AM Around the World: How Mature is 3D Printing in the Asia-Pacific Region?
20 November 2019
Check out Part 1 of AM Around the World series, which explores the adoption of 3D printing in North America and Europe.
Asia-Pacific (APAC) is transforming into the fastest growing 3D printing market. The region is expected to grow at the highest rate of 18% and to spend $3.6 billion on 3D printing within the next 5 years.
Until recently, the region has been lagging behind in 3D printing’s adoption, compared to North America and Europe. However, growing interest from APAC manufacturing companies and the introduction of many government-led strategies and policies have helped several countries within the region to succeed in creating a sustainable AM ecosystem.
Below, we’re looking at how 3D printing is adopted and supported in China, South Korea, Singapore and Australia.
3D printing in the world’s ‘manufacturing powerhouse’
China is perhaps the biggest force behind 3D printing growth in Asia, in light of the huge government support to promote the industry. China’s 3D printing market was estimated to be worth $1.8 billion in 2018. Currently, it’s the third-largest 3D printing market, after the US and Western Europe.
In 2017, the Chinese government issued the ‘Additive Manufacturing Industry Development Action Plan’, looking to make a national AM industry worth $3 billion by 2020.
The Action Plan, which forms part of ‘Made in China 2025’ strategic roadmap for the country’s manufacturing sector, outlines long-term ambitions and development goals to make China one of the leading 3D printing nations. One of the highlights of the plan is a goal to introduce over 100 AM pilot projects across 10 key industries, including the medical, cultural, educational and Internet sectors.
To achieve these goals, China is nurturing promising AM companies, supporting standardisation for the Chinese AM industry and investing in 3D printing workforce development. For example, China recently founded the first 3D Printing College in the world, Baiyun-Winbo 3D Printing Technology College in Guangzhou.
The country also has plans to install 3D printers in 400,000 elementary schools. Initiatives like these will benefit Chinese society in the long term, as the people would be educated and skilled in 3D technology from a young age.
AM technologies in China
It’s estimated that 48% of current 3D printing revenues in China come from 3D printers, (compared to 37% for Europe or 33% for the United States). This figure indicates that there’s a strong demand for 3D printing hardware in the country.
One of the key areas seeing fast growth in China is metal 3D printing, with the likes of Bright Laser Technologies and Shining 3D developing metal laser-based 3D printers. Shining 3D, for example, has recently expanded its line of AM products with the release of the EP-M150 3D printer. The new SLM 3D printer is suited to small metal 3D printing applications, one example being dental crowns. The printer is said to be capable of producing 500 crowns using only 1 kg of metal powder.
The rise of Chinese AM machinery has been particularly noticeable at the TCT Asia 2018, one of the biggest AM-related trade shows in China. TCT Magazine reports that there were as many as 38 metal 3D printers of all shapes and sizes, developed and manufactured by Chinese companies.
According to TCT Asia speaker and industry expert, Graham Tromans, ‘in China, metal AM is seen as more of a manufacturing process compared to the plastic processes. The automotive and aerospace sectors are of the utmost importance to China’s manufacturing economy and that is why so many of the companies are developing metal machines.’
There’s also a wide selection of polymer 3D printers from companies like UnionTech (one of China’s largest SLA 3D printer manufacturers), INTAMSYS and Farsoon Technologies.
Industries adopting 3D printing
According to a recent EY report, 78% of surveyed Chinese companies have already adopted 3D printing in 2019.
Such high rates can be explained by a growing demand for smarter, more efficient production in China. 3D printing is one technology companies are implementing to meet this need.
One example of this is the Chinese automotive sector. Pix Moving, an automotive start-up in Guizhou Province, is developing autonomous-driving cars by combining 3D printing and generative design techniques.
Specifically, the company is using Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) technology to 3D print car chassis that will have fewer parts and, therefore, will weigh much less. Success in making such cars safe and viable would make Pix a world pioneer.
Another Chinese sector that is being revolutionised by 3D printing is construction. WinSun company is currently leading construction 3D printing in China. WinSun’s 3D printer, measuring 10 metres wide and 6.6 metres high, uses a special material made of cement, sand and fibre, mixed with a proprietary additive. The technology is used during a prefabrication stage to print the walls in the factory, to then be assembled on site.
WinSun first made a splash in 2014, with a batch of 10 houses printed out of recycled construction material and assembled in Suzhou. Currently, the company is working on 3D printing the world’s largest building complex, expected to be unveiled in Shanghai at the end of this year.
When it comes to the Chinese healthcare industry, large hospitals are already benefiting from 3D-printed organ models, which surgeons use to prepare for complex surgeries.
Furthermore, several hospitals in China have been 3D printing implants in clinical practice for many years now. For example, surgeons at the Second Hospital of Shandong University 3D-printed a lower jaw implant for a young patient in 2018.
In addition, Peking University Third Hospital, Air Force Military Medical University Tangdu Hospital, Guangdong Provincial Orthopaedic Hospital, and other lower-level hospitals, have also applied 3D-printed orthopaedic implants in the treatment of complex orthopaedic diseases.
Given the high adoption rate and increased government engagement, 3D printing is entering a golden period in China. Being hailed as a future 3D printing leader, China is well-positioned to claim this title in the near future.
Spotlight: South Korea
South Korea also has a strong focus on 3D printing growth. Despite relatively late adoption of the technology, compared to other advanced countries, Korean companies are now setting their sights on catching up to the field in this quickly developing sector.
To keep up with 3D printing innovation, the Korean government is providing national support. In 2014, it established a 3D printing roadmap for R&D. This plan aims to support the existing industry with an integrated ecosystem that allows players to easily use and connect with 3D printing technology. Central and local governments have established 8 3D printing regional centres across the country to provide 3D printing infrastructure and consulting services.
Healthcare is leading AM adoption
Largely due to strong government support, the medical sector has taken a leading role in adopting and implementing 3D printing in Korea.
Among the government’s 10 priority sectors, outlined in the 3D printing roadmap, healthcare accounts for the highest proportion. Furthermore, the government’s pilot projects to ‘foster new demands’ are mainly intended for the healthcare industry. This implies that from the government’s standpoint, healthcare 3D printing applications offer the quickest wins at the initial stage.
Thanks to the government’s support, there were 19 3D-printed medical devices, mostly orthopaedic implants, officially registered by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, by the end of 2016.
Could South Korea be the next global 3D printing leader?
Compared to other countries, South Korea was never caught up in the consumer 3D printing hype. Since the introduction of the technology in the country, Koreans have largely viewed it as an industrial process, not a consumer toy.
According to a report by EY, the familiarity with 3D printing in Korea grew from 24% in 2016 to 81% in 2019, making it the nation with the most 3D printing experience.
Furthermore, Korea accounted for roughly 4.1% of all installed AM systems in the world in 2018 and has the third-largest number of machines in the Asia-Pacific region.
Most of the 3D printing hardware in the country is imported. In 2017, overseas manufacturers accounted for more than 80% of total 3D printer sales in Korea, according to a report by Ipsos Business Consulting.
According to A.T Kearney, Korea could become the global leader, thanks to a national government-led R&D roadmap focused on 3D printing.
In addition to establishing the national AM strategy, Korea’s government invests heavily in AM technology development. In 2017, the 3D printing industry in Korea received 41.2 billion won (the equivalent of $37 million) in government funding. In 2019, the funding was increased to 59.3 billion won (the equivalent of $52.7 million).
Progressively, Korea is integrating AM into its economy for the benefit of manufacturers and its overall national production. We expect that Korea will be a significant growth market for AM technologies and applications through 2019 and in the years to come.
3D printing in the ASEAN region
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) refers to a region in South East Asia that includes 10 countries: Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines.
ASEAN’s 10 member countries have varying degrees of AM adoption, with many of them focused on developing the infrastructure and skills to benefit from this disruptive technology.
According to a white paper by ThyssenKrupp, one of the largest industrial groups in Germany, AM penetration in ASEAN today is small, representing only 5 to 7% of Asia’s total AM spend estimated at $3.8 billion for 2019.
Within the ASEAN region, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia are the largest adopters of 3D printing, accounting for around 80% of the AM market by value.
For most regions, the biggest roadblock to AM adoption today is not the technology but lack of know-how. However, AM has the potential to create more than $100 billion in value and 3 to 4 million jobs in ASEAN, according to ThyssenKrupp.
To capture this opportunity, policymakers and business leaders need to work together on implementing AM projects and providing the necessary support to build up AM infrastructure, skills and capabilities in the ASEAN countries.
Singapore as an ASEAN trailblazer in AM
Singapore has placed great emphasis on the development of the national 3D printing industry. To support the growth and competitiveness of the national manufacturing sector, Singapore’s government has established the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan, which identified AM as an essential enabler.
But perhaps the largest government initiative to drive AM has been the establishment of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC) in 2015. NAMIC identifies and develops AM start-ups and technologies and jumpstarts public-private collaborations.
Since 2013, the Singaporean government invested $380 million through NAMIC to help it translate 3D printing research into commercial applications.
Furthermore, Singapore is home to many AM research hubs and centres of excellence, established by outside companies. Global companies like GE, ThyssenKrupp, HP, UPS, Evonik, Voestalpine and DNV GL have all set up regional AM centres in Singapore.
Local start-ups, like 3D MetalForge, Anatomics and SpareParts 3D, have been quite successful in developing AM applications and aiding penetration across industrial sectors.
AM adoption across industries
Industries that have a high potential for AM adoption, such as aerospace, marine and offshore, as well as medical technology, are well-matched to Singapore’s manufacturing base.
Singapore is thus in a good position to adopt AM technologies for improved performance and cost advantages in these industries. NAMIC puts in a lot of effort to drive such adoption, for instance, by engaging the Land Transport Authority in the use of 3D printing to make spare parts for maintenance and engineering operation of trains and buses.
Clearly, Singapore is currently ASEAN’s biggest AM knowledge centre and user that will further support the rise of the technology in the region.
Australia: A new hub for metal 3D printing
In 2019, Australia’s AM market makes up only around 3-5% of the total AM market in APAC. In adopting AM technology, Australia has lagged behind the rest of the world. However, in recent years the country has seen an influx of new companies developing AM hardware, with key examples being Aurora Labs, SPEE3D and Titomic.
Interestingly, the majority of AM developments are centred around metal-based technologies. One reason may lie in the country’s abundant deposits of natural resources, including some of the largest reserves of ores for metals such as aluminium, titanium, nickel, steel and tantalum.
This means that instead of sending a massive amount of these resources overseas, the country is looking for ways to harness these resources at home. Metal 3D printing emerges as one of the most promising technologies to process metals like titanium, nickel and aluminium.
The Australian government has been playing a positive role in fostering the adoption of AM in the country. CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, has made a substantial commitment to 3D printing research, with an AUD$ 6 million-plus investment in its Lab 22 AM facility.
Government-funded initiatives, such as the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) and the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), have also supported the broader transition of Australia’s manufacturing industry towards higher value AM technologies.
In the meantime, some Australian firms and institutions are making significant strides in furthering AM’s use. The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) founded the Centre for AM. With a range of AM technologies, including selective laser melting, direct laser metal deposition, fused deposition modelling and Polyjet, the Centre provides solutions to the aerospace, biomedical, defence and power generation industries.
Furthermore, Conflux Technology is a great example of how companies can use AM for product innovation. Metal 3D printing helps the company to design and manufacture more efficient, optimised heat exchangers for industries, including automotive, motorsport and aerospace.
AM in Australia is also on a strong growth path for applications in the medical, aerospace and defence-related sectors.
For example, RUAG Australia is collaborating on a two-year project to investigate uses of Direct Energy Deposition (DED) technology for aircraft component repair and manufacturing.
The Australian aviation industry could benefit significantly from the research project. The Australian Air Force’s estimated total cost of replacing damaged aircraft parts is more than AU$ 230 million. Using metal AM to repair damaged parts could lower this cost dramatically.
In another example, GE Additive has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the New South Wales (NSW) Government in Australia, to develop a 3D printing aerospace centre at the Western Sydney Aerotropolis.
In the medical industry, iOrthotics, which specialises in custom orthotics devices, has switched from polypropylene milling to 3D printing. Investment in 3D printing solutions has allowed iOrthotics to increase its production while eliminating over 30 tonnes of plastic landfill waste annually.
AM offers an amazing opportunity for Australian businesses to differentiate themselves and be competitive. It means that the growth of this technology in the region will continue, helping to build a more competitive and sustainable Australian manufacturing industry.
APAC region: A new contender for 3D printing leadership
APAC region remains a largely untapped opportunity when it comes to adoption of 3D printing. However, the status quo changes rapidly, and the region is catching up to global leaders.
China, in particular, is growing as a serious competitor to the AM established markets in the US and Europe. China’s 3D printing industry is expected to have an output value of $7.68 billion, or one-third of the global market by 2020, according to a forecast by the China Industry Information Institute. If its growth rates continue at this pace, China could become the largest 3D printing market in the near future.
Alongside China, there is a positive outlook for South Korea and some ASEAN countries when it comes to adoption and industrialisation of AM.
Clearly, most of this growth will depend on support from governments. National governments and businesses alike should take a direction towards upbuilding a 3D printing ecosystem. Ultimately, putting key elements of policies, research, education and commercialisation together will enable national economies and industries to take advantage of advanced manufacturing technologies like 3D printing.