While Additive manufacturing is going through a tremendous growth spurt, it is also fast becoming a part of an integrated production line today. Allowing manufacturers to produce complex products quickly with great accuracy at lower costs, thereby opening the doors for “on-demand production”. The concept of urban factories especially in densely populated cities like Singapore is soon to become a reality.
Realising On-Demand manufacturing with 3D Printing
Most manufacturers in the automobile industry may produce spare parts in bulk and ship them all across the globe. However, these parts don’t get used for months, or even years sometimes. On the other hand, many times customers may still have to wait for weeks for a certain spare part to arrive from a central silo. This process is thus extremely tedious and inconvenient. However, 3D printing is gradually bringing a change for the good.
A case in point is Daimler, one of the world’s largest truck manufacturers is also one of the first to use 3D printing in automotive manufacturing. Rather than manufacturing the parts in bulk, the company is using 3D printers to produce them on-demand. This has enabled the company to reduce logistics and warehouse costs, and not to mention make it a lot more convenient for their customers to get the spare parts they want when they want. The 3D printers used by Daimler use lasers to melt glass, metals, and even ceramics to print the required automobile components on the go.
Apart from Daimler Audi, BMW, and Volkswagen are also working on the on-demand production model, which only goes to show how good an idea it is.
Relevance of Additive Manufacturing to Singapore
Over the years, escalating labour costs have led local manufacturers to relocate to cheaper alternatives like Malaysia & Vietnam. With the dearth of affordable manual workers in Singapore, manufactures have to bear high costs and struggle with retaining the workers. However, Additive manufacturing can overcome this problem to a great extent.
According to Professor Chua Chee Kai, who is the executive director of the Singapore Centre for 3D Printing at NTU (Nanyang Technological University), as companies seek to find cheaper and faster ways for parts manufacturing, the additive manufacturing sector is to get an impetus. An example of this is the 3rd largest additive manufacturing facility of Southeast Asia run by Ultra Clean Asia Pacific (UCT). Located in Woodlands Spectrum it offers businesses a variety of 3D printing services including 3D Engineering services, virtual warehousing, prototyping, part optimisation, and consumer parts production, etc.
According to A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology and Research) Singapore, the market size of additive manufacturing is projected to grow five-fold from US$2.2 billion in 2012 to an estimated US$10.8 billion in 2021. Singapore government understands the significance of this projection, which is why it’s taking many initiatives to promote additive printing. One of these was taken in September 2015, when the Spring Singapore and the National Research Foundation announced the formation of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster, which will help companies develop capabilities in 3D printing.
With a host of such initiatives there’s opportunity to turn Singapore into a smart and unmanned manufacturing hub that can produce with agility in a fast-changing environment.
Companies buckling up to meet growing demand
In an effort to meet the growing demand for on-demand 3D printing UPS partner Fast Radius is to open a 3D printing factory in Singapore soon.
“3D printing will have a significant impact on industrial manufacturing and 21st century supply chains,” says Ross McCullough, president of UPS Asia Pacific region, further mentioning that UPS is the first integrated logistics provider to provide such kind of on-demand 3D printing facility in entire Asia.
Recently, Maryland based on-demand manufacturing company called Xometry raised $23 million in funds from investors, one of which is the automotive giant General Electric itself. The company uses all kinds of 3D printing technologies suited for industrial applications ranging from Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) to Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) to print custom end-use parts.
Additive manufacturing is not meant to replace traditional manufacturing but it certainly provides several benefits in terms of customized output, lower costs and smaller production sessions. With 3D printing, goods can be made as close as possible to where the customer is, thereby reducing inventory and logistics costs for businesses. While it’s unlikely that the traditional way of manufacturing will go away for good, but we are surely to see more of Additive Manufacturing in action in the next few years.