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US-listed Ultra Clean Tech launches 3D printing facility in Woodlands

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A worker operates a large-scale 3D printer on July 25, 2015.

NASDAQ-LISTED semiconductor firm Ultra Clean Technology (UCT) on Monday launched in Singapore what is believed to be the largest and most comprehensive commercial 3D printing facility in South-east Asia, marking another step forward in the Republic's ambition for 3D printing to lead its next industrial revolution.

The new facility, located in Woodlands, is California-based UCT's pioneer office for 3D printing - costing over S$5 million to build, BT has learnt. Among its services are prototyping, 3D engineering, virtual warehousing and consumer parts production; its maximum build volume is 650 x 750 x 550 mm.

Lavi Lev, senior vice-president of UCT's Asia division, told BT: "We are enabling local companies and designers to access instant 3D printing services and do personalised manufacturing - of items from jewellery to aircraft parts - at no minimum quantity."

The production of prototypes for parts can be done in a "matter of days", Mr Lev said, reducing costs, increasing productivity and opening opportunities for smaller companies to participate. 3D printing also "revolutionises" traditional supply chains via virtual warehousing, in which parts are digitally stored and manufactured only on demand, replacing the current approach of storing thousands of physical parts in warehouses at a cost of "millions".

This shift from mass production to mass on-demand customisation will positively impact the economy in many ways, according to Mr Lev.

This is so even though 3D printing in its current state will not replace mass manufacturing yet, noted Brendan Goh, co-founder of Pirate3D, a local startup which in 2013 raised US$1.4 million - way above its US$100,000 goal - on the Kickstarter funding platform for its self-made 3D printer. "Only when 3D printing can achieve high speeds and a good quality of finished products will it really make a huge dent in traditional manufacturing," Mr Goh said. "Nonetheless, it's great because the first step for the industry would be to begin with a service model until 3D printers become a lot more affordable such that the high-end ones become attainable for SMEs and individuals."

While some hurdles still exist, the Singapore government has begun "investing ahead of time" to build up upstream R&D and downstream commercialisation capabilities, said an Economic Development Board spokeswoman. "We have also started to train relevant talents in support of growth opportunities in the additive manufacturing industry."

Just last week, Singapore unveiled the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster, which will tap the government's S$200 million Innovation Cluster Programme launched in 2013 to nurture 3D printing.