The emergence of three-dimensional (3D) printing technology is taking shape at a very rapid pace and within the scope of digital manufacturing, it is an important element of the Industry 4.0 revolution.
Consulting firm A.T. Kearney projected that almost USD 6 trillion of the global economy will be disrupted and redistributed in the next ten years due to the growth of 3D printing.
While many may have only started paying more attention to it in recent years, the concept itself has been around since the early 1980s. From being used merely as a prototype tool back then, it has today transformed the way manufacturers design, conceive and build products. In manufacturing-dependent regions like South East Asia (SEA), 3D printing has become a very important tool.
Over the next three years, market intelligence firm International Data Corporation forecasts that the SEA region will spend more than USD 3.6 billion on 3D printing technology. It also expects the region to experience the fastest growth for 3D adoption in mobile phone manufacturing and resource industries such as material development.
Thailand, for example, is a market in the region with huge potential. According to research, in terms of machine tool demand, Thailand is the top country in the SEA. Now with the implementation of “Thailand 4.0”, a business model introduced by the Thai government, we see an increase in investments for Industry 4.0 and especially for digital manufacturing. It will help get the traditional manufacturers on board with the “digital transformation”.
Meanwhile, Singapore is considered the leader in 3D printing especially with its opening of “The Singapore Centre of 3D Printing” in 2016 at Nanyang Technology University. Supported by federal funding from the National Research Foundation, the facility aims to be the leading center of excellence for research in 3D printing in the SEA.
Schools and universities need to rethink the ways they teach students manufacturing design education. Previously traditional manufacturing methods were limited when it comes to designing capabilities, but now with 3D printing tools, designs can be more creative and innovative.
The private sector is also contributing towards educating customers about the new technology. We are beginning to see some leading solution providers setting up research centers, competency hubs and demonstrations centers to educate consumers and the business community.
With the support from the government, academia and private sectors, customers in the SEA now have more resources to better learn and understand the technology and to embark on the journey towards utilizing 3D printing in their operations.
The biggest advantage of 3D printing is its ability to fulfill clients’ customized needs. With this technology, products can be made to fit clients’ specific characteristics and function efficiently and with better quality.
Prototype processes via traditional manufacturing take many steps hence is time-consuming and can easily result in poor designs or quality of a model. As such, because 3D printing greatly reduces these occurrences we are seeing more companies adopting rapid prototyping technology.
As an example, 3D printing is popular in North East Asia where businesses with headquarters in Japan and Korea use 3D printing to design prototypes and send it over to the SEA for manufacturing. However, as the SEA business community gets more familiar with the technology, more businesses are placing their research and design work with their operations located in the SEA and thus increasing the usage of 3D printing.
Adaptive customization is not just fast, it also brings efficiencies whether it’s being leveraged upfront in the design process, engineering tests, manufacturing or final product. As 3D printing builds parts additively, layer by layer, it evidently uses less material than subtractive manufacturing methods because it only uses material that is necessary to build up. As such, the process produces very little waste.
Within the existing 3D printer brands, there are some products that are more efficient than others. From the raw materials used to produce the part, the “un-used material” can be recycled back in the manufacturing process to make the next or other parts. It is advisable to check with local experts to find out the which are the most efficient brands available in the market.
If integrated into the manufacturing of the final product, this form of on-demand production significantly reduces the cost of having a large amount of inventory or stocks in your business as inventory and design files are now all stored virtually and in digital formats.
Another benefit of this method is the reduced dependency on labor resources. Traditional prototyping and injection molding are costly as they require extensive human labor like machine operators and technicians. With 3D printing, potentially a single person is all that is required to manage the entire production process.
Not just limited to product and design prototyping, there are 3D printing processes available now that are much faster and cheaper allowing manufacturers to close the gap in mass production operations.
There are presently several leading 3D printing brands competing in major markets globally and within the SEA. However, despite their market presence, there is still no dominating brand as the entire 3D printing industry is still quite fragmented.
As with many other products and services in the region, pricing continues to be a key factor for customers. We are now starting to see a few leading 3D printing brands coming up with more advanced technology in this platform that meets lower cost and time spent per part as required by consumers in SEA.
This will certainly help to accelerate the adoption of this digital transformation and enable the development of innovative solutions and ideas. In addition, a lack of expertise in 3D printing technologies within the business makes it even more difficult for many companies to select the right solution.
For businesses who may not understand the technology or do not have the people to handle these tools, there is the option to work with an experienced partner who has dedicated service resources with local application engineering expertise to provide a complete 3D printing solution from CAD/CAM software, 3D industrial scanners to 3D printing technology and to help you find the right solutions.
The 3D printing evolution will undoubtedly transform the manufacturing process and the way businesses operate globally including in SEA. The question now is: “Are you ready to be on board as well?” Share your thoughts on how you think 3D printing can help your business in South East Asia by contacting me below.
Roman Ratayczak is the General Manager, Business Line Precision Machinery, Business Unit Technology, DKSH. He oversees global business development and has spent over 13 years developing and growing business in different markets in Korea and Thailand. Roman also has vast experience in the automotive business in Europe.