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NEW DELHI : The National Strategy on Additive Manufacturing, which aims to add $2 billion-$3 billion to India’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025, is likely to give a massive boost to the nascent 3D printing ecosystem and make the country a global hub for design, material and manufacturing of 3D printers, especially if the government announces some incentives, said industry experts. 

“Additive manufacturing will get mainstream focus because of this and that is a good thing," said Swapnil Sansare, founder and chief executive, Divide by Zero, a Mumbai-based 3D printer manufacturer. 

Jitendra Kumar, managing director, Andhra Pradesh Med-tech Zone Ltd (AMTZ), said a national policy is not only crucial for its strategic long-term goals, but also for the short-term gains. India’s first centre for excellence to manufacture surgical equipment by leveraging 3D printing has been set up at the AMTZ campus, which would help reduce our dependence on imports from Pakistan and Germany, he added.

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is the process of manufacturing a three-dimensional object from a digital file. 

The automotive and electronics industry have been the biggest users of the technology, while healthcare is making rapid strides. 

3D printers, for instance, were used to overcome the shortage of face masks, shields, ventilators and test kits during the pandemic.

According to Monesh Dange, partner and regional consulting markets leader, EY, the government hopes startups to lead the initiatives in this segment. 

“But, if you have to set up a 3D printer manufacturing unit, you have to prepare machines, calibrate them and build embedded software. All that will require a fair bit of initial investment. The natural lure for startups to put up something in 3D printing is far more expensive compared with other segments." 

Therefore, the scale the government wants cannot be achieved through startup hubs alone; support from global companies will be key to achieving the goal, Dange said. 

“The government said they want 50 India-specific technologies. They also clearly realize that the know-how has to come from west to east and then it can be built on further here." 

“We already have some experience of having supplemented global players in their R&D activities in India. So the elementary know-how exists, which will serve as the platform for growth," he added.

According to the ministry of electronics and information technology, India’s 3D printing industry accounts for just 1.4% of the global spending, while the US is the leader with a 36% share, followed by the EU at 26% and China at 14%.

That said, India can make quick strides in material development and design if “solid indigenous technology can be coupled with the right set of material supply chains, design know-how and economic strategies", said Sansare. “For manufacturing, we are still dependent on other countries for electronics, laser and optical systems and other precision component manufacturing. Since the technology is evolving and adoption is not at full-scale, we can see India becoming a manufacturing hub for additive manufacturing systems in three-five years." 

Considering that India is a major information technology services hub, it can achieve its true potential by adopting additive manufacturing, said Dange, adding that artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) will play a key role in achieving these goals.   “If you have AI and you embed IoT into your 3D printer, products functionalities will evolve and IoT devices will automatically pick up changes in patterns or malfunctions in the equipment, and then circle it back using AI into the 3D printing infrastructure so that the next generation of the software auto-incorporates all feedback from previous models," 

Dange, however, said the government must announce incentives as part of the national strategy to encourage mass adoption of additive manufacturing to boost the 3D printing ecosystem in India.

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