These entrepreneurs are changing the face of Indian healthcare ecosystem with 3D printing
This is a story of how Google search launched a successful entrepreneurial journey for two young men who took the plunge into the world of three-dimensional printing or 3D printing as it is popularly known.
Sagar Shah and Sohrab Kothari were wealth managers. Tired of their routine jobs, they decided to look for options in entrepreneurship. “Once, we Googled the top five businesses in the world and that is when we saw 3D printing as an option.”
Sohrab Kothari (L), Sagar Shah (M), Co-founders of Sahas Softech LLP and Firoza Kothari, Co-founder of Anatomiz3D
This led to the launch of Sahas Softech LLP in 2012 in Mumbai. Three years later, Firoza Kothari who is Sohrab’s sister, joined them to launch the healthcare vertical, Anatomiz3D, in 2015, at the age of 22. Later, the two companies were separated. Today, Sahas Softech LLP clocks a turnover of Rs 5.5 crore whereas Anatomiz 3D clocks Rs 70 lakh turnover.
When Sagar and Sohrab entered the industry, they had absolutely no knowledge of 3D printing or additive manufacturing. Collecting funds from their families, Sohrab says that the initial years were spent in understanding the potential applications and growing the business by rapid prototyping.
In addition, Sohrab and Sagar had to grapple with the challenges of setting up the business and operations. Reminiscing the times of uncertainty and anxiety, Sohrab says, “We had to learn computer-aided design (CAD) from scratch. We learnt to operate all the machines by ourselves and then taught unskilled labourers.”
The initial years saw them do everything – from operating the machines, reaching out to and convincing the customers all by themselves, and visiting colleges, universities, and industries to get a deeper insight into the industry.
Firoza had to convince doctors about the use of 3D printing and its importance in the healthcare industry.
Applications of 3D printing
3D printing has several applications. In the industrial sector, it is mainly used for prototyping. “Prototyping happens when you need to check the feel of the product,” says Sohrab, adding, “It helps in understanding the fitting of the product and checking its functionality.”
Another feature of 3D printing lies in manufacturing the end product using this technology. “This is a good alternative as it reduces the weight of the product which is not possible by the traditional manufacturing method, and lesser components are required to assemble the finished product.”
In the healthcare industry, additive manufacturing is applicable in many ways. It is used for making anatomical models based on patients’ data which help surgeons do mock surgeries on the products to understand the best way to make a surgery successful.
Another use of 3D printing lies in giving cutting and drilling guides to doctors to ensure that bones are cut/drilled at the exact angle and location.
It is also used for developing titanium implants, prosthetics, and orthotics. Prosthetics and orthotics are designed based on the patient’s body structure and are applicable when a certain body part is amputated. Anatomiz3D has partnered with over 150 hospitals in the country, including AIMS Kochi, AIIMS Delhi, Max Hospital, Apollo Hospital, and Lilavati Hospital, among others.
Scope of 3D printing in India
Even though 3D printing forayed into the Indian market almost 25 years ago, its adoption has been slow. Even today, it is predominantly used in prototyping in the country. The world market is expected to touch $32.78 billion by 2023, but for India, flourishing of the market is expected to take much longer.
Commenting on the slow adoption of the technology, Sohrab points out that India is a price-sensitive market. He says, “The cost of investment in fixed assets, as well as the cost of raw materials, is very high. This is why the acceptance of this technology has been very slow.”
He also believes that India is a “sceptical market” which analyses the success of new technologies based on global trends before putting them into practice.
However, the Indian market is slowly opening up to 3D printing or additive manufacturing as it is beginning to realise the advantages of it. Firoza says, “The high accuracy factor has given confidence to surgeons. In addition, cost-saving and better efficiency are other aspects that have brought it greater traction.”
Moreover, Sohrab notes that the maximum consumption of 3D printing happens in the USA, the UK, and Canada, whereas the maximum production happens in China. In fact, the company also sources its raw materials from China and other countries.
3D printing technology cost starts from Rs 1 lakh and can go up to Rs 10 crore.
The road ahead
Sohrab says that insurance for surgeries done by this technology can further bolster the process of adoption.
In addition, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Indians to go ‘vocal about local,’ this technology has the potential to boost local manufacturing, development, and innovation.
The company has currently switched to the production of medical supplies such as masks and face shields.
Firoza says, “This is something that is required on a huge scale. People were wearing masks which were causing irritation behind the ears. So, we designed a product which will help them overcome this uneasiness.”
The company is also working on a project to make self-sustaining respirators.
While COVID-19 has brought a lot of disruption, Sohrab says it has also proven to be a good time for businesses to restart and reboot.