The A-Zs that rocked 2021: Up-to-the-minute prototyping

Hexar Creations founder Jeremy Wee has eight printers for his home-based 3D-printing business. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - This was the year 3D printing proliferated in almost every sector of the economy.

The technology that began in the early 1980s in Japan as a faster way to make prototypes for industrial parts went mainstream, changing the way things are made - from heavy manufacturing to home-based 3D printing of toys and decorative accessories.

Also called additive manufacturing (AM), 3D printing involves using computer-aided design to create a three-dimensional model through a process in which plastic polymers or carbon fibres are deposited layer by layer and then solidified to form an object.

Local companies such as Chemtron now sell the latest 3D printers such as the Markforged X7, powered by artificial intelligence and priced from $100,000, which can churn out industrial parts in a few hours, compared with the few weeks it took through traditional injection moulding in the past.

Other home-grown players such as Zelta3D and 3D Printing Singapore also provide desktop design and 3D-printing services to companies and institutions that need prototypes as part of ongoing research and development.

There are also local outfits such as Hexar Creations which specialise in making collectible figurines straight out of popular video games and Hollywood movies. It has gained popularity in the last decade for being "hyper-local", producing components fast, on-demand and customised to precise specifications. This has helped cut out costly third-party manufacturing.

Cost savings from 3D printing vary depending on type of products and industry. For small quantities such as making prototypes, savings can be up to 80 per cent, say 3D-printing companies such as Zelta3D and 3D Printing Singapore.

The national accelerator for cutting-edge AM technologies, National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (Namic), has been working since its inception in 2015 to get more companies to boost business and retain their competitive edge by using 3D printing.

Two new standards, announced by the Singapore Standards Council and Enterprise Singapore, were introduced on Nov 24 to drive start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises towards 3D printing to make products on demand and save cost.

The standards, which seek to ensure that 3D printed goods are produced with consistent quality and are safe, were developed by the council, the Ministry of Defence, Namic as well as other industry stakeholders such as the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

After a pandemic-fuelled boom from 3D-printing of critical medical products such as Covid-19 nasal test swabs, protective gear and respirator parts, the global 3D-printing market is forecast to be worth about US$55.8 billion (S$76 million) by 2027, according to technology consultancy Smithers.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.