  • Efficiency: Generating prototypes with 3D printers is much easier and faster with 3D printing technology.
  • Flexibility: Different materials can be used in the 3D models. This makes it very easy to create construction models or prototypes for a wide variety of projects within many industries.
  • Reduced wastage: AM process produces less waste in comparison with other traditional manufacturing techniques
Issues with 3D Printing:
  • Limited size: The size of objects created with 3d printers is currently limited
  • Limited Raw Materials: With 3D printing being an additive method (layer after layer), the materials available suited for it are limited- ceramics, resin, plastics, etc.
  • Effect on employment: Jobs in manufacturing will be rendered obsolete which will have a negative impact on developing economies.
  • Lack of Standards: Since 3D printing is a very niche and new domain, there are no global qualifications and certification norms.
  • Hesitation in Adoption: Another challenge is to convince the industry and ministries to push for its adoption in their respective sectors as any new technology, which is not understood easily, faces a tough time.
National Strategy for Additive Manufacturing Policy:
  • Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) unveiled this policy.
  • The policy aims to increase India’s share in global additive manufacturing to 5% within the next three years and add USD 1 billion to the gross domestic product.
  • It aims to develop 50 India specific technologies for material, machine and software, 100 new startups for additive manufacturing, 500 new products and train at least 1 lakh new skilled workers.
  • The Policy postulate the tenets of ‘Make in India’ and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ that advocate self-reliance through the technological transformation of the production paradigm.
Way Forward:
  • Promotion of R&D: There is a need to accelerate research at our premier engineering schools on manufacturing machines and methods and encourage the formation of product design centres so that the products are built to suit the Indian environment and consumers.
  • Need for Government Support: There is a need for government support to provide incentives for distributed manufacturing in smaller towns, and for the IT industry to work on creating platforms and marketplaces that connect consumer demands, product designers and manufacturers in a seamless way.
Write a note on the medical and environmental applications of 3D printing technology. (200 Words)
3D printing also known as “additive manufacturing” (AM) refers to various processes to create a 3 dimensional product. Any given shape can be formed by adding various layers of material. It has many useful applications.
  • Prosthetic Hands, limbs for disabled persons and animals can be made with 3D printing.
  •  A “surgical bolt” to facilitate less invasive foot surgery and remove the need for drilling through bone. Printable resins, quaternary ammonium to combat dental diseases.
  • Bio-printing is being explored which can be used to create organs and body parts. (through tissue and biomolecular printing).
  • Such products can be made in a cost effective manner thus giving benefits to consumers.
  • Highly porous pills (high dosage in small pills) have been produced.
  • A handheld sponge has been created that absorbs pollutants. Similarly portable pollution control devices can be built which will help combat pollution.
  • 3-D printing can be used to deliver products like jewellery, toys and other purchases, thus reducing fuel usage, hence reducing pollution.
  • It will lead to less wastage because unlike conventional manufacturing, which is “subtractive” (for e.g. while building a table, one doesn’t use a single log of wood, lot of wood and sawdust is wasted), 3D printing is additive and uses only required material.
This is not to say that 3D printing is problem free. It suffers from initial research and structural drawbacks which when overcome, will usher in an era of unexplored possibilities.

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