And then Brahma created… a 3D plastic world

SIBI ARASU | Updated on August 27, 2014

Clone on cue: Nikhil Velpanur and Arvind Nadig with the Brahma3 Anvilat their office in Bangalore Photo: GRN Somashekar

God’s-eye view: The Brahma3 Anvil 3D printer


Two Bangalore entrepreneurs are all set to ship out the first batch of India’s home-grown, commercially viable 3D printers

It was back in 1986 that Chuck Hull discovered and patented the process of stereolithography, or 3D printing as it’s more commonly known. Here, solid objects are made by successively “printing” thin layers of an ultraviolet curable material one on top of the other. While the technology itself has been around for as long as Microsoft Windows, it has seldom been commercially used, until about a few years ago when its benefits were recognised across industries, from the health sector to automobile manufacturing.

In Mathikere, where old Bangalore still lives the way it has for decades, without any of the ‘IT-ness’ of neighbourhoods like Electronics City, Nikhil Velpanur was busy packing for a trip to Jaipur with his “baby” — the Brahma3 Anvil, India’s first commercial 3D printer. “We are taking it to people in Jaipur who want to see if they can print prosthetic limbs using our device,” says the 30-year-old co-creator of the Brahma3 Anvil.

Agencies such as McKinsey see 3D printers as one of the greatest emerging technologies of our times. Velpanur and his long-time friend and business partner Arvind Nadig are leading the way in India, as they get set to ship out their first batch of the Brahma3 next month. “Earlier in 2013, I had a personal tragedy, while Arvind became a father,” Velpanur says. “These incidents prompted us to merge our respective companies and efforts to finally embark on the big project we had been talking about for the last 15 years. That was what got Brahma3 into motion.”

But there were no 3D printers in the country and buying one would require a whopping ₹15 lakh. “We came across an open source community with plans, drawings and schematics to build one. So, in about a fortnight we ended up building a 3d printer here,” says Velpanur. “When it printed — to see a digital file become an actual object on your desktop — was witchcraft… some kind of crazy magic!”

Serial entrepreneurs both — Velpanur launched his own magazine while in college and Nadig set up FOSSI, a management and support company for small and medium manufacturers — they got down to producing the Brahma3 commercially and came up with the first working piece in three months.

The 2ft tall Brahma3 has a nozzle through which plastic pours onto the base, which then descends as the layers are added on. With its transparent glass exterior and plethora of wires, the gizmo has a futuristic appearance. The intricate printing and modelling process can be viewed from start to finish.

So far Brahma3 has churned out a human skull meant for bio labs, a unique wind instrument and custom-designed jewellery. “We have also printed a prosthetic hand, which can be fitted with electronics and wires to make it fully functional. It’s still a work in progress though. We hope to get it right soon and perhaps, share it with the famous artificial limb clinics in Jaipur,” says Velpanur, who prints for us a small abstract figure, the design for which is drawn using an open source programme called Google SketchUp on an Android tab. The printing itself involves feeding a plastic polymer wire or cord into the gadget, which then melts and moulds it into the many layers that form the object. Velpanur explains that other printing methods can be used too. “The structure can have an outer shell and the printer can print a series of honeycomb-like patterns for the internal parts, thus saving on the plastic polymer…”

After launching the Brahma3 in India in October, they took it to the Techcrunch Disrupt Event in Berlin and have since secured 75 orders. At ₹1 lakh, it costs one-tenth of what any similar printer would anywhere in the world. It is also the first 3D printer with an Android operating system, “Because we wanted the printer to be independent, and you don’t need to connect to a computer or learn any complicated software. It works out of the box and is as simple as using a phone,” Velpanur says.

Brahma3’s buyers include dentists, fashion designers and shoemakers. A high-end 3D printer finds great use in architecture, construction, industrial design, aerospace, military, civil engineering, biotech (human tissue replacement), geographic information systems, education and many other fields. Even a household can use it to print furniture at lower cost.

When it comes to retail, the duo — who see themselves as “counterculture” — want to re-imagine the concept. “We don’t believe in things like humongous hoardings and cheesy radio ads to force our brand down people’s throats. We are talking to distributors to stock our products, but we intend to set up ‘experience zones’ soon,” says Velpanur.

With an entire labyrinth of possibilities ahead of them, the creators of the Brahma3 Anvil, regardless of their commercial success, are all set to make a mark for producing a world-class product within a minuscule budget. Asked what the first object they printed was, the Bangaloreans replied, tongue firmly in cheek, “We attempted to print a part that we would use for the next prototype of the printer. That’s the great thing about 3D printers — they can print themselves.”

(With inputs from Tara Rachel Thomas)

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Published on February 14, 2014
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