LOGISTICS provider UPS said on Monday that it will be opening an on-demand 3D printing factory in Singapore by the end of this year in partnership with additive manufacturing solutions provider Fast Radius.
It is UPS's first 3D printing network outside the US, and could impact the manufacturing industry and supply chains here.
The facility will be designated a Centre of Excellence, and will be supported by a newly formed advanced solutions team with the aim of developing supply chain solutions and promoting wider use of 3D printing.
Businesses that use this service to produce industrial parts are expedited for delivery via UPS's logistics network, with a turnaround time of as little as 24 hours.
In his opening remarks, Ross McCullough, president of UPS Asia-Pacific, said that the facility will help Asia strengthen its position as a manufacturing hub.
"Its biggest impact are the 'virtualisation of inventories' through postponement and the digitised transportation of parts thousands of miles in less than a second," he said.
This means that companies can save both time and money as they are able to rely less on physical warehouses, as well as produce parts closer to where they are needed.
While the move to 3D printing might seem surprising to those who only know UPS as a logistics service provider, Mr McCullough was quick to address this assumption.
"UPS isn't just a logistics company . . . As we evolved, technology is the glue that connects all the pieces along the supply chain together. Today, we're a technology company that brings competitive advantages through logistics to our customers."
During a panel discussion at the event, he said that there had been "no question" that the 3D printing facility will be in Singapore, despite the importance of markets such as China.
The main drivers for this include the 3D printing eco-system already in place, the number of regional headquarters and research and development centres located here that can be leveraged on, and the cooperation that they have with the Singapore government.
Panellist Michelle Ho, managing director of UPS Singapore, pointed out that the 3D printing facility will benefit not just multinational corporations but also small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
"It basically takes away the requirement of minimum quantity orders for SMEs and in turn lowers the cost of capital. It really helps to build up the capabilities of Singapore companies, having this cutting-edge technology right at our doorstep here. (This will help) bring them into the global supply chain."
She added that 3D printing will change how manufacturing companies in Singapore and the region operate, especially at the prototyping stage. Companies can make changes in the design easily, speeding the process of bringing products to market.
Ms Ho was speaking to the media for the first time since she took over as managing director of UPS Singapore in April this year. A UPS veteran, she has been with the company for more than 23 years.
In a separate interview with BT, she said: "People have this misconception that it (3D printing) only applies to multinationals or in the aerospace and medical industries. The application is more widespread than that."
While it is the use of 3D printing in the above fields that usually makes the headlines, it can be applicable to small enterprises as well.
Ms Ho said that UPS had organised seminars bringing SMEs together to enhance their capabilities in the logistics arena. A similar approach is being considered to reach out to this group of companies on the advantages of using 3D printing.
"This could be something that we will be working together for them as well, to introduce this to the local market."
Going forward, her top priority is to grow the Singapore business. One way to do that is to help local businesses to expand beyond Singapore, and this is through the use of innovative technologies such as 3D printing, she said.