April 2, 2014 4:47 am JST

Group aims to boost Japanese competitiveness in 3-D printers

TOKYO -- A new research association with members from Japanese industry, academia and the government was set up Tuesday to help develop and market high-performance 3-D printers for applications in medicine and aerospace.

     Western companies now dominate the hot new market for 3-D printers, so the goal of the association is to put Japan in the game with machines that use powders of titanium and other metals for additive manufacturing of complicated parts, like artificial joints and airplane components.

     Members include the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Tohoku University and Kinki University, and 27 companies, including Panasonic, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, IHI, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Komatsu and Nissan Motor.

     The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will pump 3.8 billion yen ($36.5 million) into the effort this fiscal year. Each member will pay annual dues of 500,000 yen to the research association.

     Advanced technologies are required to build parts from molten metal powders according to computer designs using 3-D additive manufacturing, so the member companies will contribute their technologies and the universities will provide their research findings.

     The goal is to have the first prototypes ready by fiscal 2015. Some of these prototypes will be sold as commercial products. Full-fledged marketing of the printers to domestic and foreign makers of medical equipment and aircraft will begin by the end of fiscal 2019.

(Nikkei)