Over the past two decades, South Africa has seen significant advancements in Additive Manufacturing (AM), otherwise known as 3D printing. As a key player in enabling and developing the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) in the country, RAPDASA (Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa) is recognised as a showcase for the AM sector in South Africa, owing to its continued involvement and innovative growth in the industry.

RAPDASA held its 20th annual international conference in Bloemfontein on 6 – 8 November 2019. Through embracing the complete product development value chain, the organisation is utilising localisation of resources and products. Focused also on solving real-world problems, RAPDASA has been part of AM technology development across all facets of the industry.

AM technology has been active in South Africa for 21 years, with a steady market growth from a single 3D system SLA&160;250 in 1991, to approximately 5&160;700 machines in 2018. Commenting on the role of AM during the 4IR is one of RAPDASA’s founding members, Prof. Willie du Preez: “Additive manufacturing is one of the key technologies in the fourth industrial revolution, which has impacted on industry role players like ourselves, research institutions, and also suppliers of the technology, all contributing towards establishing this technology firmly in the industry”.

The advantages of 3D printing have proved immensely beneficial to the industry in South Africa through the localisation of resources, products, and the ability to develop and build machinery. RAPDASA has become a lead player in AM worldwide through its years of active and continuous involvement in the 3D printing world.

Established to create a community representing all facets of the AM sector, RAPDASA is also focused on solving real-world problems. Prof. Deon de Beer, a RAPDASA founding member, explains that South Africa is now at the stage where “new machines can be built to create success in developing our local materials and substituting imports”. This benefits the development of the entire value chain, starting from concept, to design and prototype development.

In addition, Prof. De Beer states that RAPDASA’s next step is to “make the South African community the gateway into Africa to also upgrade industry in neighbouring countries.” Through current projects with the University of Botswana and the Botswana Institute of technology, RAPDASA is transferring knowledge of developing customised implants and planning models to improve quality of life for all, Prof. de Beer explains.

South Africa had a late start with Rapid Prototyping (RP), with the first system installed in 1991. Up until 1994, only three systems were available in the country. With RAPDASA well established on the global map, “South Africa’s position and adoption of technology among organisations, academics, researchers, and government, has rapidly accelerated,” states Dr. Terry Wohlers, a RAPDASA founding member.

Compared to international development of 3D printing technology over the last 20 years, Dr. Wohlers has this to say: “Some of the first applications of the technology were seen at the Centre For Rapid Prototyping And Manufacturing at CUT (Central University of Technology), which has been, for a very long time, on par and even exceeding the status of many companies in the US.”

With all the development of AM technology locally as well as globally, the future of RAPDASA is “industry-focussed, aligning with industry steered research and training towards valorisation,” claims current RAPDASA chairperson, Prof. André van der Merwe.

Machines and processes are now able to produce multiples of custom products, with skilled engineers who can understand the intricacies of AM design completely. RAPDASA’s involvement during the 4IR has catapulted the development and utilisation of 3D printing technology, which has come to not only benefit South Africa but neighbouring countries as well. The association has been instrumental in creating awareness of the potential of AM in solving real-world problems to make changes and improvements to benefit everyone.