Around 2012, 3D printing was touted as the next big thing in technology. A gen-next printing technology in additive manufacturing, it was seen as the future when it comes to precision and durability.
While it took off considerably well in the west, India has been slow in adopting this technology. Slow, but sticking, it is expected to pick up.
Globally, and in India, 3D printers have been used primarily in medical, architecture, automotive, industrial, aerospace and military sectors with automotive having the largest share in terms of revenue and volume.
While the 3D Printing Materials Market is expected to exceed $9 billion by 2024, 6Wresearch projects Indian 3D Printer Market to touch $79 Million by 2021 with the country giving a boost to manufacturing with its Make in India initiative.
Anshu Prasher of Innoven Capital says that India has seen a lot of service innovation through startups, but very few startups experimenting in the manufacturing space. “While there is scope for it to pick up, applications for it need to be derived. So far it’s still intermediate end users. Eventual application to an end customer is still not there,” he adds.
Startups like 3D’ing and Think3D say that one of the biggest reasons for the delay in adoption in India is the lack of awareness.
And this is probably why these startups focus a lot more on educating the market while providing services.
Currently, in India, startups operating in the 3D printing space operate in two areas – sale of 3D printers and 3D printing as a service.
Hyderabad-based 3D’ing manufactures and sells 3D printers in India. Printers are made at its manufacturing hub in Chennai. Additionally, it also trades, imports and sells printers in categories that is does not manufacture.
The team of 3D'ing
Think3D also operates similarly; it is a marketplace for branded 3D printers from across the globe.
“For those who know about 3D printing, a lot of them are brand specific. At the same time there are also people who want printers in a particular size and dimensions. And for such requests, where there no brands making it at a low cost, we custom build it for them,” says Prudhvi Reddy, founder of Think3D.
However, while 3D’ing makes its printers in India, Think3D gets them made and imported from China.
Surendranath, cofounder of 3D’ing, says that on an average 3D printers they sell start from around Rs 30,000, and could go up to lakhs and crores of rupees depending on the requirement, materials used and the use-case.
At Think3D, printers are prices at anywhere from Rs 35,000 to a few lakhs for plastic and Rexene machines.
Apart from the sale of 3D printers, 3D printing as a service sees a lot more demand for these startups in India. This is probably because not many are still aware of building or using a 3D printer.
Automotive makes up a huge client base for 3D’ing which counts Automobile majors like Renault, Nissan, Hero as its clients. Apart from that there are also clients like Phillips, LG, Saint Gobain and L&T.
3D'ing's 3D printer
Medical devices has also been seen as an area where 3D printing as a service could be applied in a large way.
While 3D’ing has only 5% of its clients coming from this sector, Think3D has a dedicated brand called Thinklife, where it actively engages with doctors and medical professionals and makes custom medical products based on a patient’s scanned data.
Think3D also has a lot of colleges on board, where it supplies design solutions and machines.
While most of the 3D printing startups operate in the B2B space, there is a small clientele in the B2C sectors like product developers, hobbyists, artists.
3D’ing charges Rs 5 per minute of the machine time for 3D printing as a service. Think3D, on the other hand, evaluates based on the design, time and material used to determine the price.
Surendranath says that 3D printing as a service brings in the most number of customers. And while 3D printers may bring in a larger chunk of revenue, printing as a service sees a lot more volume and higher margins in his business.
The same is the case for Think3D as well. Prudhvi says that while printing as a service brings in more customers, the ticket size is very small. In terms of value, hardware sale is higher.When it comes to service, most demand for 3D’ing comes from a product design background. “75% of our clients come from a product design background. It could be any industry like automotive, engineering, bottle-making, etc,” says Surendranath.
The team of Think3D
However, as mentioned earlier, the adoption in India is still minimal.
Prudhvi says that there is a technology and expectations mismatch in terms of cost, speed and quality. People are not ready to pay the premium which comes with the quality of 3D printing. Moreover, people don’t understand that 3D printing is not like printing on paper. It takes time.
Printing a product can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours depending on the material and size of the product. However, people want it quickly.
Think3D's 3D printer
But awareness is increasing. People are beginning to understand the use cases.
“Business is sticking but slow. When we started, we used to get one or two calls a week but now we get 50+ enquiries in a day. The problem is that hype was too much a few years ago. But business has definitely grown,” says Surendranath.
This is why startups in this space spend a lot more time educating the market as against marketing
3’Ding conducts classes every weekend to educate people on 3D printing. Think3D too conducts classes across six to nine locations. The idea is to educate people on what 3D printing is, what the industry applications, uses and techniques are.
Bengaluru-based startup Brahma3 founded by Arvind Nadig and Nikhil Velpanur also focuses largely on setting up of advanced labs in engineering institutes. These labs are a combination of technology tools and makerspaces.
“The idea is to harness the creative and entrepreneurial talent from the student pool. One notable outcome of these labs and internship programmes was the building of prosthetic hands for young handicapped children,” says Arvind.
Brahma3's 3D printer
Anshu Prasher says that the industry needs to develop a lot more. “For 3D printing as an industry to take off there has to be a compelling use case where 3D printing as a technology trumps everything else. Once that happens, adoption will pick up.”
3D’ing is now working on coming up with 3D printers for every market like jewellery, automobiles, etc. In the long run, it wants to develop a network to connect 3D printers and make them more technology oriented, such that when an order comes, it can automatically be pushed onto a 3D printer.
Think3D feels there will be many niche players coming in, with there being industry specific players. It wants to invest more into services and look at developing more vertical-specific brands like Thinklife.
In fact, Think3D recently signed a contract with the Andhra Pradesh government to set up and operate a world-class 3D printing facility at the AP Medtech Zone Limited (AMTZ) for which it will be investing $6 million.
Given the fact that India is only at the tip of the iceberg, the scope for these startups to exploit this space is very large.
This article has been produced with inputs from T-Hub as a part of a partner program.