Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Is 3D Printing geared up for serious manufacturing?

What is serious manufacturing? Serious manufacturing consists of serious customers who pay you to run your business and expect from you as a supplier serious commitments in terms of quality, deadlines, production capacity, price, logistics etc. When i take a look around me and casually pick up 5 products that go through serious manufacturing - for instance : plastic bottle, shoes, television, mobile phone and the dashboard of my car. Now how many of these products can now be seriously manufactured by additive manufacturing or 3D Printing as it is now popularly called. The answer is "None". The fact is additive manufacturing still is used by engineers to a great extent in rapid prototyping and to some extent for customized products. For 3D Printing companies to able to replace the conventional manufacturing systems, there is still a long way to go and if they do so they can grow exponentially. But the fact of the matter, the current technologies are still way away from achieving this in terms of production capacity and cost of manufacturing. There has to be an Einstein in 3D Printing who takes this technology to a different level, people who think differently coz currently its all about milking the cash cows rather than focussing what the industry needs in real terms. The future of manufacturing would definitely be customized products where each product or atleast a batch of products will be customized for a specific market and additive manufacturing can play a big role in achieving this. Like most technology buffs, i am waiting for the Eureka moment where i see a breakthrough technology in this domain but currently i see only wannabe companies taking advantage of patents getting expired and projecting millions of dollars of revenues just because they have assembled a prototype based on open source technology. A couple of technologies have the potential to achieve this but not with the current setup.
The next decade will decide whether this technology has really the potential to replace conventional manufacturing systems or is it just a technology suited for custom manufacturing. There have been serious entrants in this domain and it would be exciting to see this technology closely over the next decade. To all the CEO's of 3D Printing companies " The world is watching you, so gear up"

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The New Big Cad/Cam Opportunity in India

Over the past decade or a bit more, i have witnessed Cad/Cam technology have an impact over many industry sectors. Of course, the initial adoption started with the automotive companies moving from drawing boards to Autocad to 3D Modeling using feature based design. For automotive, the results were huge that translated directly to their top line results. Now, with CAD/CAM and other systems in place, automotive companies are able to produce better designs much faster than they could have ever imagined. But the actual beneficiary to this was the end user, who over the past decade had a much better driving experience and had new models arriving every year from different companies. All this could never have been possible without Cad/Cam.

The adoption of Cad/Cam by automotive companies cascaded a demand from their suppliers and other engineering companies who realized the importance of Cad/Cam adoption and slowly started to adopt the same. As a result, they were able to reduce costs, enhance product quality and also reduce the entire product lifecycle time. I myself have witnessed the adoption of Cad/Cam in many sectors starting to automotive to industrial and now to jewellery. Jewellery industry too now has a sizeable adoption of Cad/Cam. Although the larger companies have adopted the technology long back, smaller jewellers including family run firms and even retailers and now looking at Cad/Cam and the adoption is now increasing day by day. There is a huge opportunity in this segment too.

But the big Cad/Cam Opportunity today is in the dental field. In India, the dental industry is still 95% using low technology and Cad/Cam can revolutionise this. With the emergence of new dental materials that are far superior than the conventional ones, it will surely drive the demand. Also, Cad/Cam offers unmatched accuracy and quality that a patient would demand once he experiences the result. There are some significant and key benefits that Cad/Cam technology can offer to the dentist and those are accuracy, speed of delivery, reliability of results and lower manual intervention during the operation. For the patient, it offers a reliable implant or restoration that is customised as per their anatomy and therefore will be long lasting and painless. Also, newer materials like zirconia or glass ceramics offer strengths that are far superior to conventional materials. 3D printing using wax based systems are also used for producing complex implants, restorations and cast partials. Typically, today only about less than 5% of dental restorations and implants are produced using Cad/Cam technology, hence there exists a huge opportunity for Cad/Cam penetration in this segment as well. Hopefully the next decade will see a lot more of Cad/Cam in the dental labs and lot less patients complaining about the broken restoration.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Implementation is the Key!

CAD/CAM has great potential in the next couple of decades. Various segments are now experimenting & implementing CAD/CAM much more confidently. When i started marketing CAD/CAM products ( and thats not too long ago which is about 10 years back) the only segment using CAD/CAM & RE/RP were automotive oems, its suppliers and the consumer industry. Products were expensive with 3D softwares costing tens of thousands of dollars and the only companies who could afford it were those who were in dire need of it or those who were asked by their customers to implement it. However a lot has happened over the past decade. Industry segments like dental, medical, fashion, shoe, marine, jewelry, furniture, films and set design are adopting CAD/CAM in a big way. There are many companies now competing with each other which has eventually led to better products, reduced prices and reduced monopoly. I still know how AutoCad dominated the 2D market when they had no competition but now they have to compete with products such as Intellicad, 2D softwares from 3D modeling companies which has been a challenge for them. Same is the case with other companies & brands. They are now in a position where they have to be on their feet for new entrants & plan their pricing/sales strategy accordingly.

But the good news is that the market has grown - and grown multi-folds. So eventually companies in spite of facing competition are growing at a steady pace and will continue to grow in spite of new competition. The customer has many options in every segment of CAD/CAM. A novice user is bound to get confused on choosing the right product coz every day something new is coming up. You may end up buying a product which may not be the right choice or may get obsolete tomorrow. With so many products and brands - differences in prices and sales people looking to push products - the only key would be implementation.  Today there are many companies who focus on selling products but don't understand the true meaning of implementation. Implementation can only happen when the seller is aware of the industry he is selling to - not just box selling. Trust me - in my experience most of the companies who have invested in technology do not utilize it due to lack of knowledge and not due to lack of features in the product. If you want to just make contact lists, why do you need Microsoft Excel, you may just as well use Open Office which is free. Most of the customers try to get a price bargain when they buy a technological product rather than worrying about the implementation part. I mean even if you save a couple of hundred dollars in buying a product, what good is that if you dont use the product to its fullest potential - its a sheer waste of money. I would rather pay the extra hundred dollars and have a complete implementation plan so that i actually am able to get what i want.

The future is bright for CAD/CAM companies & vendors but the key here would be looking at industry verticals and segments and offer a complete implementation of a solution rather than just pushing a product. It doesn't matter which product you buy, but it does matter that you use the product in its fullest potential and not use a smart phone only to receive and make calls.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

And then there were more...

The 3D Printing Industry has seen a lot of activity over the past few years with many new technologies entering the market ( many of which are clones of existing technologies due to expiry of patents ) leading to a great amount of confusion in the minds of a potential buyer. However, the emergence of low cost printers has given the average engineer to experience 3D printing in real time but it is high time, the products have to be consolidated to give the customer some clarity on which products to buy. Mergers & acquisitions have been in the limelight with 3D Systems & Stratasys going on a buying spree with 3D Systems acquiring ZCorp, RapMan, Cube etc & Stratasys acquiring Solidscape & Objet ( although with Objet its more of a stock swap & merger). However, my point is that these acquisitions have created somewhat of a redundancy in the product lines of these companies which has to be consolidated. For eg : A customer who wants to print average quality models would think ten times to go for an expensive printer given the choice of low cost printers like rapman by the same company. Also, a prototype need not be of a specific material ( most of the times ), hence the confusion increases further since there has been a plethora of multi material low cost printers in the market. I would recommend a market specific approach where products such as rapman, botmill etc are consolidated first with limited options catering to specific markets. Also, i see a lot of redudancy in development projects where technologies which are available in the market ( For eg : Digital Light Projection (DLP), Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)) are re-engineered thus leading to products which are redundant & also back to their initial phases. The best they can do is provide an inferior version of the printer at a lower cost thereby creating a threat to the existing business who have perfected their technology.

The entire manufacturing industry needs solutions for making direct parts from additive manufacturing. This requires  companies spending resources on research to perfect the existing technologies rather than offering products with inferior quality & cheaper price. These require significant amount of core research since most of the printers available now cannot produce direct parts & if they can they can't do it economically.

Having said that, I feel the day is not far where we start producing end products directly from CAD models economically & quickly by using additive manufacturing.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

AeroShow India 2011.

Last week i had the opportunity to visit the Aeroshow held in Banglore. Although this was my opportunity to visit, i must say it was a great experience. As we ( me & Bala ) arrived in Bangalore & were traveling down from the airport to the maincity, the entire ambience on the street showed how important the Aeroshow was to the city of Bangalore with huge hoardings on our way in from Aerospace manufacturers including SAAB, Alpha Design, Mahindra Aerospace. We had meetings on the same day, hence we had to schedule our visit to the Aeroshow the next day. 
When we entered the car park, we saw some shuttles & i though maybe that would lead directly to the entrance, hence we took one of them & were happy to not get stuck up in the car near the entrance as in any major trade show, thats a nuisance with a row of cars in a big queue. Although being in India, the driver took us to some other entrance & we had to walk our way back to the main entrance where we saw a huge queue for registrations ( i wonder when will our organizers learn to be more organized in such petty things by simply having more registration counters). Nevertheless, the queue was the same for business visitors & general visitors. We had already registered online but since we did not get a print of the registration email & just got the pin number with us, we had to go to a nearby cyber & get the printout.
However, we were entertained by the fighter jets rocketing though the skies all the way, hence it was not a bad experience. Finally, we entered the show at about 12 noon & spent some time at the booths. Since through Hindustan Magnesium, we are in the business of supplying aero grade magnesium castings, our prime interest was to evaluate the major players in the aero industry & the magnesium usage trends in the same.
The prime exhibitors were from Israel, Russia, France, Sweden, UK, USA, Italy, Germany & India. The major exhibits were UAV's, aero suppliers including electronics, systems, engineering design companies in the booths. Although there were also country specific pavillions displaying their technology in aerospace. UAV  ( Unmanned aerial vehicles) manufacturers seemed to be there in plenty including a couple of India, i guess there is a lot of emphasis these days for these systems in different departments of any country ( just today i read about 24 UAV's being purchased by the Mumbai police for anti-terrorism ). Further, we came across different missiles on display from Russia, Israel & other countries on which we came to discuss about the business of destruction which is pretty ironical because the price of these systems is not based on the material cost but the destructive ability of the system. Some may be purchased and may not be used for years together, so we never would know whether it really works or not. But since we have a defense budget of more than $20 billion dollars every year, a lot of shopping is done on these systems. 
Coming outside the hall, we came across the Mahindra Aerospace booth & it was pretty interesting to know that Mahindra is entering into Aerospace as well. It seems that Mahindra has acquired some aerospace company in Australia & had a commercial 10 seater ( or so ) aircraft on display. On enquiring, i was told it costs 3 Crore and on a first glance, it was not at all impressive. On a closer look, it looked like a toy plane with doors resembling the old fiat car, age old instrumentation which were entirely analog & poor upholstry. I wonder who would spend that kind of money when you can buy much better planes at much less.
The highlight of the show were the fighter jets on display which were taking turns to display their muscle in air. Amongst them were the Rafaele from france, the EuroFighter from European Union, the SAAB from Sweden, the F16's & F18's from USA, the LCA Tejas from India and a couple more. Looking at the air display's i was particularly impressed by the maneuverability of the SAAB fighter jet from Sweden ( they also had a huge booth where they displayed the miniature version of the jet which was awesome ).
Towards the end, we had the opportunity to visit the booths of HAL, ADA, BDL, GTRE & CVRDE & meet some of our old customers from these organizations there, it was great looking at our progress in aeronautical engineering as well, however there are many milestones to be covered. We look forward to working with all these esteemed companies in India & abroad and are extremely delighted to be part of this great industry. 
Looking forward to my next aeroshow & i would love to visit the Paris Aeroshow as well which is in June but i wonder if that would be possible this year.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Future is Light, Hindustan Magnesium Products is born.

We are all part of the "rising fuel price" conversation at some point or another which is an issue we often like to argue about & blame politicians and taxes. However, the fact remains that the fossil fuel resources in this world are limited resources which would at some point of time get depleted and as we approach that scenario, we will be faced with paying higher and higher prices for our consumption. Although a lot of research is being done in exploring alternative fuel systems, the biggest challenge is replacing the same in transportation systems. Nuclear energy offers a promising alternative for electricity generation, however its usage in vehicles is far from reality. Alternative fuel systems like hydrogen, fuel cells, solar would be a viable option in transportation systems, however they will need lighter vehicles to propel. Imagine yourself carrying a metal suitcase with your luggage vs carrying the newer plastic ones. You obviously would spend less energy carrying the latter. The need for lighter transportation systems is imperative & alternatives are limited but promising. Amongst them are carbon fibre structures, magnesium alloy castings, high strength plastics etc. Magnesium offers the highest strength to weight ratio with its weight almost 2/3rd of Aluminum.
A couple of years back, when my friend Bala ( who is more of a techie & quite an engineering genius ) approached me with this concept of setting up a magnesium based foundry, the concept looked appealing. However, there were a lot of challenges including technical & financial. The technical challenges were huge since the know how of casting magnesium is held by only a few companies in the world & is not available off the shelf. Mg is an extremely fussy material to handle in molten stage since it oxidizes almost instantaneously when exposed to atmosphere & reacts violently with water. It can even cause an explosion, however when casted under specific parameters, it offers itself to casting. Now to recognize those parameters for aerospace  & other complex components is a challenge which many companies have taken years to acquire. However, with Bala we managed to cast mg within a year. In the process, we established new processes & techniques which are extremely innovative & due for patent registration. The financial challenges were also as much since the amount of research done required huge inflow of capital.
With the advent of 2011, our concept has finally turned into reality with the registration of Hindustan Magnesium Products Pvt Ltd ( ) as a corporate entity and an order from ISRO to kickstart the new year.
Hindustan Magnesium Products would contribute to a new era of light weight engineering technology catering to industry segments like aerospace, space, defense, automotive, consumer & industrial machinery. Our mission is to make a lighter world.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

3D CAD For Everyone.. I Mean that Literally.

I wouldn't much boast of my recent following of MCAD softwares since lately my company has been more involved in working with jewelry companies rather than engineering companies but until about a couple of years ago, i have been pretty actively following the developments of major CAD softwares around the world. My first experience with 3D CAD was during my college days when i put my hands on I-deas Master Series 8.0 working on an Open GL environment with 1GB of RAM, this was in 2001. I had designed an entire 4 -cylinder engine on the software & it took me almost a month to do that. With that 1 month of experience, i had decided to get into CAD/CAM. Further my first job got me into selling CAD/CAM/CAE softwares to various engineering companies across Western India where we had to demonstrate  these solutions to various small & medium scale companies. To my surprise, i found thousands of companies still using 2D AutoCAD & most of them used pirated licenses. Inspite of convincing the technical features, we were unable to convince the price/benefit ratio since these softwares were priced extremely high ( more than Rs 2,00,000/- ). 
At that stage only companies who had that kind of a turnover & an imperative requirement invested that kind of money. But i found that a vast majority ( almost 95% of the companies ) would go in for 3D CAD if given an affordable solution..... Alibre ( ) has done just that !
My company has been distributing Alibre Design for almost 5 years now, when we tied up with the company, the product was priced around 5 times cheaper than mainsteam CAD softwares, still a very good proposition & we managed to sell many licenses even at that price. Recently, Alibre surprised the world by slashing the Alibre Design software prices by almost 5 times further down. The base software is now available in India at Rs 18,000/- which is even 50% the price of AutoCAD.
The product is very good, although it does not have all the fancy tools, it is a pretty robust software with capabilities as good as any mainstream software. With this price, now even students & professionals can afford to buy a license & for those who can't, they can use the free version of Alibre Xpress which has pretty significant tools  as well...