2024 MAY 12

Mains   > Science and Technology   >   Everyday Science and Technology   >   3D printing


GS 3 > Science and Technology   >   3D printing


  • Union Recently, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully tested a liquid rocket engine made with the help of additive manufacturing technology, commonly known as 3D printing.


  • The engine, PS4, which is used as the engine for the fourth stage of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), was redesigned by ISRO for production using 3D printing.
  • The technology helped ISRO bring down the number of parts in the engine from 14 to a single piece. The space agency was able to eliminate 19 weld joints and saved 97% of raw material. It also reduced the overall production time by 60%.


  • Popularly known as 3D printing, Additive Manufacturing (AM) is defined as the technology that constructs a three-dimensional object from a digital 3D model by adding material layer by layer. The deposition and solidification are controlled by computer to create a three-dimensional object.
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  • Unlike traditional subtractive manufacturing, which carves out objects from a larger block of material—as Michelangelo did when he famously carved the colossal statue of David from a single block of marble—3D printing builds objects layer by layer from the ground up. This process utilizes a variety of materials including plastics, composites, and biomaterials to produce items with diverse characteristics in terms of shape, size, rigidity, and color.


  • Reduces production cost and time: Conventionally manufactured part requires a number of processes like casting, forging, machining, drilling, and welding etc. whereas the same part can be produced by using AM in a single processing step.
  • Create complex objects: 3D printing has the ability to print complex shapes and interlocking parts without the need for any form of assembly. This in turn helps in creating light-weight and more efficient parts.
  • Minimal wastage: In the traditional manufacturing processes, based on subtractive techniques, the final product is manufactured through cutting or drilling an initial object, thus leading to a substantial loss of material. But in 3D printing, as the construction material is added layer after layer, the waste is almost zero.
  • Customisation freedom: Traditional production methods relied on moulds and cutting and this makes customizing a very time-consuming process. As 3D printing is perfect for one-off productions and building single parts in one process, it offers the ability of customisation.
  • Production on demand: 3D printing offers the ability to produce different objects a very small cost and in a short span of time, without the need for specific tooling for each object. This offers businesses a higher level of flexibility.
  • Accessibility: The product’s digital design can be sent over the Internet and printed anywhere. There is already a large depository of ready-to-print designs available in the internet.


  • High initial investment: Since AM technology is still evolving, the equipment and material costs are high. In India, most of the industrial grade AM machines and raw materials need to be imported. Hence, the cost of setting up a AM unit is relatively high compared to conventional system.
  • Limited economies of scale: Unlike traditional manufacturing, the cost of production in 3D printing decreases nominally while printing a large number of objects.                  
  • Durability and quality: Compared to conventional systems, items produced through 3D printing have a limited surface finish, consistencies in material properties and durability. Most of the objects needs some post processing to before use.
  • Absence of regulations: There are no established industrial standards on the processes or products in 3D printing. This makes it difficult to control the industry in matters such as quality, environmental safety, patent security, safety concerns etc. For example: without regulation, 3D printing can be used to print weapons or counterfeit parts.
  • Technology intensive: The system is heavily dependent on computer systems and skilled manpower - from product design to printing. This not only pushes up the cost of production but also limits its application in developing countries like India.
  • Issue of liability: AM could blur the lines between manufacturers and consumers as consumers themselves can manufacture goods for consumption. Laws and regulations, as they stand today, do not account for such a scenario and hence it may be difficult to fix liabilities in case of an error.
  • Limited options on AM suitable materials: The type of materials that can be used for 3D printing are restricted to few types of plastics and metals. 
  • Promote unemployment: 3D printing requires few, but trained manpower to operate. Hence it can lead to unemployment, particularly in small and medium enterprises.


  • Prototyping: The first and by far the largest application of 3D printing technology is prototype development. Designers and engineers can save time and money by having their prototypes printed instead of machined. For example, Indian startups, like Imaginarium and 3Ding, are pioneering in providing rapid prototyping services to sectors ranging from jewelry to automotive.
  • Construction Sector: The construction of India's first 3D-printed post office in Bengaluru by Larsen & Toubro and IIT Madras, completed in just 43 days, highlights 3D printing's transformative potential in the construction sector. This example showcases how 3D printing technology can significantly accelerate the building process, reduce costs, and increase efficiency in public infrastructure development. Also, 'Amaze 28’, Kerala's first 3D printed building, was constructed in just 28 days at 75% reduced labour cost.
  • Industrial: Due to its ability to produce complex and light weight parts, AM is largely employed in the aerospace and defence industries. Besides them, automotive, electronics and consumer goods industries are also increasingly adopting 3D printing for tool making and spare parts productions. For example, companies like Wipro 3D are making advances in aerospace and defense sectors by producing lightweight and complex components.
  • Healthcare: In healthcare, 3D printing, particularly bioprinting, supports regenerative medicine by creating tissues like cartilage, skin, and bones that mimic natural properties. This technology speeds up the production of customized medical devices such as prosthetics and implants, making them more cost-effective. An example is Anotomiz3D, a Mumbai-based startup, which has enhanced surgical accuracy and safety in over 1200 surgeries by producing detailed anatomical models from patient scans for pre-surgical planning.
  • Education: Besides enhancing cognitive skills, 3D printing fosters creativity and innovation among students by allowing them to bring their abstract concepts into tangible forms. For example, several Indian educational institutions like IITs and NITs have integrated 3D printing labs into their curriculum, encouraging students to explore and innovate in various fields including robotics and biomedical engineering.
  • Food Industry: 3D printing can revolutionize the food supply chain by allowing for the efficient production of food in urban settings, reducing transportation needs and promoting food security. Culinary creative studios and startups in India are experimenting with 3D printed chocolates and confectioneries, offering customized designs for consumers.
  • Recreational: 3D printing democratizes the creation of custom items, allowing individuals to design and produce items tailored to their personal preferences or needs. For instance, many hobbyists and small businesses use 3D printers to create unique pieces of art, jewelry, and toys, showcasing the cultural richness and diversity of India through bespoke items.



  • National Strategy for Additive Manufacturing: The National Strategy for Additive Manufacturing, initiated by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) in 2021, was officially released in February 2022. This strategic initiative is designed to boost India's capabilities in 3D printing and additive manufacturing, aligning with the national objectives of technological advancement and economic growth. The strategy outlines ambitious goals to propel India as a leader in this advanced manufacturing domain. By 2025, it seeks to achieve a 5% share of the global additive manufacturing market, which could contribute nearly US$1 billion to India's GDP. The targets include establishing 100 new startups, developing 50 India-centric technologies, and creating 1 lakh skilled jobs. Additionally, there are plans to develop 500 additive manufacturing product
  • Addwize”: An additive technology Adoption & Acceleration programme by Wipro to encourage metal Additive Manufacturing (AM).
  • Samarth Udyog: Part of the Industry 4.0 initiative by the Ministry of Heavy Industries, Samarth Udyog aims to improve the competitive edge of Indian manufacturing, which includes the integration of 3D printing technologies.
  • Make in India 2.0: This initiative aligns with the Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self-Reliant India) vision, positioning India as a global hub for 3D printing, fostering advancements in technology and manufacturing capabilities.
  • International Collaborations: The government has partnered with global institutions like Applied Materials to set up state-of-the-art 3D printing research centers, enhancing the technological framework and capabilities in India.
  • Defence Sector Applications: Recognizing the strategic advantage of 3D printing, defense organizations such as the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) are incorporating this technology for component production.
  • Atal Innovation Mission: Under the mission, Atal Tinkering Labs have been set up, where do-it-yourself (DIY) kits on technologies like 3D Printing are installed for school students to learn to create innovative solutions.As part of the programme, initiatives such as 3D design challenges were also launched.
  • Healthcare Innovations: Spearheaded by the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), a 3D printing grand challenge has been launched to develop localized and innovative healthcare solutions.
  • Skill Development Programs: The National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), along with central and state governments, have initiated various training programs focused on 3D printing. These are prominently featured in institutions like Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendras, enhancing the skill set of the Indian workforce in this emerging technology.
  • “Maker Village”: It is a Government- Academia collaboration between MeitY, IIITM-K, Government of Kerala and Kerala Start-up Mission. The institute provides facilities for ideation of product development in Industrial 3d Printing and Plastics facility, among others. It also provides financial assistance and co investment opportunities.


  • Enhanced Research and Development: Increasing investment in R&D can lead to innovations in 3D printing technologies, making them more efficient, cost-effective, and versatile. Collaborations between academic institutions, industry, and government bodies should be encouraged to foster innovation and address specific industry needs.
  • Infrastructure Development: Establishing more specialized centers of excellence and fabrication labs equipped with the latest 3D printing technologies can provide necessary infrastructure for research, development, and commercialization of 3D printed products.
  • Regulatory Frameworks: Developing a robust regulatory framework can help standardize quality, ensure safety, and foster consumer confidence in 3D-printed products. This framework should address intellectual property rights, quality assurance, and environmental impacts.
  • Skilling and Education: Expanding educational programs to include 3D printing and additive manufacturing in curricula from school to university level can equip the future workforce with necessary skills. Furthermore, vocational training programs can be tailored to enhance the capabilities of current industry professionals.
  • Market Development and Public Awareness: Increasing awareness about the advantages and potential applications of 3D printing through workshops, seminars, and demonstrations can stimulate market development. Public-private partnerships can play a crucial role in promoting the adoption of these technologies in traditional industries.
  • Incentives for Startups and SMEs: Providing financial incentives, subsidies, or tax benefits for startups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) engaged in 3D printing can encourage entrepreneurship and innovation. This can include support for procuring equipment, technology transfer, and accessing new markets.
  • Expansion into New Sectors: While 3D printing has seen adoption in sectors like aerospace, healthcare, and automotive, there is significant potential in areas such as consumer goods, education, and construction. Tailored strategies can help expand the technology's reach into these new sectors.
  • Sustainability Practices: Encouraging the use of sustainable materials and promoting the recyclability of products can enhance the environmental benefits of 3D printing. This aligns with global movements towards reducing waste and promoting circular economy practices.


Q. What do you understand by 3D printing? How can India benefit from this technology? (10 marks, 150 words)