3D market enters the Indian personal space
* When Delhi-based product designer Surbhi Panphal, 25, gave her brother a rakhi last August, he was surprised to see a photo of the two of them on it. She had had it 3D printed, for free, as part of a promotional campaign.
* Financial consultant Kaustav N, 32, from Mumbai, wanted to get his wife a unique cellphone case for her new iPhone. So he had one custom-made and 3D-printed, with an image of a lion on the back. It cost him ₹2,200.
* MBA student Rahul Nath, 24, from Calcutta had always dreamed of having six-pack abs. So as a surprise in March, his friends got together and paid ₹2,500 for a 3-inch 3D-printed model — called a 3D selfie — showing his face on a sculpted body. It is still his favourite gift.
Across the country, 3D offerings are getting personal. Once limited to medical, architectural, automotive and industrial applications, the past year has seen more entrepreneurs offering retail 3D-printed products, and more customers buying them.
Driving the market is the fact that 3D-printed products can be customised or even designed from scratch by the buyer.
"In the age of social networking, people want to flaunt more than ever, and anything of their own design is like some kind of signature," says Guruprasad Rao, 49, a former professor of design at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi, who is now director of technology and operations at Imaginarium, a 3D-printing company based in Mumbai.
Among the new companies selling 3D-printing products — all set up within the past two years — are Delhi-based Instapro3D (which makes iPhone cases, wineglass holders, 3D selfies) and Solidry, (keychains, push pins, phone stands, pen stands, 3D selfies etc); Bangalore-based df3d (iPhone cases, keychains, lampshades, chess pieces, metal jewellery); Mumbai-based Cremagine (iPhone cases, 3D selfies, customisable gifts) and 3DShilp (which makes cookie cutters, pen stands, napkin rings and coasters); Hyderabad-based think3D (3D printers and 3D printed models, paperweights, accessories); and Vishakapatnam-based Whooop (3D models, accessories).
The biggest advantage of the 3D-printing process is that it allows the consumer to democratise design. "You need not be a goldsmith or a designer. Anyone with an idea can approach one of these companies and bring it to life," says Prudhvi Reddy, 30, an MBA and co-founder of think3D.
Earlier this year, for instance, Cremagine created a gold-plated water pistol for a Mumbai jeweller. "His family always offers a pichkari during the annual puja to [Hindu deity] Krishna in their hometown in Gujarat. This year, instead of a regular plastic pichkari, they wanted something made of gold," says co-founder Tejas Divan, 26. The final design had a colourful, intricate design and was studded with tiny imitation diamonds.
3D-printed products are becoming especially particular as gifts, because of the novelty factor attached. "It's is a different level of gifting," says Delhi-based student Aanchal Jain, 21, who gave her friend a 3D selfie for his birthday in January. "These products are quick, convenient, and an easy solution for those who are out of ideas and need to find something for someone who has everything."
Solidry alone says they have sold 400 3D selfies in plastic since October, and 125 in sandstone since they launched that option in February. "The USP is that the model looks exactly like the person, down to the last crease on their T-shirt," says co-founder Pranav Prakash, 29.
Behind the boom
A report released in April by market research company 6wResearch has projected that the 3D printing market in India is set to touch $79 million by 2021, driven by demand for decoration and display products, and specialised design.
"We have close to 500 3D printers in India registered with us, up from about 200 in May 2014. India accounts for 3% of our total traffic, increasing 10% month on month," says Bram de Zwart, co-founder and CEO of 3D Hubs, an online platform that connects 3D printer owners with people looking to have things printed.
The market began to open up four years ago, with an increase in homegrown 3D printers due to the expiration of key technology patents. "This has resulted in a fall in printer prices," says Divan of Cremagine.
This company, launched in March, is typical of India's 3D start-ups. Divan has an MBA in marketing, his co-founders are brothers Bakul and Bhavik Soni, both of whom have worked in their family jewellery business.
"We are focussed on the applications of 3D printing. We want to make products that satisfy our target age group of 20 to 35, who are the early adopters of any new technology," Divan says.
Most of the founders of India's 3D printing start-ups are also under 35, like Mumbaiite Ankita Jain, 29, a mechanical engineer and former automotive designer at Infosys in Mysore, who launched 3DShilp two years ago. Or Megha Bhaiya, 24, a former marketing manager at her father's lighting and signage company who launched Instapro3D last month. Or software engineer Prakash and electrical engineer Shantanu Raghav, 26, who set up Solidry last year.
Spreading the word
With the technology now more affordable, the next hurdle will be awareness.
"3D printing is all about the experience. People need to see it happen to really believe that it's possible," says Vaibhav Chhabra, 25, founder of Maker's Asylum, a community makerspace in Mumbai.
So some companies are offering free samples — like Panphal's rakhi, which was made for her by Solidry. Others, like Imaginarium and Cremagine, invite people to their offices to see the technology at work. Think3D conducts monthly workshops. And df3d conducts workshops, participates in education shows and has crafted a short introductory course for school children. "3D printing is the future," says Sumanth Behara, 24, founder of Whooop.
"In the next five years, I see 3D printers becoming as common as photocopying machines."