Attendees at TCT Korea 2019 [Source: Mark Lee]
The TCT Korea 2019 show just wrapped up in Changwon, South Korea this past week.
For those unfamiliar with the 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing environment in East Asia, a visit to this year’s show may have struck you as unimpressive, disappointing even. But for those who have been part of the community in Korea since the very beginning, it was anything but disappointing.
Korean 3D Printing
3D printed metal wheel at TCT Korea 2019 [Source: Mark Lee]
Since the very first 3D printing shows several years back, a clear pattern of condensing and focusing has been evolving in Korea.
The views and opinions on 3D printing are very different in Korea than they are in other countries. The idea of “a 3D printer in every home” really was never adopted, and most young people are fairly ambivalent toward the technology. It is something they see and work with in school, but generally not something they want to work or play with at home.
For whatever reason, and there are many to choose from, Koreans see 3D printing as purely an industrial process. Most tend to think of it as an additional new industrial process to be added to the current collection of processes, and the R&D results coming out of Korea clearly show this mindset.
TCT Korea 2019
Daegun Tech Peek140 3D printer at TCT Korea 2019 [Source: Mark Lee]
While this year’s TCT Korea show was slightly smaller than last year’s, the exhibitors presented a very interesting pattern.
The big American companies were there of course, as 3D Systems had a large stand, complete with a barrista! But they just had all the same things they have shown at all previous shows.
Stratasys did not appear at TCT Korea, but Markforged made a big showing, complete with all their latest machines to demonstrate their seriousness in the Korean market. They and HP seem to be the only American companies making any kind of significant inroads into the Korean market these days. But for Korean companies, it was a completely different story.
Daegun Tech 3D Printing
Daegun Tech booth at TCT Korea 2019 [Source: Mark Lee]
The biggest Korean company there was, without doubt, Daegun Tech.
Daegun Tech traditionally produced CNC equipment, but got into the 3D printing business a few years ago when they introduced a very well built, although overly heavy, desktop printer called the MyD.
Daegun Tech E800 3D printer at TCT Korea 2019 [Source: Mark Lee]
This year they had six major industrial machines, including three very specialized machines such as their E800 (flexible electronic printer), the Mg80 (magnesium printer), and the PEEK140 (medical implants printer), the M410 (dual laser), M200 (multiple alloy), and the M135 (affordable multiple alloy).
Daegun Tech C4520 3D printer at TCT Korea 2019 [Source: Mark Lee]
They also did have a clever multi-color desktop polymer printer that uses multiple printheads called the C4520.
Taken together, Daegun Tech went from producing a single desktop printer to a major industrial player in a few short years.
AM Education in Korea
In addition to equipment manufacturers, the other major pattern was the evolution of Korean education/research associations.
For the past few years these groups were small and disjointed. This year it was obvious that a lot of organizing, networking, and building has been occurred.
The Korean Additive Manufacturing User Group booth at TCT Korea 2019 [Source: Mark Lee]
The Korean Additive Manufacturing Users’ Group (K-AMUG), which was basically started a little over two years ago as the dream of one man, has now blossomed into a fully fledged education and research organization with strategic partnerships with manufacturers and governmental organizations. At their booth they highlighted their most impressive projects, including a fully 3D printed, functional, small jet engine and a new type of combat helmet design for special operations troops.
Korean University Additive Manufacturing
The universities were not to be ignored either. Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), sometimes called “Korea’s MIT”, showed the growth of their Center for 3D Advanced Additive Manufacturing and some of the many projects that their students have been working on and the machines they are working with.
3D printed jet engine at TCT Korea 2019 [Source: Mark Lee]
Changwon National University was likewise showcasing their new center and advanced manufacturing educational program.
In addition, there was a multi-organization composed of several major universities, the Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, and a few private groups promoting a multi-disciplined AM/advanced materials training program. The group’s purpose is to educate the next generation of industrial employees who will integrate the new processes and materials into the Korean manufacturing environment.
The pattern seems to be clear: Korea is integrating AM deeply into their economy for the benefit of manufacturers, and to increase overall national production. While hobbiyists and artists will continue to enjoy and use the technology, at least in Korea, that will not be its main use.