3-D printers get support from gov’t

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3-D printers get support from gov’t


The government yesterday announced its plan to nurture the local 3-D printing industry and has will supply printers for small and midsize companies to use for free.

For its project, the Industry Ministry will spend 2.4 billion won ($2.3 million) this year to set up centers with printers, most of which will be imported, that can be used by the companies, and it will teach employees how to operate them.

Starting next year, the ministry will lend 3-D printers to individual businesspeople and small companies for free.

The government hopes the printers will increase manufacturing efficiency and generate profits in the local electronics, auto and medical industries, as well as other consumer goods.

The Industry Ministry and Science Ministry received approval for their plan at a science and technology committee meeting with other ministers and private sector experts.

The government said 3-D printers will help reduce research and development costs at small and midsize manufacturers that have hit financial hardships when making prototypes. The metal molds for 3-D printers can cost several million won.

3-D printers work by taking in a structural drawing of a product then producing a life-size plastic mock-up. The methods for printing vary. Liquefied plastic can be sprayed into the printer to make the model, or the printer can pile up pieces of plastic then solidify the product with a laser after shaping it. The laser 3-D printers, which can cost up to tens of millions of won, create more sophisticated final products.

Many countries are using 3-D printers to make completed saleable goods. The world’s electronics industries are making 22 percent of their products using the printers, while the auto industry makes 19 percent and the medical and dental industry 17 percent.

GE reported it saved up to 70 percent on its production costs and added that aerospace giant Boeing saved 50 percent.

The government also wants to develop software that can be used with the printers.

The science and education ministries will cooperate to include 3-D printers in their software curriculums in Meister high schools and at colleges. The industry and science ministries will construct a smartphone app store selling printable digital contents in a bid to raise people’s awareness od 3-D printing and expand the existing industry.

With these measures, the government hopes to help make at least five 3-D printing companies globally competitive and wants to have 15 percent of the world 3-D industry by 2020.

American IT research firm Gartner predicted that more than 25 percent of the world’s manufacturers will use 3-D printers in their production processes by 2018.

According to U.S.-based consulting company Wohlers Associates, Korea’s 3-D printing market was estimated to be worth about $29 million as of 2012, only about 2.3 percent of the global market. The company last year expected the world market size will increase fivefold to $10.8 billion by 2021.

BY KIM JI-YOON [jiyoon.kim@joongang.co.kr]

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