A*STAR Additive Manufacturing Symposium – AM Workforce Unpins Singapore’s Aspiration as Regional AM Hub

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4Q 2022 | IN-6780

Additive Manufacturing (AM) plays a significant role in Singapore reaching its goal to grow the country’s manufacturing sector by 50% by 2030. Singapore aspires to be the regional AM hub and its earlier efforts of Singapore to create business friendly environment has seen several recent investments in AM and the roll out of AM applications in the country. The AM Symposium brought together vendors and companies to shed insights into the current state of affairs of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations AM market such as the increased receptiveness and the availability of materials for companies compared to half decade ago. Yet, the lack of an AM workforce remains a challenge for the AM industry and Singapore’s aspiration.

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Additive Manufacturing is a Prime Focus for Singapore


Additive Manufacturing (AM) remains a prime focus for Singapore. Through continued efforts to grow the metal AM ecosystem, Singapore has seen an increased number of solution providers investing in the country to set up Research and Development or production facilities. Recent examples include A*STAR SIMTech and Hitachi Metal Singapore extending their collaboration on development of metal powder for Additive Manufacturing with an additional US$6.2 million investment (or S$8.5 million); General Electric Aviation’s Engine Services Singapore (GE AESS) business, which accounts for more than 60% of the company’s global repair volume, approving the use of metal Additive Manufacturing for its commercial jet engine components repairs; MolyWorks Materials, manufacturer of sustainable metal powders, opening a new metal upcycling foundry in Singapore to cater for demand in the Southeast Asia region; and PrinterPrezz signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to explore adoption of 3D-printed medical implants with local healthcare players such as SingHealth, NHG, and NUHS. Many of these applications are entirely new and evidence the growing interest and adoption of AM in Singapore. In the case of GE AESS, for example, the business accounts for more than 60% of the company’s global repair volume and it is the first maintenance, repair, and overhaul facility in the world approved to use AM for commercial jet engine components repairs.

Vendors' Insights on Additive Manufacturing


Through the A*STAR Additive Manufacturing Symposium, A*STAR SIMTech seeks to bring together vendors and companies looking to understand or adopt the technology. At the symposium, vendors such as SLM Solutions, Materialise, and Hitachi Metals shared about their capabilities as well as their insights on past projects and current state of market.

During the event, one common insight shared by these vendors is the increased receptiveness of Additive Manufacturing by companies locally in Singapore and in the broader Southeast Asia region when compared to half a decade ago. This is also evident in the live poll by the companies who attended the symposium with more than 70% of the companies interested in adopting AM within the next three years.

Another key insight is the positive development on the powder front by Hitachi Metals. They shared that the current products offered in the metal powder market, including theirs, have expanded the types of powder for different markets and applications. Dr. Maruno, Head of Material Solutions from Hitachi Metals, also shared that for companies early in their AM journey it is advised to start with existing powder materials to reduce the cost and shorten time to adopt the AM process. He noted that original powder can be produced but it increases the barrier with longer time, higher cost, and number of trials that goes into creating a new powder.

Other challenges discussed included the need to define the business case, the importance of public-private partnership to accelerate materials development, and the need to train and educate the workforce. A workforce with the requisite skills to design and engineer both products and process with AM is not readily and widely available yet in Singapore and the ASEAN region. Skills are specific not only to the operations of Additive Manufacturing equipment but also the software (e.g., 3D modelling and slicers). Thus, even when companies are ready to adopt AM, the lack of AM workforce availability inhibits progress.

Why is AM so Important for Singapore?


Among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, Singapore is seen as the leading early adopter for Additive Manufacturing, with Malaysia and Thailand being the other close contenders. According to ThyssenKrupp, in 2019, Singapore represented about 40% of the Additive Manufacturing revenue in ASEAN, making it the largest in the region. For Singapore, Additive Manufacturing is also a key area of focus to help the country reach the goal of growing the manufacturing sector by 50% by 2030. Government agencies such as the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC) facilitate AM adoption by providing funding for new AM programs while institutions such as A*Star curate specialized short courses or graduate diploma to accelerate AM education and training. These courses seek to establish a steady flow of qualified designers and engineers able to create and manage with Additive Manufacturing in mind and as an option.

Additive Manufacturing-as-a-service and automated AM work cells are two examples of how existing market constructs could change dramatically. 3D Systems, Carbon, Desktop Metal, Materialise, Siemens, and Stratasys have all demonstrated qualities and innovation in the last year that supports this direction of travel. It is important for Singapore, as an aspiring regional hub for AM, to attract these companies to benefit from their expertise as well as future economic contributions such as job creations. The lack of skilled workforce will no doubt hinder the adoption of Additive Manufacturing technology and presents a less attractive location to establish a regional office, however if there is anywhere to focus for AM in the ASEAN region it is Singapore.