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Exploring the Revolutionary World of 3D Printing

A chat with a 3D printing specialist, Dr. Sunpreet Singh, Research Fellow at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, National University of Singapore.

I became a scientist because… ever since I was a child, I realized that the world was so much more than what we see or hear. I developed an inclination towards the fascinating concepts of science from gravitation to rotations and revolutions. My curiosities made me ask questions to my science teachers that would leave them baffled. As I grew up, I became keen on exploring the vast universe of scientific concepts on my own and hence, chose to become a scientist.

I chose to work in 3D printing research because… 3D developments have the potential to transform the world. The future of 3D printing is bright and is an increasingly important pillar in the manufacturing resurgence. With increased usage of the technology, conversations about additive manufacturing are a lot more tangible than they were just two years ago. There are growing numbers of use-cases and demonstrable business benefits proving that additive manufacturing can be used as a mainstream manufacturing technology. What can be done with 3D printing isn’t theoretical anymore; it’s a fact.

My current research focuses on… the various aspects of 3D printing technology, including development of in-house feedstock systems, tooling, hybridization of 3D printing with conventional manufacturing processes, shape memory polymers, and biofabrication. Recently, I focused on the development of PPE to contain the COVID-19 virus. Overall, the domain or orientation of 3D printing technology should not be focused on only one aspect to limit its potential. I always welcome novel areas of 3D printing technology and this is the best way to perform innovative research in this field.

A typical day as a Research Fellow starts with… getting up at 6.30 am and getting to work by 8 am. I plan my day/week to fit in experiments, order materials, attend lab meetings, journal clubs, and Skype with collaborators. I spend approximately half of my day/week in the lab, while the rest of the time is spent writing papers, grants, reading papers, reviewing papers for journals, assessing graduate student reports, and attending meetings and seminars. A typical work day would end at 6 pm.

The biggest misconception about 3D printing is probably… the idea that you can print fully functioning organs! It is an active area of research but not yet reality. Other mistaken beliefs are that plastic 3D printing materials are too weak to be used in a manufacturing environment, and that 3D printers are difficult to operate. Although 3D printing has been around since the 1980s, it has often been misinterpreted.

A major challenge in 3D printing is… the lack of standardized machines, and the potential for low-quality products. There are high-end machines that cost millions of dollars to purchase, but cheap ones produce goods that are inferior to those made by traditional manufacturing. There is also a lack of universal standards in the printing technologies – many manufacturers worry about whether their products or parts of products produced via 3D printing will be on par with other manufacturing methods in terms of quality, strength, and reliability. So, they remain wary of adopting 3D printing technology, judging the risks involved to be too great for the benefits.

In my recent book, Additive Manufacturing: Foundation Knowledge for the Beginners, co-authored with Professor Chander Prakash and Professor Seeram Ramakrishna… we elucidate basic concepts in 3D printing. While indeed it is true that a variety of books on additive manufacturing are available, most of them either focus on research breakthroughs or can only be considered as reference materials. Furthermore, being a highly advanced class of technology, it often becomes difficult for young students to grasp the involved technical terminologies. The prime aim of authoring Additive Manufacturing: Foundation Knowledge for the Beginners is to provide a perfect source of introductory reading material, especially for the young students.

The story of how I met my co-authors begins with the School of Mechanical Engineering at Lovely Professional University, India where I first met Professor Chander Prakash. I have worked with him for more than a year and made a strong and long-lasting relationship due to similar research orientation and ideology. Dr. Prakash is a researcher of whom my ideologies, visions, and scientific goals resonate with the most. I have always felt privileged and blessed to have worked with such a brilliant mind. We have collaborated in more than 50 papers together and I must say, we make for a great team! With regards to Professor Seeram Ramakrishna, I met him online for the very first time. This was the time when I requested him for a postdoctoral position under his able guidance. Prof. Seeram is my mentor and guides me on various aspects to strengthen my professional skills. He is a true inspiration and my idol. I hope one day I will be as successful a researcher as he is. I would like to work under his guidance for as long as I’ll be in this profession.

My viewpoint on the statement “the COVID-19 pandemic has shown 3D printing to be the future of the biomedical industry” is… COVID-19 has transformed 3D printing and several companies around the globe are rushing to rapidly produce the much required medical test equipment as well as ventilator components, which certainly acts in favour of the 3D printing industry.

To aspiring young scientists who wish to pursue research in 3D printing I would say… it is a revolutionary technology that could profoundly alter the geopolitical, economic, social, demographic, environmental, and security landscape of the international system. 3D printing is definitely the future of the scientific world. I extend my best wishes and warm regards to all the young, aspiring researchers across the world. [APBN]

About the Interviewee

Dr. Sunpreet Singh is a Research Fellow at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, National University of Singapore, working on the 3D printing of high-performance thermoplastics. He has developed various polymeric feedstock materials for specialized engineering and biomedical applications. During his extensive research experience with 3D printing technology, he has contributed more than 100 research articles in various reputed journals including Springer, Emerald, Elsevier, Wiley, and others. He has filed several patents and edited more than 10 scientific books, including Biomanufacturing (Springer, 2019), 3D Printing in Biomedical Engineering (Springer, 2020), and Functional Materials and Advanced Manufacturing (CRC Press, 2020). He is the guest editor of several journals. During his teaching tenure, he has taught “Reverse Engineering and 3D Printing” and “3D Printing Technology” to undergraduate students. He received the Research Excellence Award for the year 2017-2018 from Lovely Professional University, India.