EDB woos MNCs to build up 3D printing industry

EDB woos MNCs to build up 3D printing industry

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) wants multinational companies to pick Singapore as the location for developing 3D printing and additive manufacturing applications for their businesses.

"We're not ready to announce anything yet, but we're quite confident of being able to announce some good progress in that space soon," said EDB's managing director Yeoh Keat Chuan, in an interview with BT.

Though excitement over personal 3D printers for hobbyists and the 3D printing of iPhone covers at home may be nearing the peak of the "hype curve", there have not been that many large-scale commercial applications worldwide, he says.

But EDB believes Singapore is one location where commercial applications may take off and disrupt, positively, key sectors such as aerospace and medical technology. "If any country is in a good position, it has to be Singapore," Mr Yeoh says.

3D printing is also known as additive manufacturing because the technology involves building solid, three-dimensional objects by depositing and fusing together layers and layers of plastics, metals or other materials according to very precise digital models.

This is advantageous for industries with complex parts, as it eliminates the need to cut or drill, reducing wastage of material. However, such industries must be high-value ones as the additive manufacturing process remains quite slow.

Two industries fit this bill well and are strong clusters in Singapore: aerospace and medical devices.

Mr Yeoh explains, "It is not just that the aerospace companies are here, they have been here for a while. But, we now have an increasing number of them doing manufacturing, doing development work."

Part of Rolls-Royce's $700 million campus at Seletar for instance, is an advanced technology centre conducting manufacturing technology research. Pratt & Whitney also said earlier this year that it would bring production of its advanced Geared Turbo Fan into Singapore.

"So if you extrapolate, then you think, likely, hopefully, we will see some interest in this space," Mr Yeoh says.

Also exciting is the prospect that companies in other industries may want to be near to and learn from industries at the forefront of 3D printing applications.

"If we link them up, I think there is tremendous value. Some of them will show the way, and others will maybe be later adopters," he adds.

Just last Friday, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) announced a new programme to develop additive manufacturing technologies for the aerospace, automotive, oil and gas, marine and precision engineering sectors. The $15 million 3D printing technologies fund will be split among six projects undertaken by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech).

In fact, over the past few months, there has been a buzz surrounding investments in 3D printing research.

In August, NTU and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) set up a joint lab for 3D printing research. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also spoke during the National Day Rally about 3D printing of bone tissue scaffolds developed by A*Star, which have been commercialised for use by dentists by home-grown firm Bio-Scaffold International.

And NTU announced in September that it would build a $30 million additive manufacturing centre, funded by EDB.

A*Star said that the global additive manufacturing market could grow to an estimated US$10.8 billion by 2021, close to five times the US$2.2 billion in 2012, led by automotive, medical and aerospace applications.

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