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SA making inroads in 3D printing tech

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Over 300 additive manufacturing (3D printing) technology systems and designs have been established locally as a result of programmes put in place by government, academic institutions and industry players.

This is according to the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), which says this collaborative approach has made it possible to establish and develop an infrastructure base that allows for meaningful research.

Furthermore, the DSI says significant investment in the sector has seen SA demonstrate world-class capabilities in 3D technology, which has positioned the country to participate in sub-sectors with high growth potential, such as aerospace applications, and medical and dental devices.

Earlier this year, doctors at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in the City of Tshwanesuccessfully completed transplant surgery on a patient born with an underdeveloped middle ear, using 3D-printed middle ear bones.

Sechaba Tsubella, acting director for advanced manufacturing technologies at the DSI, points out that 3D printing in SA has matured quickly because of high participation by industry and universities.

“About two-thirds of South African universities currently have AM facilities; 25% of which are used for research purposes,” says Tsubella.

“South Africa is well positioned to accelerate the development of AM technology, with several initiatives in the local manufacturing sector,” he adds. “Titanium AM, in particular, has gained prominence through the activities of the Titanium Centre of Competence at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, as well as interest from other industry players.”

In the statement, the DSI reveals the Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing (CRPM) at the Central University of Technology (CUT) has had huge success in using titanium 3D printing technology to customise medical implants.

Established in 1997, the CRPM does commercial work and research using rapid prototyping, manufacturing and tooling, and medical product development technologies.

Professor Maina Maringa from CUT's Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering says the CRPM had come a long way in advancing 3D printing in the country.

“The application of AM is universal; the centre's focus has been on manufacturing health devices, but will be moving to the aerospace and automotive sectors. AM can be used by many sectors to produce high-quality manufactured components,” Maringa concludes.

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