Innovation

How 3D printing is transforming biomedicine in Singapore

30 January 2018

Singapore is leading the world in biomedicine, thanks to 3D printing

In Singapore today, researchers are using the technology to develop medical advances that could one day save lives everywhere. Layer by layer, a new technology is emerging that promises to revolutionize how industries produce goods and deliver services in biomedicine. Additive manufacturing techniques are already enabling designers and engineers to 3D print everything from bracelets and toy dolls, to car engines and the wings of airplanes.

A leap forward in prosthetics and human tissue

The earliest examples of additive manufacturing being used in biomedicine was for producing prosthetics. Each prosthetic needs to be precisely sized and fitted to each individual patient, making it impossible to effectively mass produce the necessary parts. According to the World Health Organization, 3D printed prosthetics could help more 30 million people worldwide who are in need of artificial limbs and braces. However, new techniques being pioneered in Singapore are demonstrating that the prosthetics application is only scratching the surface of the technology's potential.

Bioprinting uses additive manufacturing techniques to combine cells, growth factors and biomaterials together into organic tissues or even entire organs. The tissues can be constructed as skin tissue, heart tissue or blood vessels to be used in transplants and other intensive surgeries. The artificial organs can be used to closely study the effectsof experimental pharmaceuticals. In the future, it's hoped the same techniques could lead to advancements in skin grafts, bone replacements and the development of chip- based organs.

Singapore as a hub for biomedicine innovation

Over the past 12 months, more and more world-leading companies have been attracted to Singapore by the exciting work being done in this field. In March 2017, global engineering services firm Emerson Electric opened an advanced additive manufacturing center as part of its Singapore campus. It also committed to a five-year research collaboration with Nanyang Technological University that will explore experimental applications for the technology.

While 3D printing represents exciting new possibilities for manufacturing processes, it also enables companies to move up the value chain with product design. Companies like global lab equipment conglomerate Fisher Scientific benefit from locating their research and development in close proximity to Singapore's cutting-edge manufacturing facilities. This enables it to experiment with new ideas and to rapidly bring products to market from conception.

Global companies are choosing Singapore

In December 2017, German chemical company Evonik announced that its interest in the potential biomedicine applications of additive manufacturing had convinced it to develop a high impact research and development hub in Singapore. Inspired by the work happening at Hewlett Packard's Open Materials and Applications Lab, Evonik chose to situate its new site at Biopolis — a growing business complex that hosts some of the world's leading public and private biomedical research institutes and organisations.

Singapore is excited to welcome these companies and is keen to promote cross-sector collaboration that may lead to advances in biomedicine. In July 2017, the Singapore Economic Development Board partnered with The National University of Singapore and NAMIC (the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster) to raise $13.2 million of investment for the creation of a specialist biomedicine facility.

A leading location for biomedicine events

This year, Singapore aims to celebrate the growth of this emerging technology with a series of events. In February, the Singapore Manufacturers Federation is hosting the Inside 3D Printing Conference & Expo, which will invite manufacturers to seminars and exhibitions showcasing the latest 3D printing techniques. In August, Singapore has been selected to host the Annual Conference on 3D printing and Bioprinting in Healthcare 2018, where bio-engineers from around the world will convene to discuss the latest advancements in biomedical applications for additive manufacturing.

Singapore recognizes the importance of establishing a world-class ecosystem where innovative research can be conducted and is committed to becoming a global leader in this field. Already, industry leaders, groundbreaking researchers and forward-thinking policymakers are coming together to share their knowledge and expertise.

Singapore's high-speed internet access, unique research ecosystem and firm commitment to innovation mean that it is home to one of the world's most talented digital workforces. More and more companies are realizing that these qualities make it an ideal digital test lab for companies to innovate and and scale their businesses to the rest of Asia and beyond.