It is said that South India has always been an early adopter of technology. Living up to the old adage are Coimbatore-based S Naresh Babu and N Santhana Bharathi, managing partners at Rapid 3D Technologies. Their company specializes in rapid prototyping and 3D printing services, powered by a team of highly passionate young individuals with industry experience who want to push manufacturing into the future.
Rapid 3D Technologies currently uses two technologies to do 3D printing—Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and Stereolithography (SLA). Bharathi and Naresh, explain in great detail about their venture and showed us the 3D printing machines in action. “We are very new in the field but we always wanted to do something niche and we got this idea to start our own venture to offer 3D printing services in the country. Although our company is just a year-and-a-half old, we have been able to make some good contacts and recently did an export order,” says Bharathi.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing is the process of making a physical object from a three-dimensional virtual model. This is typically done by an inkjet type of printers precisely laying down many thin layers of a material in succession to build up an object physically. “We use additive manufacturing technology to provide 3D printing services in Coimbatore, focusing on prototyping and low batch production as well as prototyping for investment casting (a process for producing complicated and high surface finish metal components for which a wax mold is normally used). Instead of investing in tooling, foundry companies can choose to 3D print their patterns in a material suited for investment casting. We have the facility to build prototypes up to 600 mm in Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM),” says Bharathi.
Fused Deposition Modeling or FDM uses a continuous bead of thermoplastic filament, laid down on a mobile z-stage to build up a 3D part, layer by layer. It is ideal for rapid prototyping and the production of parts for which long-term stability and durability are key requirements. FDM technology is one of the longest used 3D printing processes. In common with other rapid production systems, FDM systems read data from STL files, which they convert into reference points for reproducing the original design within the printer’s build envelope. The printer heats a continuous thread of thermoplastic filament, of which a fine bead is extruded through a heated tip and laid down on the print bed. When the first layer is complete, the bed steps down and the process repeats.
SLA 3D printing
Stereolithography or SLA is an additive manufacturing process in which an object is created by selectively curing a polymer resin layer-by-layer using a UV laser beam. The materials used in SLA are photosensitive thermoset polymers that come in a liquid form. SLA is the most cost-effective 3D printing technology available in the market. Using SLA technology, high resolution (25 microns) components for industrial, jewellery and miniature models can be developed.
“Quite often customers cannot work on their 3D printing requirements by themselves. So they hire a 3D printing service provider. Companies prefer these services as their project is handled by a team of experts, thus saving the company’s precious time and labor. Not only do we offer shorter turnaround time but also greater speed to market,” shares Naresh.
Currently, Rapid 3D Technologies operates with 5 FDM machines and 1 SLA machine while also providing services for Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) processes. SLS is an additive manufacturing technique that uses a laser as the power source to sinter powdered material. It offers these services to the automotive, casting, medical, plastic injection molding industries and various other industrial verticals across India. “We offer 3D printing services in PLA, PLA+, ABS, ABS+, nylon, PETG, flexible material, investment casting wax both for prototypes and batch productions,” Bharathi shares.
3D printing in various verticals
The airline industry has been a driving force in the evolution of this technology for both prototyping and manufacturing end-use parts. The industry depends on 3D printing to alleviate supply chain constraints, limit warehouse space and reduce wasted materials from traditional manufacturing processes. An example of this is the Airbus, which has a record number of 3D printed parts on their new A350 XWB aircraft, with 1,000+ parts.
In the case of architecture too, 3D printing has been a boon. While traditional methods of making an architectural model would involve the use of foam, cardboard, wire and Perspex sheets, all of which needed to be hand-crafted, 3D printing changed the game by helping architects identify and resolve potential design flaws that would normally occur during the development and construction process. In the automotive sector, rapid prototyping has opened doors for newer, more robust designs as well as lighter, stronger and safer products.
3D printing has also made inroads into the medical field where it helps in tissue and organ fabrication, creation of customized prosthetics, implants and anatomical models. In the education sector, 3D printing allows students to bring ideas to life, going from a sketch on paper to a physical model.