South Africa’s Rapid Prototyping Market


Around the world, the different forms of additive manufacturing like rapid prototyping, 3D printing and metal 3D printing sectors are growing almost at an exponential rate. Even though late to the party, the industrial scene in South Africa is showing signs of promising growth in this sector. One of the highlights of South African 3D printing scene has to be the Cheetah 3D printer- a large scale one by Hans Fouche. This printer has given the country its recognition in the community of rapid prototyping and 3D printing. I Maker Lab of South Africa recently put this printer to the test. On the other hand, Aachen University of Applied Sciences, a German institution has been holding summer school sessions of 3D printing in South Africa. This has been an excellent educational opportunity for professors and students alike about the working principles of additive manufacturing. The printers used for these summer schooling sessions are the RepRap 3D printers of German origin. These are only but a few examples of how much the rapid prototyping scene has advanced in South Africa.


Rapid Prototyping: Government Initiatives

Since the year 2014, the public sector of the country has invested around $24.5 million USD or 358 million Rand in the research and development of 3D printing technology. It is very much likely that this number will increase in the foreseeable future. Department of Science and Technology (DST) of South Africa have committed around 30.7 million Rand towards research programs on additive manufacturing. These programs mainly focus on aerospace components manufacturing, 3D design, titanium medical implants and printing. One of the flagship projects of DST happens to be Project Aeroswift. This initiative is collaboration between the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research National Laser Center and Aerosud ITC. When it was first launched in the year 2012, the aims were to build and design 3D printing systems that could print metal parts on a large scale at a short time. The project is still underway and upon completion will have produced a 2m x 60cm x 60cm build envelope 3D printer. The printer will be working with metals including titanium to build components at very high speeds- even faster than what current 3D printing solutions available in the market. The total investment by the DST in the project has been around 107 million Rand. This project, if successful could be a game changer to potentially benefit the industry of South Africa.


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3D Printing in Local Businesses

Local businesses and startups too are showing keen interest to adapt rapid prototyping and 3D printing technology in order to streamline their production methods. Some case studies conducted by Vaal University of Technology shows that digital design, rapid prototyping and 3D printing has helped to make the footwear industry of South Africa reduce the time from idea generation to product development stage from ten to fourteen weeks to just three days. Central South African city Bloemfontein has seen the development of additive manufacturing strategy for improvement of technology on all fronts. This strategy has four areas of primary focus which are the development of new technology and materials, aerospace and medical parts, small business program development and support and lastly, making the technology more competitive against traditionally practiced methods of manufacturing.


One such effort has been by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). The recently made strategic business unit will better facilitate the development of the technology. According to the IDC, their focus on rapid prototyping and 3D printing will lead to faster countrywide adopting of this emerging technology; in turn stimulating job creation and promoting competitiveness on a global scale.


South Africa has also seen a steady rise in the number of 3D printing service providers and bureaus in the country. These companies, providing rapid prototyping services are helping private sector firms to make their ideas a reality. Coherent Audio, an audio company based in Pinetown has taken helped from such a rapid prototyping services company to help them produce and prototype low volume parts for their line of personalized speaker systems.


Rapid Prototyping in South Africa

With the very first systems being available as late as the early 1990’s, South Africa started out late with rapid prototyping. Only three rapid prototyping systems were available in the country till 1994, with the first one being introduced in 1991. CSIR and a number of other universities actively did research on the systems, being supported by industry awareness workshops and technology exchange programs. With these steady efforts, more and more firms began to adapt rapid prototyping technologies and internalized them into their systems. Rapid prototyping grew to such an extent in the international arena that several national organizations were formed. During the SME Rapid Conference held in Dearborn, USA in 1998, there was an initiation meet of GARPA (Global Alliance of Rapid Prototyping Associations). TCTC (Time Compression Technologies Center) invited South Africa and the country received an invite to become one of the members of GARPA. A launching ceremony was held at University of Stellenbosch for RAPDASA, which happened to be the first international meeting for the organization in November 2000. This organization since then has been the pillar of strength of the rapid prototyping industry in South Africa. The awareness of rapid prototyping stemmed from the efforts of independent activities and those under RAPDASA as well.


The central government of South Africa actively and firmly supported the implementation as well as research of rapid prototyping. The manufacturers wished to complete on an international level, hence their focus should be on process, integrated product development and system design of production in order to speed up the time of production. This was illustrated in a report prepared by DST (Department of Science and Technology) in the year 1998. This was the first of its kind report that happened to list tooling and rapid prototyping as technologies that had this potential.


This is how the country became a role model for other nations and late adopting countries as it slowly rose to a position of leading from a position of following through their innovative technologies.







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