New 3D printing standards launched to help SMEs adopt additive manufacturing

The AirTable from SUTD has complex node-like joints made from 3D printing.
The AirTable from SUTD has complex node-like joints made from 3D printing.PHOTO: SUTD

SINGAPORE - New standards have been rolled out to drive more companies, especially start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to use 3D printing to make products on demand and save costs.

The two new standards seek to ensure that 3D printed goods are made with consistent quality and are safe to use.

They were announced on Wednesday (Nov 24) by the Singapore Standards Council and Enterprise Singapore (ESG) on the third day of the Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific (Itap) 2021 event at Singapore Expo. The council is overseen by ESG.

The standards were developed by the council, Ministry of Defence and the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (Namic). Other industry stakeholders were also involved, including the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Singapore Manufacturing Federation - Standards Development Organisation, and assurance and risk management firm DNV.

Also called additive manufacturing, 3D printing involves adding layers of materials on top of one another, such as metals and polymers like plastic, to create a product or component.

Mr Marc Lee, Namic's head of intellectual property and commercialisation, said the companies that use 3D printing have traditionally been multinational corporations because they have the resources to develop their own internal standards, which are not shared.

"But now with the new standards, (other) enterprises and even start-ups will be able to use them for their own operations," added Mr Lee, noting that the standards could also help companies learn how to use 3D printing faster.

The 3D printing allows for more flexible and innovative designs. For instance, SUTD's 20kg AirTable - a table with three legs - which can support a weight of up to 200kg, has complex nodes that are difficult to make with traditional processes, so 3D printing is used.

While cost savings from 3D printing vary across products and scenarios, DNV gave an example of a company needing just a few units of a spare part but the minimum order was about 100.

With 3D printing, the company could make just two to three of the parts required and could, in some scenarios, save on 70 per cent of the costs incurred.

Still, buying traditionally manufactured parts in bulk could cost 10 per cent less than buying the same number of 3D printed versions. But when purchasing in small numbers, the costs for both are about the same in some cases, said DNV.

On how the new 3D printing standards were developed, SAF explained that it has been using the process to create prototypes for military use, such as drones and even insoles for flat-footed soldiers.

But SAF realised there was a lack of 3D printing standards that met military requirements. It developed its own standards, which turned out to have commercial applications.

The first new standard launched on Wednesday, Singapore Standard 666, provides guidelines on how to produce 3D printed metal parts.

It sets out industry best practices in areas such as the maintenance of 3D printers, training for operators and raw materials used.

The standard provides a guide on the type of tests needed for 3D printed parts, based on how critical the part is, as well.

The second standard rolled out, Technical Reference 92, covers design guidelines for complex 3D printed components.

These include helping companies factor safety and reliability in designs, and consider various requirements in the design process before the parts are made.

On Wednesday, the Government also launched for manufacturers a cyber security self-evaluation checklist and guidelines for their digitalisation efforts.

Work on the checklist and guidelines was led by the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology.

They set out cyber security standards and requirements to help manufacturing companies figure out their gaps and readiness as they go digital.

The checklist and guidelines, as well as the new 3D printing standards, can be bought from the Singapore Standards eShop.