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Progress in South Africa

November 8, 2015

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event — Terry Wohlers @ 10:25

The Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa (RAPDASA) held its 16th annual conference near Pretoria last week. Growth in attendance mushroomed from around 135 people last year to 230 this year. Strong development activity and investment around additive manufacturing and 3D printing over the past year have expanded in many parts of the world, including South Africa.

One interesting development is the growth of the Idea 2 Product (I2P) labs in South Africa. The I2P lab concept is the brainchild of Deon de Beer, now at North-West University in Potchefstroom. The labs offer a low-cost setup where people of all ages, especially youth, can go to create, invent, and development new product ideas using design software, 3D printers, and related tools and equipment. Today, 20+ I2P labs are in operation in 10 countries, with about half them in South Africa.

Professor de Beer, largely responsible for putting South Africa on the “AM map,” was previously at Vaal University of Technology (VUT) where he launched a large and impressive science and technology park. The facility now employs 80 people and houses high-end machines from EOS, Stratasys, Voxeljet, and other companies. Before that, he started and grew the Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing at Central University of Technology (CUT), a world-class facility with some the best people, experience, machines you will find anywhere. When de Beer touches something, it typically turns into gold, although you would never know it when talking with him. His relatively quiet and humble demeanor is invigorating.

Another interesting activity in South Africa is the Aeroswift project, which is focused on the development of a large powder bed fusion AM machine. It is being developed by the National Laser Centre at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Aerosud, an aerospace company located in Pretoria. Funding is coming from the South African Department of Science and Technology. The system has an impressive build volume of 2.0 x 0.6 x 0.6 m (79 x 24 x 24 inches) and employs a powerful 5-kilowatt laser.

The Aeroswift process is capable of consolidating 60 mm3 (0.0037 in3) of metal per second. From the outside, the machine looks 100% complete, but the process is not yet making parts. The development of the machine was launched in early 2012 and about R107 million (~$8 million) has been invested thus far.

Industry adoption of AM in South Africa is not nearly as wide or deep as it is in the U.S. and many parts of Europe. However, the growth in attendance at RAPDASA 2015, coupled with technology transfer efforts, particularly at CUT and VUT, will help accelerate South Africa’s position. The country is working to better leverage its vast mineral reserves for making titanium—second only to Australia—by producing powders and AM machines that can process titanium. One goal is to reduce the shipping of titanium minerals to other countries for processing into usable materials and to transition that business to South Africa. If this occurs, the country could become a much bigger player in AM internationally.