Singapore: SPRING-NRF launch additive manufacturing tech cluster

3d printing in space. Credit: Flickr/NASA

SPRING Singapore and the National Research Foundation (NRF) of Singapore are joining hands to launch a 3D printing cluster. The new cluster, called National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC),  is intended to boost Singapore’s manufacturing sector.

The development was announced on Tuesday, 22 September 2015, at TechInnovation, a technology-industry brokerage event organised by the Intellectual Property Intermediary.

The NAMIC scheme will be led by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), in partnership with the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).

This NTU-NUS-SUTD alliance represents public partners who are likely to contribute to interesting technical developments, given the consolidated expertise and resources that this academic alliance represents.

3D printing is an additive manufacturing technology where products are constructed via a variety of methods. Additive processes are used, with successive layers of material deposited on top of one another in sequence, under computer control. The objects produced can be of virtually any possible shape or geometry and are produced from a 3D model or other electronic data source.

In a 2011 featureThe Economist noted: “Three-dimensional printing makes it as cheap to create single items as it is to produce thousands and thus undermines economies of scale.”

While initially restricted to certain materials such as plastics, resins and metals, recent advances have seen the use of ceramics (e.g. 3D-printing of glass) and lasers (e.g. selective laser sintering), continuous liquid interface production (CLIP), as well as its use in producing customised 3D-printed drugs and complex biological structures. According to The Economist, a basic 3D printer, also termed a fabricator, now costs less than a laser printer did in 1985.

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The NAMIC programme is intended to aid entrepreneurial technology ventures with the commercialisation of intellectual property. The scheme includes access to incubators, with a joint fund also being established to support translational projects between research institutes and industry practitioners.

Commenting on the development at TechInnovation, S Iswaran, Second Minister for Trade and Industry, said, “Namic will translate related upstream research in Singapore’s public research entities and institutes of higher learning into downstream commercial applications, lowering the barriers for companies to incorporate additive manufacturing technologies into their core business and manufacturing processes.”

Additive manufacturing is one of four technology areas identified for development, as part of the S$200 million (US$141.6 million) Innovation Cluster Programme. Some of the applications arising from 3d printing are distributed manufacturing, mass customisation, rapid manufacturing & prototyping, as well as applications in food preparation.

While unlikely to replace or totally displace established mass production technologies and methodologies, for bespoke manufacturing solutions, it’s likely to see adoption and deployment in the biotechnology and aerospace industries.

In building machine components that must meet tough engineering tolerances, 3D printing is predicted to displace traditional production methods rapidly. This is particularly true for aerospace components, and jet engine parts in particular.

Building a machine’s components a layer at a time means complicated geometries can be made more efficiently and rapidly, rather using existing processes. Rolls-Royce is testing the technique for commercial jet engine components, while researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia have built a small jet engine entirely through 3D printing.

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