Feature by The Business Times: Made in Singapore, Sent into Space

(Original article published on The Business Times dated Thursday, 9 March 2023.)

Local 3D-printing company Creatz3D’s collaborations range from aerospace to healthcare. BY AMMIEL JR WAN

WHEN the Zeus-1 satellite was launched into space on Dec 18, 2022 (Read the full case study here.), it carried a tiny “representative” of Singapore: a component created by a local 3D printing company.

Creatz3D specialises in such business-to-business (B2B) collaborations with companies in the semiconductor, medical and aerospace fields, among others.

This particular foray began when space companies Qosmosys and NuSpace approached Creatz3D to design and print a test container for the Zeus-1 satellite. They had no “preconceptions” about how 3D printing might benefit them, recalls founder and general manager Sean Looi.

But what sets a 3D printing company apart from a hobbyist, says Looi, is a deep understanding of the technology, materials, and applications, and the skill to identify areas in the production process where 3D printing can be used”.

Our General Manager Mr Sean Looi with the 3D-printed satellite container, the first locally 3D-printed component brought to space.

Using its knowledge of materials and printers, the Creatz3D team proposed a specific thermoplastic polymer instead of the usual aluminium alloy, and produced the container using industrial grade printers at the company’s Paya Lebar office. This helped to slash the weight of the container by more than half, while ensuring that it could perform under space conditions.

The foray into space is part of the astronomical advances that Creatz3D has made since it started out 11 years ago, as a seller of 3D printing equipment.

From jewellery equipment to 3D printing consulting

Lool first encountered 3D printing when working in a subsidiary of the family business – Hong Chek Company – that specialised in equipment for jewellery manufacturing and industrial uses. He soon realised that “the brand of 3D printers they were carrying weren’t suitable for jewellery”.

Instead, seeing potential for other applications of 3D printing, he decided to start a standalone company. Creatz3D started in 2012 as a distributor of 3D printing equipment, importing printers and providing technical support for them.

Sample parts printed using the Stratasys Fortus 450mc.

Its first customers turned out to be universities and research labs. Yet from the start, Looi’s focus was on selling to businesses, as he saw limited growth in selling to Singapore’s few educational and research institutions.

Therefore, in 2015, he started an “applications team’ to focus on “manufacturing tooling aids that solved problems on the shop floor”, rather than the prototypes that many customers wanted them to print.

Creatz3D began to work with businesses from all sectors, providing advice on how 3D printing could improve their manufacturing processes. Now, 60 per cent of revenue comes from 3D printing collaborations with companies. Creatz3D reported about S$5 million in revenue in 2021.

Despite the recent involvement with the space industry, Looi does not see space as “a significant part of where (he) foresees growth to be. Instead, the company has three main areas of focus: ceramics component printing for various industries, 3D-printed healthcare solutions, and 3D-printed figurines – the company’s new and only B2C venture.

Creatz3D started its ceramics 3D printing service in 2017, mainly serving the semiconductor and healthcare industries. In healthcare, for instance, it has printed device casings for neural implants, customisable end-of-arm tools in surgical robots and prototypes for cochlear implants.

Healthcare components made from non-ceramic materials are handled by subsidiary AuMed, which mainly produces models of the human body that can be used in medical simulators for surgical procedures or training of healthcare workers.

Photographer from The Business Times capturing shoots for some of AuMed’s medical simulators.

During Covid-19, AuMed was tasked with making mannequin heads on which swabbers could be trained to perform various kinds of swabs. While most models on the market were opaque and made of hard materials, AuMed’s models included a realistic tongue depressor that mimicked the human tongue, and were transparent so that learners and trainers could see where the swab was in the nasal cavity.

The company’s sole B2C venture, Figure Factories, was an unexpected venture. As Looi’s son was a fan of virtual gaming platform Roblox, Looi printed a figurine of his son’s Roblox avatar as a birthday gift. Wondering if his son’s delight at receiving such a figurine would be shared by others, Looi launched Figure Factories in July 2022. Customers can customise and print unique figurines inspired by their Roblox characters, with 2-inch figurines sold at S$32.50 and 3-inch figurines sold at S$48.

Figure Factories’ TikTok account now boasts roughly 200,000 followers, and its sales have crossed 700 so far.

Future Plans in the Pipeline

These three areas form the backbone of Creatz3D’s growth plans, with Looi estimating a 20 to 30 per cent growth in revenue this year. The company has a team of 24, with branches in Singapore and Vietnam, and is now trying to secure an additional 3,000 square feet in the Paya Lebar building to expand its operations.

As for the future, Lool says: “The next challenge would be to ensure that we have enough resources to invest and propel us for the next phase of growth.”

Although there have been previous funding offers by venture capital firms, the company has been entirely internally funded to date. Looi adds that ‘’securing funds would be part of (their) plans as well”, although the exact timeline was not confirmed.

Contact Us today for an end-to-end journey of consultation on how 3D printing can bridge the gaps in mitigating your industrial problems.

Content courtesy of The Business Times.

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