When 3D printing – aka Impactful additive manufacturing – first came out, everyone was buzzing about the myriad of possibilities the technology could do. From the noble medical use cases for replacing organs, to the more indulgent fancies of dinosaur-shaped pasta shells. 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is here to stay.
The verticals which could benefit from the technology are diverse. Biomedical, maritime, construction and precision engineering, and transport, the list is endless, testament to the huge potential additive manufacturing has to revolutionise many industries.
Gracing the 6th Global Additive Manufacturing Summit held at the Singapore EXPO, was Dr Lam Pin Min, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Health. His opening address elucidated the opportunities additive manufacturing has for industry and how the technology has blossomed in Singapore.
Industrial Transformation with 3D Printing
“3D printing has disrupted existing business models by challenging the traditional methods of mass assembly and distribution,” said Dr Lam.
Unlike methods of production in the past, additive manufacturing permits on-site and on-demand production. Companies can get their hands on necessary parts, rendering obsolete waiting time for a supplier’s delivery. Lead times for market entry whittles down, enabling suppliers to become more responsive to market trends. Additionally, since production facilities can be brought closer to the buyer, waiting time for buyers are slashed.
Another opportunity from the disruption is the ability to customised products in smaller batches and thus at lower costs. Products which require a great deal of careful details in production can be materialised in ease. Expensive moulds or skilled craftsmen can be bypassed as long as a digital file of the desired image is available.
Dr Lam provided examples of how additive manufacturing has already been ground-breaking in the healthcare and maritime sectors.
In healthcare, 3D printing can improve the accuracy of diagnosis. A local startup offers 3D printed models of medical images such as X-rays and MRI scans. This aids doctors to examine organs or body parts at scale. Dr Lam says, “Not only does it help doctors analyse complex medical conditions more effectively, it also provides patients with a clearer understanding of their anatomy.”
Secondly, 3D printing organs hold much promise for medical progress and patient treatment. For example, bio-printed skin tissues offer a more ethical approach to drug and cosmetic testing compared to the use of animal skins. The same tissue can be printed based on a patient’s cells, resulting in a tailored medical treatment for effective outcomes.
Within the maritime industry, 3D printing is used to produce spare parts on-demand. These parts can be customised regardless of where and when the ship is. Dr Lam says, “This can prolong asset lifespans, reduce inventory and lower the cost of maintenance.”
3D Printing in Singapore
In line with Industry 4.0 preparedness, the Singapore Government is committed to growing additive manufacturing, said Dr Lam. The presence of several MNC’s regional centres of excellence for additive manufacturing in Singapore is testament.
There appears to be more interest by private sector companies to plant their centres of excellence in Singapore. Dr Lam announced in his speech that the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster will be ASTM International’s strategic partner for their Global Additive Manufacturing Centre of Excellence in Asia. The partners will work towards advancing standards, research and commercialisation of additive manufacturing technologies across various strategic sectors. Dr Lam said the partnership is a boost to Singapore’s position as a regional leader in additive manufacturing.
Overall, he was hopeful that more could be done in the Republic for additive manufacturing. Public-private partnerships should be one way forward. This will secure Singapore’s reputation and help its businesses hedge a relatively nascent market.