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Innovation opportunities in Europe and the latest developments in additive manufacturing featured at TechInnovation 2016.

· TechInnovation

More than 2,700 attendees turned up at the second day of TechInnovation 2016 in a bid to educate themselves and perhaps collaborate with innovative small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) to bring the newest technologies and concepts to life.

Organisations from the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) Group showcased the various collaboration and partnership opportunities in the European Union that Singapore's SMEs could pursue. These opportunities are found in a wide variety of sectors, from healthcare, urban solutions, nanotechnology, sustainable construction to information and communication technology (ICT),

The EEN is the world's largest business and innovation support platform to promote two-way business partnerships, technology transfer and research collaboration between SMEs in Europe and the rest of the world. EEN partnered the Intellectual Property Intermediary (IPI) Singapore, the organiser of TechInnovation 2016, in April this year.

With that, Singapore partners, be they SMEs or investors, can now tap on an abundance of opportunities through 600 EEN partner organisations and millions of innovative startups across the 28 EU countries and 30 non-EU countries.

One organisation that is part of the EEN is the French Chamber of Commerce in Singapore. Dr Martine Lesponne, head of business support, presented attendees with numerous collaborative opportunities with French enterprises. “Innovation is a priority in France. It is the backbone of development,” said Dr Lesponne, who highlighted that some of the biggest companies such as Airbus and L'oreal are French.

One example is Luceor, an ICT company that specialises in making high-speed routers. Its proprietary router, called the WiMesh, can deliver 600mbps of data with latency under a 2ms ping rate. The WiMesh routers can be deployed together with other networking equipment. It offers Ethernet or Wi-Fi interfaces to connect sensors, cameras, or any Internet Protocol (IP) devices to an IP network.

With its super speeds, the WiMesh can be used for more complex and large-scale purposes, such as homeland security and surveillance, in the logistics industry to connect cranes and carriers to a terminal operating system, as well as in Smart City solutions. Established in 2005, it has 20 employees and have sold its high-tech routers to more than 20 customers. Luceor is based in Paris and is looking for like-minded partners to enhance its product offering, said Dr Lesponne.

The latest in 3D printing

Additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing, looks set to disrupt the manufacturing world. But amid all the hype, companies are hesitant to embrace it and as such, it has yet to develop it to its full potential, said Dr Ho Chaw Sing, managing director of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC).

“I think it is important for all businesses to recognize that 3D printing will become a mainstream technology within the next decade, enabling new classes of products with unprecedented complexity and performance. It is paramount to start examining holistically the potential benefits that additive manufacturing can bring to any business.” said Dr Ho. For those who are keen, they should assemble a group of executive champions across all business functions: engineering, procurement, quality and operations, and sponsor a multi-disciplinary engineering team to research and incorporate 3D-printing technology into the company's operations, he added. “Additive manufacturing differs in many ways from traditional manufacturing, especially in how we think about a design, the material, and the process. Engineers need to relearn the design flow, manufacturing process and even quality assurance protocols,” he continued. Investing in 3D-printing is generally an expensive endeavour for most companies due to the capital investments required, hence it is important for businesses to establish whether 3D printing provides just incremental benefits, or will potentially disrupt their businesses.

Launched in September last year, NAMIC was formed to translate and commercialize 3D printing technologies, and advance Singapore's push into the digital manufacturing space as part of an industrial transformation roadmap. Led by Nanyang Technological University through its innovation and enterprise arm NTUitive, and in partnership with National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), SPRING Singapore and Economic Development Board of Singapore, the aim of NAMIC is to accelerate the translation of 3D printing research into commercial applications. NAMIC focuses on all major Singapore industry sectors including Aerospace, Marine offshore, Oil & Gas, Precision Engineering, Bio-medical, Design, Building and Construction, Electronics as well as Clean technology.

The 3D printing application space is boundless, said Dr Ho. “Scientists have started exploring 3D printing technology to engineer human tissue and organs,” he said. In February, scientists in the University of California San Diego 3D printed tissue cells that mimic liver function. The 3D-printed tissue cells can be used to accelerate pharmaceutical trials and cycles, saving pharmaceutical companies significant money and time by eliminating the need for lengthy complex human clinical trials and animal testing, until the drugs are proven to work on bio-printed (3D printing) tissues.

Although Singapore's 3D-printing scene is nascent in terms of market adoption, limited by the country's small population and market, Singapore is well positioned as a gateway to the global market, said Dr Ho. Increasingly, there are several companies seeking to set up 3D printing centres to testbed 3D printing solutions and provide 3D printing foundry services. In addition to helping local SMEs and LLEs, NAMIC pro-actively seeks global companies interested in market expansion into Asia, to advance Singapore's additive manufacturing ecosystem, he added.

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