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The World is Small

February 5, 2007

Filed under: additive manufacturing,education,future,life — Terry Wohlers @ 18:12

New information, methods, and applications of technology are transferred so incredibly fast today, compared to years ago. South Africa is a case in point. It is currently applying some of the most advanced technology in the world and receiving a constant flow of machines, software, and know-how from the U.S. and Europe. One organization is running five laser sintering systems, two stereolithography systems, fused deposition modeling, and a system from Solidscape. Not only is it considered the leader on the African continent, it is now considered world class, given the advancements this organization has made in recent years. Other organizations in South Africa are not far behind.

I attended a conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in December. Most of the information discussed at the event was cutting edge. Individuals were eagerly talking about the latest in 3D printing and how they might apply additive fabrication to custom and short run production. Some of the latest machines and example parts and assemblies were on display. The conference and small exhibit were not a lot different from what you’d see in the U.S., Europe, or Japan.

The industry is maturing with product distribution and service organizations expanding into countries that before were not considered viable markets. The availability of new products and services in these regions of the world is helping to create knowledge and experience among people inspired by a range of industry and academic meetings and events.

New information is being distributed quickly in far away places, as easily as sending it across the street. Now, if only a plane trip to South Africa or Asia was five hours instead of more than 15 hours, the world would be even smaller.


  1. South Africa? What has been the driver of this surprising development of 3D printing? Is there any industry or field of activity connected to 3D printing world that has special relevance in South Africa’s economy?

    Comment by Sergio Monge — February 7, 2007 @ 16:13

  2. The Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa (RAPDASA) and its annual conference were launched in November 2000. They have been effective in creating awareness throughout the country. Meanwhile, 3D printers have become less expensive and more capable, making the technology a good fit for many organizations in the country.

    Comment by Terry Wohlers — February 7, 2007 @ 16:27

  3. First for Sergio, some background on the SA industry: SA is a very special country, but also with unique problems, challenges and opportunities. South Africans have a proud history of innovation over many decades (actually some centuries), and many innovative products started there life-cycle in South Africa. General/consumer products and packaging keep the manufacturing industry going, whilst excellent development is being done in the telecommunications and aerospace industries, to name but a few. Although excellent manufacturing is being done in the majority of car models (also for export), little automotive development is being done in SA. Furthermore, we have an excellent jewellery industry.

    About SA’s unique problems: Like many other places in the world, one of SA’s biggest problems is its mixed economy, and what can be done to bridge the divide between developing and developed areas/communities (and economies?). Water, electricity and telecommunications provision differ vastly in the rural areas from what is available in the cities. This goes for job opportunities, social and economical problems, etc.

    I believe that it is here where SA’s product development community is doing excellent work. Whilst on the one hand, they are attending to award-winning export/first world products, concurrently they are developing innovative solutions for unique south African problems (and which may also be introduced in countries such as India, China, etc.) For many years, there has been a drive to develop a distinct South African Design Ethos. Whilst this has been understood by many practitioners to be related to and to accommodate unique ethnic or indigenous products, I believe a fair part of such an ethos has to do with innovative products that solve unique SA problems.

    I plan to talk about this a bit more at the VRAP conference in Portugal in September………

    As for further development of SA’s RP industry, the growth in acceptance of RP and the parallel increase in the number of machines (especially 3D Printers) is (still) staggering. Watch the Wohlers Report 2007 for the latest figures………

    As for Terry’s Small World commentary: Our product development industry predominantly relies on the Chinese tool-making industry to improve time-to-market (SA’s tooling industry does not accommodate the large quantities of tools needed at this stage, and improvement thereof is an issue of national priority. Again, RP has a special place and role in this communication (RP= a “language-less” communication medium), and will also be part of my intended VRAP presentation. Just to concur with Terry – including tooling across the the Indian Ocean and much of Asia in your product development strategies – implies a VERY small world!

    Comment by ddebeer — February 10, 2007 @ 00:53

  4. I was referring to Dr. Deon de Beer’s organization in the first paragraph of my commentary. He and his team have built an impressive amount of capacity and expertise over the last few years. His facility rivals the best in the world and he’s definitely leading his country, as well as the entire continent. There are few around the world that can make that claim. Keep up the good work, Deon!

    Comment by Terry Wohlers — February 10, 2007 @ 09:43