Asia: The Time is Now for Additive

April 15, 2021
Arcam EBM Q10plus machines installed at AK Medical in Beijing

Czek Haan Tan, General Manager APAC, GE Additive

Czek Haan Tan - GM APAC - GE Additive





The recent uptick of metal additive adoption across Asia can be attributed directly to progressive organizations that recognize the disruptive potential of the technology, continue to invest in it and are ready to realize ambitious plans.

National governments across the region are also keeping a close eye on metal additive, as they start to incorporate advanced technologies into their post-pandemic industrial strategies.

Together, investment from businesses and interest from policymakers have created the perfect conditions for additive manufacturing ecosystems to form in our region. It is also thanks to a growing number of industry associations that ensure these ecosystems thrive and keep additive technology on the manufacturing agenda.

When it comes to the success of an ecosystem, timing and perfect conditions are important. And their proliferation in Asia has coincided with universities and other learning centers beginning to reshape curricula to include additive manufacturing. This is not just to stay at the cutting edge of research, it is also ensuring that future skill needs are met.

Reshaping Industrial Strategies

We all could have done without the COVID-19 pandemic. However, from a crisis often comes an opportunity to reshape and reset. Globally, we’re already seeing policymakers rethinking how to weave in AI, automation and additive into their industrial strategies and policy. However, here in Asia – even before the pandemic – policymakers were already committing to advanced technology.

The additive ecosystems in place here have already become ingrained in our economies’ response to wider, macro trends such as an aging population, automation and climate change.

For example, in China, the government recently shifted to a centralized model to procure standardized medical devices, as the demand for orthopedic implants increases.  This presents a significant opportunity for metal additive technology to respond. Our orthopedic implant manufacturing customers like AK Medical are already rising to the challenge and rapidly scaling additive production.

Super Users, Startups and Schools

By its very nature, additive manufacturing is an application-centric industry.  Here in Asia - and particularly in the manufacturing-centric economies such as China, Japan and South Korea – it tends to be larger manufacturing companies that also own the design process that are driving adoption and influencing the additive agenda.

These metal additive super users are hugely important in nourishing our ecosystems. As these super users continue to invest in in-house capabilities, expertise and knowledge and bring solutions to market, an additive mindset quickly begins to permeate, first across their supply chain, then their wider manufacturing base and eventually as employers of choice for additive talent.

As the need for additive skilled engineers and operators increases, the first bridges of industry-academic collaboration are built. The need to educate and share knowledge is the foundation for many industry associations and, in turn, a vehicle to engage with policymakers.

In fact, many innovative pioneers -- such as Bralco Advanced Materials in Singapore and Hongsworks in South Korea -- have their roots in academic and industry association ecosystems.

The importance of startups and scale-ups should not be underestimated either. They also play an integral role in driving awareness and adoption of additive in their domestic markets. Zenith Tecnica in Auckland, New Zealand, is a great example of this. Its commitment to additive innovation has attracted work from the national airline, the New Zealand Defence Force, the country’s elite Paralympic squad and a growing international customer base.

Maintaining Momentum

Australia, and in particular the state of New South Wales (NSW), is also worth looking at. As the country reinvigorates its manufacturing industry, it is making big infrastructure swings and investing in advanced technology. It is estimated that advanced manufacturing could add up to $30 billion to Australia's manufacturing output by 2026.

In recent years, GE Additive has signed agreements with the NSW Government and the University of Sydney. Those initiatives are now starting to bear fruit.

The establishment of the Sydney Manufacturing Hub will create an ecosystem around the University of Sydney’s Darlington campus. Work continues on the hugely innovative Western Sydney Aerotropolis project, which, once realized, will be a physical manifestation of an advanced technology ecosystem.

In South Korea, industry associations such as the Incheon Industry-Academy Collaboration Institute (IIACI) and the Korea Aerospace Industries Association (KAIA) are providing focus and a platform for knowledge sharing. GE Additive is heavily involved in both organizations and partners with them through formal agreements to provide training and mentoring, educating companies large and small on the potential for metal additive.

I’m enthused to see other centers of metal additive excellence popping up across the entire region. There is great R&D work underway across South East Asia, especially at universities in Singapore, which has quickly resulted in a thriving additive ecosystem that taps into the country’s rich seam of engineering talent and entrepreneurial spirit.

Space for Growth

Looking at industry, the aerospace and defense sector is always the perennial front runner with metal additive.  Here in Asia, it is no different.  But within that industry, the space exploration and satellite sector could potentially become the next lucrative additive hot spot for Asian companies.

At the time when we signed our memorandum of understanding with the NSW Government, its Premier Gladys Berejiklian outlined goals to triple the size of Australia’s space sector to $12 billion by 2030, creating up to 20,000 new jobs in this industry alone.

It is not just Australia that is looking to space. We see similar enthusiasm from our customers in China and Japan who are looking at our large-format additive machines and high-quality powders specifically for space applications.

We know from our own deep experience in aerospace and defense and its continued super use of additive the role that industry ecosystems and regional associations also play in highly regulated industries, especially in the areas of regulation, certification and standards.

Additive’s Time is Now

With levels of investment in metal additive seemingly on the rebound after the pandemic, those who invest during the downturn will thrive in the recovery. Don’t believe the stereotype that Asia significantly lags other regions when it comes to additive, because it truly feels like its time is now.