February 13, 2014 12:00 am JST

Affordable 3-D printers from Asia coming to Japan

YUICHI SHIGA, Nikkei staff writer

TOKYO -- Japanese hobbyists may soon find it much easier to make their own accessories, trinkets and toys using 3-D printers, as cheaper, foreign-made units become available for less than 100,000 yen ($978).

     As soon as this month, Taiwan's New Kinpo Group will begin selling its 3-D printers in Japan through the website of an electronics retailer and via other channels. The units, which are made in Thailand, are small enough to sit atop a desk, and at 69,800 yen, can be had for half the price of devices now available at big electronics stores.

     New Kinpo has drawn on its experience designing and building electronics for other firms to make the more affordable devices. The company is making its printers available in a number of countries. It aims to sell 1 million units within three years.

     Until recently, 3-D printers were almost exclusively the purview of corporations and research institutions, which use the machines to make prototypes and parts. U.S. makers of the devices, which fabricate plastic objects based on digital blueprints, had a significant edge in the field. The newer, cheaper units are less precise, but will find considerable demand among small businesses and individual consumers wishing to make and sell accessories.

Japanese rivals fight back

Singaporean start-up Pirate3D is expected to begin selling its 3-D printers in June for 99,800 yen through Osaka-based KN Trading, with which it has signed a distribution agreement. 

     Japanese rivals will fight back with their own formidable product lineups, which include units costing millions to tens of millions of yen. These offer greater precision and can create larger objects. Some use a variety of materials other than the conventional hard plastic resin, such as an elastic, rubber-like substance. Japanese companies also offer less-expensive machines priced at around 100,000 yen that are able to create such simple objects as smartphone cases and figurines.

     The Japanese market for 3-D printers is expected to double between 2012 and 2020 to just under 20 billion yen, according to market research firm Seed Planning. Some see even faster growth in the area, given the considerable potential demand from individuals who want to make such things as accessories.