I found it difficult to comprehend the idea of 3D printing when I first heard of it. “How could a 3D object possibly emerge from a printer?” I thought. Apparently it’s possible. Another thing that’s apparent is that when it comes to technological advancements, I’m always left far behind.

Towards the end of September 2015, Singapore brought to shore South East Asia’s largest 3D printing facility at the Ultra Clean Holdings (UCT) factory, offering 3D printing services to both consumers and large businesses alike. As I’ve learnt from a recent interview with Mr Lavi Lev – Senior Vice President of UCT Asia, 3D printing has been around since 1980’s, and it has been in business for the past 20 odd years with namely the medical, aeronautical, automotive, industrial, and jewelry sectors harnessing its vast potential. 

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Ultra Clean Holdings 3D Printing Gallery

It became clear to me several questions down the road regarding the topic, that the process of what was unfamiliar to me at first is actually fairly simple: Have a design in mind, illustrate it on a 3D software, click print, and voila. 

“A thin layer of the powder of the end product – be it ceramic, precious metals, or wood – is spread on a tray. It builds up layer by layer by fusing or binding the powdered material,”  Mr Lev lets in on the actual printing process. As clear cut as it may sound, the technology has its limitations.  

“3D printing is a very slow process”, admitted Mr Lev. He explained that the powdered material are laid out in thin layers – and by thin, he means microscopic thin – which will inevitably take hours to build up. “Time costs money,” he said, and this is why mass production will not stand to gain from this process. The printers are also able to print only one material at a time, so printing a metal box with a plastic ball within for example, will be impossible. The size of a product is also another limitation, as printers could go up to only a certain measurement.

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Ultra Clean Holdings 3D Printing Gallery

But every dark cloud has a silver lining. “All industrial designers are using 3D printing for prototyping,” shared Mr Lev. Large scale industries from architecture to jewelry-making are willing to tap into this technology and fork out big bucks for it without any qualms. And this is simply because prototyping is an extremely important process for these industries before producing the actual functioning product for the masses. Small-scale services like customisation is also available for consumers who wish to quickly get their hands on one-off pieces like jewelry or figurines that are uniquely designed by the customers for a more personal touch. Pre-designed products are also available for 3D printing on an online catalogue which Mr Lev has kindly shared.

While 3D printing has expanded its possibilities with various industrial sectors, the medical sector has yet to tap into its full potential. Currently, titanium is utilised in this industry to repair damaged bones. While UCT does not specialise in the medical field, Mr Lev did mention that the future with bio printing is still in talks with extensive research currently being carried out to test if printing biomaterial such as actual bones and bodily tissues could be achieved with this technology to replicate body parts for implants and such.

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