3D printing may turn cheap as patents expire

BANGALORE: A bunch of 3D printing patents expiring this year are likely to open up opportunities for Indian entrepreneurs to build more efficient, high quality printers that can even build objects in metal at a much lower cost.

This is likely to help entrepreneurs like Bangalore-based Prajnay R Boddepalli, 26, who was building a 3D printer along with his friend but postponed plans after realising that some of the technologies he was using could potentially breach existing patents.

Many like Boddepalli are eagerly waiting for the patents to expire later this year. If what happened in 2009 when some major 3D printing patents last expired and brought down prices by a huge margin is anything to go by, the market is likely to see another round of hectic innovations.

Many patents around selective laser sintering (SLS), which makes 3D printing more precise and functional, are among those that are set to expire and bring down costs for the manufacturers.

Even though we’ve built our 3D printer from scratch, we’d rather wait for the major patents to expire than to get into any patent infringement trouble, said Boddepalli, who did his MS in Industrial Engineering from University of Wisconsin before starting his venture last year.

Boddepalli currently uses two 3D printers from US-based Makerbot, a division of Stratasys, to create 3D prototypes for clients, including architects, product design firms and hobbyists.

After the expiry of these patents, Boddepalli expects to sell his in-house developed 3D printer for Rs 50,000, much lower than the $1,799 (Rs 1.07 lakh) he paid for his printers.

Most 3D printers available in India currently are built using open source technology, which limits the quality, size and the materials used for 3D prints.

The expiry of patents would let startups build products that are of finer quality and larger in size, along with the ability to use higher number of materials to print.

Bangalore-based Brahma3, which has already built a printer using its own technology, expects to come up with printers, which could print materials including metal.

Co-founders Nikhil Velpanur and Arvind Nadig’s Rs 1.2 lakh printer currently prints only plastic-based materials. news-ET


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