Mettle for Metal, A fearless voyage: Sridhar Balaram

Mettle for Metal, A fearless voyage: Sridhar Balaram
Sridhar Balaram

Sridhar Balaram is a Managing Director and Founder of Intech DMLS Pvt. Ltd, is a radical technology-driven entrepreneur. He has successfully harnessed a holistic pursuit in revolutionizing metal additive manufacturing, that is, 3D metal printing services in India, by employing innovative solutions and AM technology. Having garnered over two decades worth of experience, Sridhar has built Intech into what it is today — credited as the country’s largest commercially available metal additive manufacturing facility.

My story of Intech Additive Solutions, I hope, will inspire a generation of dreamers. Starting out as a young novice, with dreams that seemed as distant as the horizon, my self-belief and vision were my only anchors. The key driver for me has always been my undying passion for my craft, steadfast belief in AM technology, combined with constant perseverance. As with everything else, the challenges felt gargantuan. But as experience has taught me, for anyone brave enough to look beyond the obstacles and focus single-mindedly on the goal, dreams do turn into reality.

I’m Sridhar Balaram, the Founder, CEO & MD of Intech Additive Solutions. My early interest in anything metal drew me towards working for Galvano in the 1990s. Little did I know that this mere spark of interest would transform into an inferno of passion for exotic applications and metals over time. Galvano, at that time, was a start-up steel casting foundry with a limited reach and presence primarily in the local industries. With the sole objective of providing world-class products and services to customers, Galvano began its rise to international prominence. Galvano established an in-house precision machine shop, Induction heat-treatment, and assembly shop as part of the forward integration process. It carved a niche for itself in the casting arena and won over numerous satisfied customers, many of whom were reputed global Excavator OEMs.

My rich experience at Galvano taught me that, more often than not, our success march will be punctuated with unforeseen setbacks and external factors that we have no control over. For example, the global financial meltdown of 2010, which affected most of the world, also significantly impacted my OEM customers and me. With revenues drying up, we were amidst some uncertain times.

The road ahead was extremely challenging with businesses being unpredictable and with speculative pipelines. The financial gloom was widespread, and its ripple effect was felt in the local casting industry. I was apprehensive, impatient, and willed myself to think outside the box. I realized that a real entrepreneur is one who readily transforms adversities into opportunities. A well thought out unique response to the situation was my only way out. As luck would have it, metal 3D printing caught my attention. It was still at its infancy stage in India, and to me, it showed the promises of endless possibilities for the future. I delved deeper into metal 3D printing and started exploring the opportunities it presented. Knowing that with greater risks come greater rewards, I decided to trust my gut and go for the plunge.

In 2012, I founded Intech DMLS. It happens to be “the first metal 3D printing service bureau” in the country. My first step was procuring two metal 3D printers from a German OEM. With the printers in hand, Intech started serving the local manufacturing industry. Our services were limited to the printing and machining of components. In the early days of inception, we used 3D CAD models provided by the customers and helped in giving them workable prototypes. We had a good run at providing these services over the next few years.

Though of the highest quality, I soon realized that our service offerings only enabled us to engage superficially with our customers. I felt the urge to find the opportunities to go beyond the meagre revenue streams, move up the value chain, and serve my customers at the highest level.  It was vital for me to add more value to customer interactions along with their products.

With this in mind, we ventured into the Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) while also teaching the metal 3D printing design rules to customers. Through our design consultancy services, we educated our customers on the immense benefits and possibilities that 3D printing offered. In addition, I invested in fresh engineering talent and cutting-edge software tools to make Intech the go-to source for metal 3D printing.

Our customers recognized the great value in our consultancy engagement. We guided them on the various aspects of metal 3D printing. We also assisted in prototyping for Functional Testing, Molds and Dies, and Low Volume Production Parts (Legacy Spares) for specific industry verticals such as Defense and Aerospace. With all our combined efforts, by 2016, Intech had gained a lot of traction in India’s manufacturing sector and successfully created a name for itself in metal 3D printing. We also did have our fair share of roller coaster rides to conquer to get to this stage.

Being a yearning entrepreneur, I set my sights even higher and wanted to add value to the home-grown manufacturing landscape of our country. I found myself, once again, in the position to create a difference.  My experience in the industry now allowed me to see the shortcomings and limitations of metal 3D printers manufactured by overseas OEMs. For example, I observed that all the global 3D printer OEMs heavily relied on third-party software. This formed a significant barrier for the timely and user-friendly software customizations required by the customers. Another inadequacy in established global 3D printers also garnered my attention: Not a single printer could print with new alloys, which was often a particular and urgent requirement of OEMs.

As a matter of habit, I took a leap of faith, trusted my instincts once again, and invested heavily in R&D, human resources, and the technology to manufacture a home-grown 3D metal printer and related software. In 2020, the investment and the belief paid off. We launched the iFusion Series Systems (machines based on Laser Powder Bed Fusion Technology), India’s first indigenous high-end industrial 3D metal printer that guarantees the most value for money to customers. Though it would be perceived as audacious, this step required a lot of innovation and uniqueness to stand apart in the market.  The team at Intech gave it their absolute all for this dream to manifest into reality. Going out with all guns blazing, we also developed the AMBuilder software (Build Processing Software). AMBuilder enabled the OEM customers to save time for the customizations required. Passionate about making a bold statement to the AM world at large, we went further and developed the AMOptoMet software. It has the rare distinction of being the world’s first and unrivalled New Alloy Parameter Development Software. AMOptoMet is sure to make the AM world sit up and take notice as it takes only minutes to accomplish what would otherwise have taken overseas OEMs months to achieve. Developing AMOptoMet necessitated the team to innovate and use Artificial Intelligence algorithms and a massive amount of statistical data and logic. This catapulted the software into being the first-of-its-kind-in-the-world status!

With the line of products that we offer at Intech, I now dream of putting India on the Global Map of Metal 3D Printing. This is because I have planted a seed of innovation in the conducive soil of Atmanirbhar Bharat. Though Intech is still a fledgling in the AM world, I genuinely believe it is just taking flight. What gives me confidence that Intech will make its mark in the AM world is that the roots of our experience run deep, 30 fruitful years, to be precise.

Through the years, as Intech DMLS transformed to Intech Additive Solutions, one thing that has always been constant is the unwavering support from my exceptionally talented team. We still have miles to go for all I know, but what is certain is that we will not be taking our foot off the accelerator anytime soon. Their doggedly determined unidirectional efforts in creating world-class metal 3D printers and associated software are surely set to simplify and revolutionize the AM space. We are hungry to conquer the world – with my team by my side, supporting and nurturing my dream.

I’m highly optimistic that Intech will soon become a household name, not just in the Indian manufacturing sector, but will be a force to be reckoned with on the global stage.

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Sridhar Balaram

Sridhar Balaram is a Managing Director and Founder of Intech DMLS Pvt. Ltd, is a radical technology-driven entrepreneur. He has successfully harnessed a holistic pursuit in revolutionizing metal additive manufacturing, that is, 3D metal printing services in India, by employing innovative solutions and AM technology. Having garnered over two decades worth of experience, Sridhar has built Intech into what it is today — credited as the country’s largest commercially available metal additive manufacturing facility.