Singapore: The opening of Inside 3D Printing was met with an air of uncertainty. Early visitors queuing for entry blinked their eyes at the booths fronting them as if wondering whether there were any more at the back of the exhibition hall. Exhibitors were subdued and spoke almost in whispers. It was when they were comfortably ensconced in the conference room that things began to move.
In the first movement, HP’s Mitchell Beness and his first spotlight was not on 3D printing but on the manufacturing sector: a US$12 trillion market full of business opportunities. Beness used these figures to tease the audience into a sense of anticipation. Of course, he also took the opportunity to explain HP’s latest developments in Multijet Fusion and how strategic partnerships are yielding new and improved materials for its printers.
The next movement went into fortissimo as NAMIC Managing Director Dr Ho Chaw Sing – just back from a gruelling 16-hour flight from the US – underscored the trend towards using 3D printing in manufacturing. Even Asia’s largest 3D printing service, UTC had turned its sights towards enterprise printing rather than the retail market.
“Asia Pacific is forecasted to grow the fastest in comparison to North America and Europe,” said Dr Ho. “The strong market verticals for 3D printing are aerospace, automotives, medical and dental, and consumers. Also, services are set to be one of the fastest growing sector at a rate of 34.5%, including design services, prototyping and manufacturing.”
He was optimistic about the increased prospects of 3D printing, citing a rise of 3D printing companies and start-ups in Singapore.
“However, technology is still not good enough to print large parts,” Dr Ho added. “There’s also an issue of intellectual property in design, trademarks and patterns. Secure digital rights management, as part of the Product Lifecycle Management solution, is essential for realisation of distributed 3D printing manufacturing.” However, he point out that the port of Rotterdam has made a breakthrough with the printing of a ship’s propeller, which signals good news on the additive manufacturing front.
Dr Ho also addressed a huge challenge that NAMIC is working on – intellectual property. “When the Internet took off, the music industry was decimated,” citing the death of the music CD industry. NAMIC is collaborating with different partners to achieve “secured 3D printing in Singapore, where, like a credit card, every transaction is secured, watermarked and paid for.”
Ginkgo3D’s Andrew Loh (left) admires Arburg’s Plastic Freeforming machine. Arburg’s Lukas Pawelczyk (top right and above left) explains the benefits of using a 3D printing machine that combines the versatility of an injection moulder.
One of the crowd-drawers at Inside 3D Printing Singapore was Arburg’s freeformer, a new kind of 3D printing technology based on injection moulding, using pellets instead of resin, powder or filaments.
“As an open system, users are free to use their own plastic or resin granulates, adjust parameters to preferred settings, and let the freeformer produce the fully functional parts,” says Lukas Pawelczyk, who came to the event from the Arburg headquarters in Germany. “No injection mould is required.” There are plans to produce a freeformer for metal granulates.
New machines and improved technologies came from different quarters, including a “no post-processing” unit from Eye2Eye, 3D scanning solutions from Shonan Design, latest updates from Alex Wang of Stratasys, and an exciting development is desktop Bound Metal Deposition Technology introduced by Creatz3D. “Desktop Metal printing is 10 times cheaper,” says Sean Looi for Creatz3D. It is based on Metal Injection Moulding MIM technology, but operates like FDM in style, using cartridges to store powders and then mixed into rods.” The product is slightly lower in density than MIM products, but much more economical.
Each company that made a presentation saw an upsurge of interest after each event as attendees poured into the exhibition booths outside, brimming with questions.
Visitor Ajith Kartha, an Applications Engineer, gave two exhibits top marks. “The Arburg Freeformer and Chemtron’s Cellink Bioprinter, to my mind, are the most outstanding technologies of the show,” he said.
A crowd pleaser was Chemtron’s new bioprinter, sleekly designed and every inch the science-fiction lookalike that it was – except fiction it wasn’t. The new Cellink Bio X, a user-friendly bioprinter is said to decrease clinical trial failures and reduce the need for animal testing. It prints biotissues that can be used in drug discovery and help develop new, efficient treatments faster.
Tony Moochala put forward a compelling argument. “Traditional methods of developing drugs require up to 10 years of testing and up to US$2.6billion before they are approved for human consumption – and eight out of nine drugs tested fail,” he said. “Our 3D bioprinter can shorten the time by one to two years, do away with animal testing and cut the cost to US$1.3billion, a very significant amount of money.”
Assistant Professor Felix Raspall of SUTD gave architects more ideas to explore using 3D printing as part of the structures. The main challenges in modern architecture are lightweight, greater efficiency and increased sustainability.
One of his projects, (Ultra) Light Network, spanned 10 metres and was displayed at iLight Marina Bay 2017. It was a collaboration with Assistant Professor Carlos Banon. The 152 individual nodes used to hold up the tubes were printed in translucent ABS and nylon.
“Architecture is usually considered rigid. 3D printing in architecture is still at its infancy even though we can produce volumetrics and lattice structures,” said Felix.
“I would like to explore the recently developed 4D printing and flexible materials in the future.”
So, was Inside 3D Printing 2018 in Singapore a success? Despite the smaller size, participants had come from many parts of the globe, from Pakistan, Germany and Russia to South Africa, UAE and Sweden. These, in addition to the usual suspects from surrounding countries and the Asian region.
There was varied feedback about the show. Sandra Fie from Raffles Design Institute said, “I brought my students here to expose them to 3D printing. It’s informative but small. I would like to see more booths catered to designers, to let them know how this technology can help with design.” Regular participant Lee Siow Hoe hoped to see more exhibitors participate and showcase their printers and technology.
From Schneider Electric of Indonesia, Manager Saputera and Engineer Trisnadi where thrilled to be at the event. There was so much exciting technology and products to discover here, they enthused. Mohan B Nallur of DAE Enterprises from India summed it up in a few words, “3D printing is exciting.”
Visitor Christopher Yeow of J2 Associates said, “I am a veteran in the manufacturing industry, in precision engineering, oil and gas, and many more. Now I am learning about 3D printing because I believe it is going to disrupt manufacturing.”
“I was already selling for Stratasys three years ago before going to IDC, and I have seen how much the industry has grown over the years,” said Lim Mun Chun of Malaysia’s IDC Market Research. She is positive about the impact 3D printing brings to various industries in the region.
Visitor Koh Buk Seng, a 3D printing veteran from Thailand, grumbled: “The event is so small this year – it should be bigger.” But he was nevertheless happy to catch up with old friends and business associates at the event.
While general grumblings about the show being smaller this year abounded, it seemed that the air of uncertainty that marked the opening of the conference had been dispelled as the event progressed.
Taking all feedback in his stride, organiser Rising Media’s Christoph Rowen was happy to conclude, “The size of the event did not compromise on the quality of the speakers and technologies that we bring to Inside 3D Printing. This is not a small conference just in Singapore, but a worldwide series of events.
“We are off to Dusseldorf almost immediately, and if you want to attend a bigger event, please come to see us at our next edition in Seoul, to be held in June, just a few months away.”
Christoph retains his enthusiasm for his conference and show after six years of organising the event. “Six years ago, we were talking about 3D printing key chains and spectacles. Look at what we are talking about now – parts for jet planes and ships, live cells for organs and research! The inventions never stop coming.”
In perfect harmony, Dr Ho of NAMIC underscores that feeling that additive manufacturing is the technology whose time has come. “I am feeling very confident that the industry has left the hype curve, or at least most of it,” he said. “People I am talking to are saying that its place in mainstream manufacturing is forthcoming,” adding uncharacteristically that “they can feel it in their bones.”
“When you put so many brains into this industry and pour so much money and investment into it, it’s going to happen.”