Singapore firms tapping 3D printing tech for new growth opportunities

SINGAPORE: Tissue implants customised for individual patients and a more cost-efficient way of producing hybrid solid rocket fuel – these are some of the joint industry research projects that are in the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster’s (NAMIC) portfolio.

In a joint media release on Monday (Jan 23), the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the National Research Foundation and SPRING Singapore gave an update on NAMIC since it was formed last year to help companies develop capabilities in 3D printing.

It has successfully established joint funding for 39 projects between companies and academic research institutions, with S$3.8 million from the Government via NAMIC and S$2.8 million from the companies, Dr Ho Chaw Sing, managing director of NAMIC, told Channel NewsAsia in an interview on Monday. 

The entity has reached out to about 400 local and international firms to help them adopt 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, the press release said. 

Dr Ho added the response from companies has been “positive” despite the use of 3D printing for industrial uses still being in its infancy. 

“While 3D printing has taken off for customised products in the aerospace and biomedical industries, many local companies still find the barrier of entry quite high due to the costly printers and a lack of expertise in additive manufacturing,” he explained.

“Our objectives are to reach, educate and help link these companies to scientists and engineers at research institutes, who already have existing 3D-printing machines and the technical know-how.”

Of the research projects in the works, NTU is working with a local 3D printing start-up focused on healthcare to develop tissue implants customised for patients. The new printer can print the supporting structure layer by layer and insert living cells to form a live tissue that could aid in the regeneration of particular tissues or organs, according to the press release.

Another research collaboration between the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and Gilmour Space Technologies is looking at developing a 3D printer to produce prototype solid fuel mixtures for rockets.

The solid fuel is made up of two or more fuels comprising wax and plastics and is designed and printed in a way that provides the rocket with the required thrust, but in a more cost-effective manner, the release said.

Going forward, NAMIC said it intends to reach out to more than 1,000 companies over the next four years to help them innovate with the use of such 3D printing technologies. 

Speaking at the start of NAMIC’s summit at the Pan Pacific Singapore on Monday, Permanent Secretary for the Trade and Industry Ministry Loh Khum Yean highlighted the importance of the manufacturing sector, which hires about 500,000 workers.

“The sector generates good jobs for Singaporeans, contributes significantly to productivity growth, and generates positive spillovers for the rest of the economy, including our services industries,” Mr Loh said.

The manufacturing sector in Singapore accounts for about 20 per cent of Singapore’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and is expected to remain a key driver in the country’s economic growth.

The Government had previously announced that S$3.2 billion will be set aside for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering studies under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 plan (RIE 2020).

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