TOKYO -- Japanese precision machinery manufacturers are entering the 3-D printer field, using know-how gained from the printer business to make devices that can produce not only prototypes, but also complex components at lower cost.
Three-dimensional printers use layers of plastic to produce 3-D objects based on design data, and can create special shapes that would be difficult to make with a mold. They have taken off worldwide over the past several years, chiefly for prototyping purposes. Some predict that the market will swell sevenfold between 2013 and 2020 to $21 billion.
Ricoh has started developing a 3-D printer that it aims to commercialize in fiscal 2016. It hopes to capitalize on demand for mass production of car and machinery parts as well as prototyping. The printer is expected to be priced at around 5 million yen to 20 million yen ($46,900 to $187,670).
This month, Ricoh will start importing and selling 3-D printers from global leader Stratasys and others and offering prototyping services. It is initially targeting annual sales of 5 billion yen for its new 3-D printer business, including its own products.
Canon and Seiko Epson plan to roll out printers within five years. Canon has already produced a prototype unit, and is pursuing a high-precision technology to reproduce complex shapes. Seiko Epson is likely working to develop a printer that can also use metal or other materials, for use in a wide range of industries.
Three-dimensional printing has been considered to be suited for producing a variety of items in small quantities. In one such example, the medical field has started utilizing it to produce artificial bones for patients.
If the technology becomes more precise, to the point where it can create items that used to require multiple molds, industrial usage will spread rapidly. Aircraft engine makers such as General Electric have begun using it to mass-produce parts.
Many 3-D printer makers are startups, and the global market is basically split between U.S. companies Stratasys and 3D Systems. Ricoh and its peers will focus on capturing demand for industrial printing, which is expected to see more growth than the consumer market.