Revolutionising Construction: Simpliforge's 360o 3D Printing Solutions

Revolutionising Construction: Simpliforge's 360o 3D Printing Solutions

In recent years, there has been significant adoption of technology in the construction industry, transforming traditional practices into more efficient, productive and safer ways of working. From building information modelling (BIM) to drones and robotics, technology is playing a vital role in revol...

In recent years, there has been significant adoption of technology in the construction industry, transforming traditional practices into more efficient, productive and safer ways of working. From building information modelling (BIM) to drones and robotics, technology is playing a vital role in revolutionising the industry. The benefits of technology in construction are numerous, including reducing errors and rework, improving communication and collaboration, enhancing safety and speeding up project delivery times. One startup has leapt ahead and taken on the multi-dimensional 3D printing field by storm. Simpliforge provides 3D scanning, design, reverse engineering, manufacturing, and more. Amit Ghule, Founder and COO, shares more about the company in a virtual conversation. The journey Ghule’s fascination with 3D printing started in 2015 when construction 3D printing had just begun in China. While Ghule was doing his master’s in Boston, co-founder Dhruv Gandhi took the leap and bought 3D printers. “While I was testing the waters, Dhruv pushed me into it and we started off,” elaboratesGhule. “The time difference was an advantage; he would do all the business development in India and I would design through the night. We were able to offer 24/7 availability right off the bat and that got us some good clients.” Initially, the company explored 3D printing with fused deposition modelling and stereolithography (resin-based printing). The first year of Simpliforge was spent researching different applications. “We experimented with prototyping, dye design, game design, jewellery design, set design, reverse engineering, 3D scanning, and more,” reveals Ghule. “At the time, we didn't have the resources for 3D concrete printing.” A key pain point Ghule quickly realised during his time in Boston was that 3D printing is multidisciplinary. “So, Dhruv and I decided to take a 360o approach. By 2019-20, we had acquired a 3D printer manufacturing company and by the time we inaugurated in 2020, the pandemic hit.” He emphasises that developing a deep-tech startup that is capital-intensive was hugely challenging. Nevertheless, the company intensified its efforts in concrete printing amid COVID-19 with the backing of angel investors. The Simpliforge team comprises IIT alumni from various backgrounds such as ocean engineering, naval architecture, mechanical engineering, IT, and more. Along with this, the company also has a team that has worked in senior management roles in EPC companies. The services Simpliforge is positioned as a holistic additive manufacturing solution with turnkey offerings for 3D printing. Prototyping is one of the oldest services offered with applications in medical devices, product development, architectural designs, and more. With manufacturing, because of the company's developed supply chain, it can also provide 3D printers to its customers. The company also provides 3D scanning, design, reverse engineering and manufacturing services. The flagship service is construction 3D printing in ex-situ and in-situ. Ghule adds, “We can either produce the designs inhouse and transport them onsite or take the printing system to the location and print there; it's based on preferences.” The advantage is that the company is endtoend; customers do not have to find other service providers to explore this technology. All Simpliforge’s equipment is indigenously developed. “We have integrated our own systems so we have good control over the hardware and the software.” The team decided to take this one step further and manufacture their own materials as well. Ghule explains that the technology is matured abroad but as these counties do not operate in Southeast Asian countries, they are not aware of the climatic conditions or the business environment. “We did extensive research and the material we developed offers 40MPa strength. Inhouse development has also allowed us the flexibility to tweak the material depending on the climatic conditions of the region.” Simpliforge has gained renown with the inauguration of India’s first 3D printer. Elaborating on how this has added to the company’s success, Ghule says, “We decided to adopt a robotic arm as opposed to a gantry printer due to its limitations in printing. Our robotic arm occupies limited space and can print 8 m around it. We ended up making the largest available option to roll out easier.” The challenges Ghule believes introducing new technology to disrupt the construction industry can be a challenging task owing to its longstanding presence and deep-rooted practices. Adding to this is the fact that construction 3D printing is hardware and capex-intensive upfront. “General awareness is definitely a challenge,” he says. “People are either fascinated or sceptical, and we have to debunk the myths and convince the sceptics.” Ghule points out that construction 3D printing is still fairly expensive compared to conventional methods. And the Indian market being price-sensitive has also raised some hesitancies in adoption. “We also have to sometimes tweak designs to meet regulations; often, that comes with a cost too.” While these challenges may paint a dim picture for 3D printing, the value is derived from other aspects. “The value comes from a reduced carbon footprint, truncated project timelines and less labour-intensiveness. We do have challenges but they’re all solvable with elaborate discussions and patience.” Notable projects Initially, the company started off with proofs of concept by designing a 5×4 ft single toilet unit with a 3D printed roof. Now, the company has evolved into developing a 450 sq ft housing unit to be inaugurated soon. Notably, Simpliforge has to its name the distinction of creating India’s first 3D-printed bridge in collaboration with IIT Madras. “The bridge has been tested a significant amount,” says Ghule. “It is a 5×4 m bridge that can withstand considerable weight.” The company is also involved in some projects in the defence sector. Ghule maintains excited secrecy on some noteworthy projects that are poised to be the first of their kind in India and the world. The next step While a geographical expansion is on the cards for Simpliforge, the company is working towards enhancing its technology even further. “Not a lot of companies are able to build onsite but we are already there,” says Ghule with pride. He touts the technology as the next big thing for sustainability because of its additive nature, less wastage, replacement of cement with a cementitious material, greater productivity and consistent monitoring. The company is looking into different applications with its industry expertise. It is also exploring the Indian subcontinent for expansion. “We are proud to be able to reach this point by being entirely bootstrapped. We are open to the idea of funding but we want to get the timing right.” Are there regulations for 3D printing? Currently, there are no regulations on/for 3D printing, so it is difficult for stakeholders to understand how to work with this technology. “If we take a look at the global scenario, in the US, state-wise regulations differ, so there is a competitive environment to adopt new technologies,” says Ghule. “In Dubai, the municipal corporation has created provisional guidelines for 3D printing. But in India, there haven’t been any incentives to adopt it yet.” On a positive note, there is a recently formed BIS body that will put out regulations for 3D printing. “There are a handful of people who understand the field and what we need,” he adds. “While this technology is still nascent, the industry wants the exploration to happen in a controlled and regulated environment.” - SNEHA IYER

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