South Africa is one of the leaders in additive manufacturing (AM) among emerging and developing countries, Dr Jorge Vicente Lopes da Silva tells Engineering News Online. Lopes da Silva is an AM researcher at the Brazilian Federal Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation's Renato Archer Information Technology Centre -- CTI Renato Archer for short, in Portuguese. (AM is also popularly called 3D printing.)
"I think that South Africa is doing very well," he affirms. "Perhaps South Africa is small enough to make it easy for people to work together. The CRPM [Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing, at the Central University of Technology] is fantastic! South Africa is doing very good things with medical applications and working with industry. In certain important aspects, South Africa is a model for us in Brazil."
With regard to other emerging countries, he points out that China is in a class of its own. The country hosts many makers of AM machines, for example. "Turkey is doing well, especially in dental applications. It is growing fast."
"Brazil is by far the leader in Latin America," he observes. "Mexico is in second place, but Mexican enterprises produce for US customers using US designs. Mexico has very little indigenous AM design capability. Brazil has a lot of indigenous design capability. Chile is growing fast, especially in medical applications. There is significant potential in Argentina and, in the near future, Colombia."
He reports that Brazil has grown rapidly in AM over the past three years, but remains far behind developed countries. However, Brazilian industry is increasingly aware of the capabilities and potential of AM. And international groups were starting to look at Brazil as sources of AM machines (about two Brazilian companies now manufacture such equipment) and of feedstock materials.
Brazil has been investing in AM for some 20 years now. "There is a lot of research and development in AM in Brazil, both at universities and at federal and state research institutions," he notes. "For example, São Paulo City has a 'FabLab' which gives small companies cheap access to AM machines. Other Brazilian cities are following suit, setting up their own FabLabs. But we still have a long way to go."
As is the case in South Africa, and for similar socioeconomic reasons, in Brazil medical applications are a major concern. The CTI Renato Archer has worked with public hospitals to develop pilot projects, applying AM to help treat patients through, for example, making implants or prostheses. But the centre does not undertake production activities. Rather, the experience and expertise it gains are passed on to the private sector, especially high-tech start-up companies.
"Twenty years ago, our centre started developing software -- open source software," he highlights. "We were the first in the world to have free software in this area, which integrates medical imaging scanners with AM machines, allowing the easier specification, design, development and making of patient-specific implants. In Brazil, many AM research centres are integrated into public hospitals. The same thing is happening in South Africa."
The main challenges for AM in Brazil are education and lack of investment. There has been a lack of knowledge of the sector and its capabilities across Brazilian industry, with many companies taking a long time to decide to invest in new technology.
"I think the AM sector in Brazil will grow much faster over the next two to five years. Companies are now much more aware of the potentialities of AM. Our research centre is finding much more interest in the sector, particularly from major companies."
Lopes da Silva attended the 2018 Conference of the Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa (Rapdasa) in Johannesburg. "In Brazil, we don't have a counterpart to Rapdasa, which has been going for 19 years!"