Singapore’s 3D printing industry could be the next big thing

3D printed objects
Sample objects, printed with 3D printers, are on display during the “Inside 3D Printing” conference and exhibition in New York. (AFP/Emmanuel Dunand)

3D printing may be the next industry to propel growth in Singapore’s economy.

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s Economic Development Board has set aside S$500 million over the next five years under its Future of Manufacturing programme.

It aims at driving the development and adoption of 3D printing as new enabling technologies, and business models across the entire manufacturing value-chain, as well as to upgrade the skills of workers and engineers.

3D printing is the process of building up successive micro-layers of material, typically from plastic or metal.

It has been touted as the next industry to propel growth in Singapore’s economy.

Prototype Asia, a company on the forefront of 3D printing, started out as a firm providing software prototypes and solutions in 2010.

The company set up a 3D prototyping division in the second quarter of 2012, which resulted in higher revenues — doubling from S$350,000 in 2011, to S$750,000 in 2012.

With turnover estimated to hit S$1.25 million in the third year of operations, Prototype Asia’s business model is one of the first few in the 3D printing industry to have succeeded.

Benoit Valin, director and founder of Prototype Asia, said: “A lot of companies do come to us with the specific purpose of disclosing their IP, disclosing their ideas, and their innovations, so that we are able to give them further ideas.

“3D printing for us is a tool that we use as part of our activities, as part of our work, as product designers, as prototypes. We rely on 3D printers to accelerate the process. And to enable us to create parts that are not normally to be created through other traditional manufacturing means.”

One of its clients, Mr Phillip Doyle who is a construction management consultant at Precast One, says Prototype Asia has helped realise his company’s precasting sketches into effective 3D printouts.

“What I can do with my simple sketchers is go to a metal worker and ask him to fabricate, which would take a long time. And they are very heavy,” he said.

“Now 3D printing is light, and we put that into a wall, which would be made of see-through plastic.

“With all the consultants involved, looking at a 3D printed model — we can then sort it out, and everybody signs off and you can have an ideal building situation.”

For a month, the Malaysian-based building system consultant has been making trips to work with Prototype Asia in Singapore — which mainly offers consultancy work.

This is because he has yet to find a 3D printing service that incorporate engineering consultancy in Southeast Asia.

Prototype Asia is working with local enterprises that deal with consumer products and electronics, advertising and marketing.

It also deals with aerospace, naval and military industries, helping to design and prototype parts and products of all types, though non-disclosure agreements are needed to be signed before work begins.

Local distributors of 3D printers are proponents of the industry as well. Creatz3D, the sole authorized distributor of Stratasys 3D printers and Arcam 3D printing technology for metal, believes in the development and adoption of 3D printing as new enabling technologies for Singapore too. Creatz3D is the market leader for distributing additive manufacturing technologies. Read about a visit to Creatz3D by the local maker committee.

Medical 3D Prints
Medical 3D Prints at Creatz3D

Dr Ian Gibson, from the Engineering Design and Innovation Centre of the National University of Singapore, said: “There is some suggestion to say that the market is over inflated in terms of capital investment in that technology bubble that may burst.

“That is a necessity — that may happen.”

Dr Ian Gibson is a speaker at the upcoming Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo – Asia Pacific held in Singapore on the 1st and 2nd of October at the Marina Bays Sands. More details here.

Singapore may have been a pioneer in the 3D printing industry, but experts note that the building up of human capital has lagged behind the US and Europe – which have made consistent efforts to grow the industry.

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