Parts manufacturing sees a 3D shakeup

March 2021

Singapore-based 3D Metalforge commenced trading on the ASX this month without a lot of fanfare. But the growing global demand for additive manufacturing presents considerable opportunities.

By SIMON SHEPHERDSON

Additive manufacturing is a term that many people may never have heard.

But it’s a booming industry that accounted for approximately US$11b last year. Additive manufacturing is the process of designing, 3D printing and finishing parts to cater for a broad range of applications.

According to ASX debutante 3D Metalforge (ASX: 3MF), which has developed systems, processes and technology to enable manufacturing of predominantly metal-based parts, the market potential is almost limitless.

CEO and Founder Matthew Waterhouse says additive manufacturing ticks a lot of boxes for industry.

“Being able to produce parts where and when they are needed is a far better model than the old way of transporting parts around the world,” Matthew said.

“It creates a whole lot more flexibility, efficiency and sustainability in the supply chain.”

Established in Singapore in 2016, 3D Metalforge is one of only six additive manufacturers worldwide that is certified by Lloyds Register to print metallic parts.

It’s a significant accolade for the company, as it provides the leverage required to work with oil and gas, maritime and other related industries where integrity of parts is critical.

As such, the company is far more than a 3D print shop.

“We help clients identify the parts they need, design them to meet the specific requirements of the client and the application, and provide lots of post-production including surface finishing, machining and testing,” Matthew said.

“The company is also starting to manage digital inventories for clients, which means that rather than having to store physical parts, they can come to us to print parts on demand.”

To date, 3D Metalforge has established a manufacturing centre in Singapore, where the company is headquartered, as well as a technical sales office in Houston and is in the process of establishing its presence in Perth.

Further global expansion is planned as customer demand continues to grow.

Matthew says the value proposition is usually compelling for clients.

“We initially provide a proof of concept that might include producing a part in two weeks that typically takes eight to ten weeks to deliver,” he said.

“Then we’ll work with them to identify what parts are suitable for additive manufacturing, which will almost always identify the substantial benefits that can be gained, before moving to steady state production.”

In some cases, the end goal is to establish facilities inside a client’s supply chain, which has been the case with PSA, operator of the container terminals at Port of Singapore and the world’s second largest port operator.

Matthew says final testing and commissioning is underway for equipment located within the organisation.

He says a key reason for entering the Australian market and listing on the ASX was to target opportunities in defence, mining and resources, and energy.

“The ability to produce the right parts faster and cheaper is compelling, but so is the fact that it enables operators and asset owners to extend the life of their facilities,” Matthew said.

“In many cases older parts may no longer be available and it’s very costly for traditional manufacturers to tool up to create a few dozen items.

“But we can create digital files of old parts and manufacture them on demand.

“The other aspect that’s really grabbing people’s attention is the sustainability of additive manufacturing. It allows parts to be produced using less material, lower energy when used in re-manufacturing and generates lower transport emissions.

“We are also continually looking at more sustainable and green technologies for manufacturing.”

According to Matthew, the proposition for investors and market opportunities is compelling.

“While there’s some competition in certain areas, the additive manufacturing industry is still largely at a collaborative stage,” he said.

“But our differentiator is that we’ve been revenue positive for some time, have a global footprint and have technology that’s proven.

“The additive manufacturing sector is maturing nicely and it is being embraced by a growing number of industries, so our growth trajectory is very much aligned to that growing popularity.”