Dubai aims for global 3D printing throne

May 03, 2016, 2:03 PM EDT
A 3D printer.
(Source: Luke Jones/flickr)

Dubai is aiming to become the center of global 3D printing technology by 2030. On Monday, the state investment fund launched the International Centre for 3D Printing, which will house both design facilities and factories, in collaboration with the private sector and academia. It will have the capacity to host 700 local and international companies, along with all the labs, storage, and other infrastructure needed. With the global market for 3D printing expected to reach $120 billion by 2020 and about $300 billion by 2025, this investment -- if successful -- could pay off big time.

The three sectors of Dubai’s 3D printing strategy are construction, medical products, and consumer products (while its five main “pillars” are Infrastructure, Legislative Structure, Funding, Talent and Market Demand). The government has set a target for 25% of Dubai’s buildings to be 3D printed by 2030. Experts estimate that using such technology can reduce the construction time of buildings by 50-70%, decrease labor costs by up to 80%, and can save 30-60% of construction waste.

Last June Dubai unveiled plans to build the world’s first fully-functional 3D printed building. “The idea of 3D printing buildings was once a dream, but today it has become a reality,” said Mohamed Al Gergawi, chairman of the UAE National Innovation Committee. In fact, the main contractor, Shanghai-based WinSun, had already successfully 3D-printed a 6-story apartment building and several houses in China, to much fanfare. The Dubai office was planned to be approximately 2,000 square feet and would be printed layer-by-layer using WinSun’s 20-foot tall 3D printer, then assembled on site in Dubai in just a few weeks. (This was also to include all interior furniture, detailing, and structural components.) The plan was set for completion by October, although news on its progress has been scarce. Perhaps the opening of the International Centre for 3D Printing will breathe new life into the project.

The value of the 3D printed construction sector in Dubai is estimated to be $817 million by 2025. As for the other two sectors, the value of 3D printed medical products in Dubai is expected to reach $460 million by 2025, while 3D printed consumer products are expected to hit $762 million by the same year. The medical sector will focus on teeth, bones, artificial organs, hearing aids, and surgical devices, while the consumer products sector will focus on household items, optics, jewelry, children's games, and fast food.

Investing in a 3D printing industry is a smart move for Dubai. But it’s not the only contender for top dog in the global market. As Blouin News covered previously, 3D printing firm Stratsys opened a 3D Printing Experience Centre at their Singapore office in 2014, and has partnered with Singapore to give students access to 3D printing machines. Dubai will have to keep up with the competition for this whole enterprise to work.