This past week in Seoul there was a development-direction policy forum and 3D printer demonstration for members of the Korean National Assembly. The forum was held to educate and encourage lawmakers to assist in the development of the 3D printing industry here and was an active collaboration between the Ministry of Science, ICT & Future Planning and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy to remove any bureaucratic barriers between the different parts of the government.
The forum opened with a speech by Jeong Gap Yong, a serving member of National Assembly. After the speech Choi Doo Son of the Korean Institute of Machinery & Materials gave a brief overview of the 3D printing companies in Korea and the current size of the market, both here in Korea and abroad. Kang Min Su, a patent attorney and CEO of KwangGaeTo Labs, then talked about the patent activities of the leading 3D printing companies, business agreements, and plans for reacting in the domestic 3D printing sector. In one comment he said, “In the next 3 to 5 years most of the current 3D printing essential patents will expire, however, threats from infringements of new patents, and improvements (around) current patents will exist. The patent application status of the major 3D printing companies should be monitored.”
After a lunch break, Choi Seong Ho, a manager coordinating policies for the Ministry of Science, ICT & Future Planning, talked about the promotion of new jobs and start-up companies in the 3D printing sector. He also outlined something called the “Personalized 3D Printing Production Structure for 3D Printing Industry Version 1.0”, announced that the service would be expanded to “Remote Order-based Production (2.0)” and eventually to “Intelligence Integrated Services (3.0)”. He said that 3D services would be integrated with the Internet of Things (IoT), but noted that exactly how this will be done will have to be refined over the next two years. He also said that these plans are envisioned to promote the printing services so that people can easily purchase and use 3D printed designs made by others through an e-commerce system. According to his comments, integration with IoT will produce an intelligent 3D printing environment that will enable the creation of 3D objects via the use of remote voice commands and a smart device. He said, “3D printing will initially be disseminated for industrial purposes, but subsequently will be integrated with the IoT, Big Data, and the Cloud, so that individual users will have access to the services.”
After Mr. Choi finished, Kang Hyuk Gi of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy then spoke about the directions the promotion of 3D printing in Korea should take. He started by introduced their new Materials and Equipment Technology Development Program. He said that starting next year the government plans to spend approximately 1 billion Korean Won (around 1 million USD) to stimulate the integrated production of 3D printing materials and equipment to benefit the domestic sector. In one example, he mentioned what he called, “super-sized 3D printer technology” and the development of high quality alloy powder materials for the production of titanium alloy structures.
Next the Small & Medium Business Administration’s Kim Sung Seop introduced several examples of current 3D printed prototyping models for the assembly members to examine, andafterwards they all went to the exhibition venue and saw a prepared presentation and demonstration. Finally the forum was wrapped up by an open discussion and questions with Dr. Choi Doo Son.
While most of the plans announced at the forum were for large scale industrial applications, some of the policies discussed were designed to specifically to help create an environment where individual people could gain actual experience with 3D printers. Some of these included the creation of 3D printing design stores, similar to the smart phone app stores but running a ‘3D printing contents distribution platform,’ the setting up of governmentally-sponsored maker-type spaces, as well as programs to small businesses. This focus on supporting individuals, startups and smaller companies is something new in Korea, which has been traditionally dominated by large conglomerates.
All in all this forum was the latest in a series of such activities within, and by, the Korean government over the past several months. Last April, the government established what was called the “3D Printing Industry Development Strategy” which selected 3D printing as one of the core technologies which will be used to lead and develop Korea’s “creative economy” plans. Readers may also remember this past June when the Ministry of Science announced that it intended to set up programs to train 10 million Koreans (that is roughly one-sixth of the entire population of South Korea) in 3D printing by developing customized education materials, and supporting specializing college and graduate schools.
So while South Korea may have been a little slow off the starting blocks when it comes to this important new technology, it seems that the country’s leadership has recognized its initial errors and is moving full force to make up for lost time. And as anyone familiar with Korean culture can tell you, while it may sometimes take them a little while to make a decision, once a decision is made, action usually follows very, very quickly.