Indian researchers have developed a 3D metal printer from scratch to cut technology costs

Engineers from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Jodhpur, have developed their own low-cost metallic 3D printing system based on directed energy deposition (DED) technology.

The device is special because it has been largely indigenously developed, which means that all components except the laser and KUKA’s robotic arm are designed and manufactured by the IIT team in India. The project’s main goal was to lower the cost of metallic 3D printing technology in the country, while attracting more users and increasing adoption.

Dr. Ravi Krr, Associate Professor at IIT Jodhpur explains, “The results of our study show that if all the parts needed to make a metal printing machine could be manufactured locally, the cost of a 3D metal printing machine could be reduced by two to three times.”

Suitable for use in the aerospace, defense and other engineering sectors, the Domestic 3D printer is primarily designed for laser cladding and maintenance and repair applications, and for adding material to existing metal components.

IIT Jodhpur researchers with their self-developed metal DED 3D printer. Image via IIT Jodhpur.

3d metal printing cost in india

Additive manufacturing has seen impressive growth worldwide since its debut in the 1980s, but emerging markets such as India have been slow to jump on the bandwagon due to exorbitant costs. In addition to the fact that 3D printers themselves are expensive, importing metal powders from abroad contributes to ongoing operating costs that are simply too high for many small and medium-sized manufacturers.

“Despite the fact that metal 3D printing technology started a few years after the launch of polymer 3D printing, it has not yet seen the explosive growth of the 3D polymer industry, especially in India,” adds Ravi. “The higher product price and more expensive metal powders imported from abroad are among the reasons for the limited growth of metallic 3D printers.”

The IIT team asserts that affordable 3D metal printing technologies, especially those developed in India, will play a major role in helping the nation keep pace with the rest of the world.

IIT metal 3D printer test.  Image via IIT Jodhpur.
IIT metal 3D printer test. Image via IIT Jodhpur.

Original DED 3D Printer

IIT’s 3D printer based on a robotic arm operates on DED technology, a form of 3D printing that takes advantage of a concentrated power source to melt and fuse materials as they are deposited from a nozzle. This power source can be an electron beam or a plasma arc, but this particular model uses the commonly used laser beam.

Capable of 3D printing of metal powders produced in India, the system is said to feature the country’s first variable spot size laser optics that can maintain homogeneity of the laser beam.

In addition, the team developed custom tool path planning software and a coaxial nozzle for the 3D printer. They have also integrated on-site monitoring processes that track melt-sink temperature and thickness of the printed cladding at all times, enabling the realization of high-performance industrial applications.

Ravi said, “Such an initiative enhances the policy decisions of the Government of India under the ‘Atmanirbar Bharat’ initiative.

The printer makes use of a KUKA robotic arm and a laser beam.  Image via IIT Jodhpur.
The printer makes use of a KUKA robotic arm and a laser beam. Image via IIT Jodhpur.

The commercial 3D metal printing space is as active as ever with the launch of the latest system. Just this month, 3D printer manufacturer Velo3D announced the launch of its largest 3D printer to date, the Sapphire XC 1MZ. The laser powder layer incorporation system features a massive build size of 600 mm (Dia.) x 1000 mm, which is nine times larger than an original sapphire and twice the size of an XC sapphire.

Elsewhere, Cranfield University’s WAAM3D recently launched an all-new large format 3D printer running on the company’s proprietary Wire Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) technology. The RoboWAAM metal printer features a massive build size of 2 x 2 x 2 meters and is packed with new sensors to serve customers in aerospace, defense, energy and more.

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Featured image shows IIT Jodhpur researchers with their self-developed metal 3D DED printer. Image via IIT Jodhpur.

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