3-D printing could give New Zealand inventors and designers the ability to take their products to the rest of the world at a fraction of the current cost.
Massey University professor of mechatronics Olaf Diegel said yesterday the technology provided the ability to try out ideas without much capital risk.
He was one of the speakers at the unveiling of a $22 million upgrade of the Riddet Complex, Massey's base for food technology and engineering.
"All over New Zealand, all over the world, we have inventors who have ideas, and typically to take an idea into production you're talking tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars just to go into production."
Many of those costs related to tooling, set-up charges and engineering.
"Suddenly with 3-D printing you're removing a lot of that barrier, and that is a very, very big advantage. It means you can try your ideas to see if they are right for the market without the high risk you would normally associate with this."
Diegel gave as an example his own experience.
Wondering if the technology had evolved to the point where he could print a working guitar, he designed one three years ago.
"From there, I designed a whole range of them and partnered with an American company to print all the big ones. Every one is custom made to musicians."
He said if he had wanted to do it without the technology, "the risk would have been tremendous". The unique shapes alone would have required a large investment.
He said 3-D printing was used in every sector today.
"It is pervasive, it is everywhere, and it is getting bigger. The technologies are improving all the time."
The technology had the potential to change entire industries.
One example was on-demand manufacturing, the ability to make parts when and where they were needed.
"Typically less than 10 per cent of the product cost is in making the product," he said. "The rest of it is in the supply chain, all the middle men taking a cut, all the different transport from one point to the other."
He said the supply chain was enormous, costly and bad for the environment.
"So anything that can change and shorten that supply chain has to be good."
The Riddet Complex revamp is part of a planned $250m investment into Food HQ, a research collaboration between Massey and other stakeholders in the agri-food business combining to help boost the annual value of New Zealand's food exports to $60 billion by 2025.
The complex houses parts of the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health and the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology.
Reconstruction started in 2006 and included the development of the food pilot plant, microbrewery and several laboratories and shared spaces.
- Manawatu Standard
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