Additive Manufacturing (AM), commonly known as Rapid Prototyping or 3D Printing has evolved over the past 30 years since the 1980s. The term AM refers to processes that produce a 3D part from a computer-aided design model by adding material successively, usually in a layer by layer fashion as defined in the ASTM International standard, F2792-12a. As opposed to conventional manufacturing such as machining, casting and moulding, the overall investment costs involved in AM are lower as there is less material wastage and no need for mould production. In addition, AM possesses the ability to produce parts with complex configurations and the flexibility to accommodate design changes conveniently to meet rapid changing industrial demands without incurring additional tooling costs. Typically, parts can be produced within a few hours to a week, and manufacturing does not require high volume production to break even. As such, AM is ideal for addressing dynamic technological trends and industrial demands.
In recent years, there is a growing trend in the development and the use of AM. The Economist has forecasted AM to be the 3rd industrial revolution due to its prospects of thriving into a new type of manufacturing industry. Manufacturing is an established and necessary sector in the spectrum of Singapore’s economy. It makes significant contributions to Singapore’s gross domestic production and national security through the constant supply of essential products and services. Judging by how the world adopts and adapts to AM, there is no reason for Singapore to stay stagnant. Indeed, there is little internal pressure for Singapore to focus on AM development due to having a relatively smaller market, but the external push is very real. First world countries, such as United States, United Kingdom and Australia have already established national centres or institutes on AM at various scales, setting an example for other advanced countries. In Asia, China is trying to follow closely this technological trend and has attempted to develop its own AM brands. However, the East is still far behind the West in general. Singapore, as a place where East meets West and a place where AM can be rooted back to the late 1980s, must take the leadership in developing new AM-based manufacturing technologies and training future AM engineer leaders, for Singapore as well as for the Asia-Pacific region.
Currently, there are seven AM processes categorised under the ASTM standard and each process has its unique advantages and challenges. NAMC will focus on the powder bed fusion process, which is one of the most accepted and also viewed to be the most important AM process. However, much of this process is still under research today. The NAMC initiative aims to realise its full potential. NAMC will tap on NTU’s and SIMTech’s existing AM experience and expertise to set up a large scale AM facility for research and education to generate new knowledge, create novel technologies and train manpower in the area of Selective Laser Melting. In addition, a conducive AM environment akin to NAMC favours the development and building of in-house AM capabilities and strengths. Beyond that, these can be directly translated and extended into the industry for a variety of applications. By taking advantage of Singapore’s position and manufacturing reputation in the aerospace and marine industry, coupled with anticipating infrastructures and an accessible pool of talents, NAMC offers an ideal setting in Asia to attract and support global businesses.
Therefore, NAMC will allow Singapore to support comprehensive AM activities that will propel AM into the next level of maturation and make a direct and uplifting impact in Singapore’s manufacturing sector. According to the Web of Science, NAMC also hosts the two most published and most cited Scientists in the world in Rapid Prototyping, frequently known as 3D Printing or Additive Manufacturing. NAMC will focus on manufacturing sustainability in Singapore by concentrating on metal AM systems and producing alloy components for three core sectors: Research, Education and Application. This will provide Singapore with the competitive advantage that will spur new opportunities in design tools development, AM knowledge propagation and manufacturing technology innovation, complementing Singapore’s existing strong manufacturing capabilities.
Professor Chua Chee Kai
NTU Additive Manufacturing Centre