Technology has advanced at a surprising rate in the past decades, affecting the way we work, travel and even think. Robotics, artificial intelligence, automation and 3D printing all form part of what has been tagged ‘Industry 4.0’, the fourth industrial revolution.
Technological innovation is also reshaping the way we make things. This goes further than using robot cleaners or self-driving cars – it opens up the possibility of designing and producing your own products. With the computerization of industry, manufacturing is being brought into our homes.
3D printing – also referred to as Additive Manufacturing – is the process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital model. The object is created by laying down successive layers of material under computer control. A variety of different processes are now in use, with the main differences between them being the way layers are deposited to create parts and the materials that are used, usually different types of plastic or metal.
The development of 3D printing means that, if they have access to a 3D printer and a 3D model, individuals, as well as conventional companies, will be able to make their own goods. Factories, heavy machines, mass production, stock space, and long-distance transport are no longer needed. A product can be made in an office, hospital, laboratory, school or home.
3D printing means it would be possible to manufacture products as and when needed, in the exact quantity required. This new way of making products could bring about a revolutionary change in supply chain economics. Bringing production to the domestic sphere, some believe, could lead to the end of global mass production.
But 3D printers are not new. Invented over 30 years ago, they were mostly used to produce industrial prototypes. It is only recently that industries such as aerospace, defence and health care have started to apply the technology.
3D printing applied to health
In the field of health, 3D printing is becoming a tool that is improving people’s lives. In 2013, 3D printing for health accounted for 1.4% of the 3D printing industry but, with the United States, China, the European Union and Japan investing heavily in this sector, that share is estimated to grow to 21.3% by 2023.
One example of the potential that 3D printing has to revolutionize modern healthcare is bioprinting: by simply scanning a part of the body, a 3D printer can create an organ out of bio-ink and transplant it directly into/or onto a human being. The body reacts to the new object by anchoring its cells onto the printed scaffold, which start making new tissue before the scaffold is eventually removed.
Currently, the countries with the largest share in the 3D printing industry market are the US, Japan, Germany, China, the UK, Italy, France and the Republic of Korea. But regions like Latin America are also advancing in this area. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is helping them exploit their potential.
In a seminar organized by UNIDO in Montevideo, Uruguay, in February 2015, experts from all over the world – including the Republic of Korea and Japan, world leaders in technological advances – exchanged views on the matter, with a special focus on Uruguay and Brazil.
Woong-Seong Chang, Programme Director of Metallic Materials for the Korea Evaluation Institute of Industrial Technology (KEIT), explained, “3D printing minimizes waste and utilizes less energy. It can create many complex figures and allows for the production of customized items, since designs are easy to modify for any purpose.”
Chang and the other experts discussed and studied worldwide challenges and experiences in advanced technologies, value chain integration and ways to enhance competitiveness. In particular, they analyzed opportunities and risks in the Uruguayan and Brazilian markets.
“Our idea was to bring the more than 80 participants together to study the complementarities in advanced technologies between Uruguay and Brazil, using the National Cluster Platform of the Republic of Austria as an example of networking and cooperation,” said Carlos Chanduvi, Chief of UNIDO’s Latin America and the Caribbean Bureau.
Brazil, with one of the world’s biggest public health care systems, is already using 3D printing to produce patient-specific cranial adaptive prostheses for skull injuries. Uruguay, having already jumped into the category of high-income country, is investing on knowledge and innovation to ensure its sustainable development, and is eager to learn from its neighbour.
Alexandre Moura Cabral, Director of the Department of Capital and Technology-Intensive Sectors of Brazil, and Carolina Cosse, newly appointed Minister of Industry, Energy and Mining of Uruguay, expressed their mutual enthusiasm for working together, thanking UNIDO for its support.
During the seminar, experts, policymakers, academics and business sector representatives analyzed the different gaps and complementarities between the two countries, with the idea of taking the cooperation to a regional level in the future.
“In the framework of ECLAC’s regional plan to integrate science, technology and innovation projects, we intend to use the knowledge acquired and the commercial and productive synergies established between Uruguay and Brazil and apply them to future cooperation in Latin America and the Caribbean. We aim to ensure productivity and inclusive and sustainable development in concrete sectors across the region,” said Chanduvi.
In addition to 3D printing, the participants explored the areas of robotic and artificial intelligence, automation and mechatronics, and animal electronic traceability. They will present strategies developed for each of these sectors during a second seminar planned to take place in Brazil in early summer.
By Laura Gil Martínez and Charles Arthur
Posted March 2015
Spanish version available here.
Centro de Tecnologia da Informação Renato Archer (CTI), research and development center of the Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT)