We talked to Loh Chi Jie, founder of Siege Advanced Manufacturing, the largest 3D print farm in Singapore, with over 200,000 3D prints manufactured in-house, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Loh Chi Jie: Thanks for asking! Last year when COVID first hit my country in Singapore, things were very uncertain due to all the lockdowns worldwide. My family and I are fortunate that Singapore has handled the COVID situation well, and life is almost back to normal here. As a company, we have grown a lot since last year, having been forced to innovate with the various restrictions that were in place.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Siege Advanced Manufacturing.
Loh Chi Jie: I studied Mechanical Engineering back in university, the National University of Singapore, where I got to use 3D printers for my engineering projects. I was very interested in the manufacturing capabilities of a 3D printer and bought one for myself to tinker with. From there, I helped my friends and others 3D print, and one printer grew to two, and then to three until it is the 3D print farm today of around 50 3D printers.
I actually started Siege Advanced Manufacturing when I was still studying in my last year in university. I truly believe that additive manufacturing is the future of manufacturing. With 3D printing, we can create prototypes, nearly instantaneously and accelerate the R&D phase. Its on-demand manufacturing nature also means that money can be saved on inventory, and moving from the prototyping to mass manufacturing phase is seamless.
How does Siege Advanced Manufacturing innovate?
Loh Chi Jie: Being a startup, we have a small team and a lean structure. This means less hierarchy, and ideas get executed very quickly. Our team at Siege AM are also well informed of the news in the 3D printing world, and this allows us to keep up to date with the latest innovations and ideas and to go with the times. Additionally, our technology itself is a rapid manufacturing technology, so this allows us to test out ideas quickly and innovate at a fast pace.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Loh Chi Jie: At the height of COVID last year, both demand and supply were hugely affected, as our physical materials were all stuck at various places worldwide. But 3D printing is a highly adaptive technology, so we were able to switch to manufacturing COVID-related items quickly, such as face shields, counter shields and ear savers. Right now, things are mostly back to normal, and as most other businesses are operating normally again, 3D printing in Singapore is back to producing innovative and interesting parts for our clients.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Loh Chi Jie: Yes, definitely. When there was a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during COVID last year, we knew that 3D printing could help sustain the supply first. Siege Advanced Manufacturing is the largest 3D printing service in Singapore, so we had the capacity to produce a significant amount of PPE for others. That involved investing heavily in supplies that were out of our usual manufacturing process, just for COVID, during a time where finances were very uncertain. We eventually decided to go ahead with it, and ultimately, we are very happy to have been able to play a part in mitigating this crisis. Sometimes, calculated risks are necessary!
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Loh Chi Jie: There are many up and coming players in the industry as more people become aware of 3D printing, and as the technology evolves. This is also a good thing because the current industry is still rather niche, so a wider exposure will help bring 3D printing into the mass market too. Being able to keep up with the times and adapt as the need calls for it applies to every single industry. I think it is important to hear what customers have to say and digest feedback to improve ourselves.
There are also some trends that we need to keep up with. For example, sustainability is a big issue in the world right now. Although 3D printing helps conserve plastic at times as it is an additive manufacturing method rather than a subtractive one, plastic waste is still inevitable in the process for now. We have also started a brand, ‘The Erde Co’, where we repurpose these waste plastics back into reusable items. This makes our plastic more productive and creates a circular economy!
Your final thoughts?
Loh Chi Jie: Things are always going to be constantly changing, whether it is for good or bad. As a company, the only way to survive is to continue adapting along the way. Because of the pandemic, we have gained new capabilities using our current technology, so I choose to look at the good in this COVID situation.
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