From custom-tailored jewellery to artificial skull for neurosurgery patients, icube is a company that manufactures 3D printed objects. In an interview with The Business Standard, the co-founders of icube talked about their hustle to “print our dreams”
Faruk Hannan, chairman of the 3D printing start-up icube, handed us an x-ray. Before we started our conversation, he wanted us to observe the medical report.
The x-ray was of a patient with a tumour in his skull. The following week, he will be relieved of the tumour through a surgery, but the procedure will take away a chunk of his skull.
"We have made a 3D printed skull for his head," Faruk said.
The artificial skull is just one of the marvels of 3D printing technology.
"If a plastic-made skull can fit in a human head, just think about how far 3D printing can go to improve our lives," Faruk said with fervour.
As the name suggests, 3D printers can manufacture three-dimensional objects, made of a variety of materials. While even the best artists struggle, 3D printer's pitch-perfect accuracy can make objects only imagined previously.
The bedrock of 3D printing is it can materialise ideas into objects of different shapes and sizes. As long as we can think of an innovation which can be designed into a 3D model, it is possible to print it.
At the Bangladesh Industrial and Technical Assistant Centre, we visited a 3D printing production laboratory dubbed "fab lab". Faruk and Ashrafuzzaman, co-founders of icube, showed us locally assembled 3D printers made by their company.
One of those printers can manufacture 3D models out of steel materials.
"3D printing ideas can come from anyone, and it can entail far-fetched benefits besides medical grounds," Faruk said.
"From automotive parts to printed food, 3D printing covers a huge avenue. We just need to grab the opportunity."
3D printed food sounds like an idea too good to be true, but it is not. An Indian-American engineer named Anjan Contractor is researching to make 3D printed food a possibility.
Contractor hopes his "customised, nutritionally-appropriate meals made from cartridges of powder and oils" will reach every household in the future.
Ashrafuzzaman, also the chief technology officer of icube, believes 3D printing will facilitate the fourth industrial revolution. In his own words, 3D printing will be able to print human tissues made of organic materials in future.
He gestured at his Panjabi and said, "We are very close to creating 3D printed clothes like the one I am wearing right now."
Ashrafuzzaman said, "We want to set up fab labs in educational institutions across Bangladesh."
The Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, the Military Institute of Science and Technology, and a number of polytechnic institutes have already received support from icube.
Ashrafuzzaman also told us about the fab lab they set up at the Australian International School, Dhaka.
Meanwhile, Faruk and Ashrafuzzaman guided us to the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology as they continued the conversation. We visited another fab lab set up by icube at the university's Institute of Appropriate Technology.
Dr Iftekhar A Khan, assistant professor at the institute, toured the fab lab with us.
"As Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has declared 'light engineering' the product of the year 2020, 3D printed products are becoming more relevant. If the industrial policy of our country can ensure proper incentives, 3D printed products will flourish," Dr Iftekhar opined.
3D printing technology requires a specific skill set. Dr Iftekhar suggested 3D design and hardware building skills be incorporated in relevant disciplines in universities.
"3D printing is not something you should learn after you graduate. It has to be included in formal education," he added.
As the interview was held in early March, little did we know Covid-19 will shake Bangladesh to its core. As of now, coronavirus deaths are rising.
But technology always finds a way to combat epidemics. Two volunteers in Italy have distributed 3D printed versions of vital medical devices amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Although rumour spread that the original designer of the 3D products threatened to sue for patent infringement, it turned out to be a false news.
The buzz around 3D printing is relatively new, but this very technology has existed for roughly three decades. One key reason behind the slow progress of this industry is the patents held by different individuals and organisations.
When a patent expires, the intellectual property right goes into the public domain. About 16 key patents on 3D printing expired in the early 2010s.
"When a patent expires, new 3D printing ideas make way for better innovations," Faruk explained.
We asked how much an average 3D printed product would cost to produce.
The ever-smiling Faruk held a bust of Lionel Messi in his hands and said, "Only five taka for Leo."