Ever since reports of shortage of face masks, PPE and ventilators have come out, 3D printing firms or institutes with a machine have come forward to fulfil those requirements with whatever limited resources and manpower they had. Doctors and hospitals are working closely with them to get the products customised as per their requirements. In a telephonic call with Mint, Rajiv Bajaj, Managing Director, Stratasys India and SEA elaborates on the company’s involvement in 3D printing initiatives in India, tie-up with a leading Indian university and the advantage of being a global 3D printing firm in Indian 3D printing space.
The way 3D printing community has come forward in India to help doctors and caregivers is incredible. In what way is Stratasys involved with these initiatives?
Beauty of 3D printing is that there is no fixed way of manufacturing. So if there is a problem they can just redesign the product and start printing in the next few hours. Coming to our involvement, currently there are a lot of formal discussions going on about design of ventilator design, face masks and other personal protection equipment. Similarly, there are lot of informal groups that are working in the country to come out with a viable solution. There are over 100 groups on WhatsApp where IIT and NIT students are collaborating on designs for medical equipment. Doctors too are part of these groups and they are helping them by validating these designs. We are part of both formal and informal groups.
For instance, when National Institute of Technology Karnataka, Surathkal reached out to us for assistance with development of some ventilator splitters as their 3D printer wasn’t giving them the desired output, we took permission from authorities to open our office and send our industrial printers along with materials. They utilised them to come out with 3D printed components for circuit splitters, floor regulators and PPE. They have installed our printer at George hospital so they can print splitters close to the ventilators.
Stratasys has recently partnered with GNA University, Punjab. Can you elaborate on the nature of this partnership?
GNA University is our existing customer and they are using our 3D printer for a lot of industrial and educational applications. During this time, they wanted to extend the same for face masks and visor design. Stratasys has opened up our designs for visors and face masks, allowing anybody to download the STL and print them. The next step is to enable them to induction mould the same design to increase the volumes to meet the demand they have been facing.
Does being a global company active in various countries during crisis help in dealing with the challenges faced by 3D printing community in India?
We were able to utilise the best practices that we learned in other places like China and Hong Kong. Our company came up with some ready designs for face masks and visors, and we put it out for use by anyone. People across the globe, including India, have downloaded those designs and manufactured them using the 3D printers they have. In addition to all this, we are also working with some top tier automotive companies who have 3D printers for manufacturing automotive components. We are helping them print masks and create prototypes for ventilators. Also, we have special materials which are certified for touch with the human skin.
Did you face any shortage of printing material due to supply chain disruption and lockdown? How did you manage the shortage?
There have been some challenges, but we were able to deal with them through collective efforts. Whatever stocks we had in our offices we have made them available to our customers. Similarly, whatever stocks our partners had were also made available to the customers. We have an install base almost 900 printers in the country. And all our customers we have reached out for machine or parts have been very forthcoming in supporting these efforts for the industry.
There is a huge shortage of medical equipment and the initial supply of 3d printed equipment has been very low. What is potential for scaling up to produce more?
3D printing, by virtue of the way the technology works, is best suited for batch production kind of scenario. When there are requirements of mass production running into lakhs, you have to combine the benefits of 3D printing technology with conventional manufacturing. However, during lockdown regular manufacturing setup will not be available to them. To meet immediate requirements of PPEs and medical equipment, hospitals can install 3D printers on the premises and customise them according to their requirements.
Do you think the current crisis will boost adoption of 3d printing in India?
We don’t want to see the pandemic as an opportunity. But looking at the broader understanding of what does one need to quickly ramp up product design development and make changes on the fly as the situation demands, people have started to realised that 3D printing can be of great use as they can work out alternatives in short span of time.