Date Visited: December 11, 1995 JTEC/WTEC Attendees: A. Lightman and J. Beaman (report coauthors), R. Brown
Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) supports rapid prototyping research and development primarily through the Casting and Forging Products Section of its Machinery and Information Industries Bureau. The Casting and Forging Products Section works with Japan's trade organizations in the following industries to improve and promote their products at home and abroad:
At this time, MITI's programs to support rapid prototyping appear to be modest. Their emphasis areas include CAD, data exchange standards, and photopolymer materials. The infrastructure issues encompass the broad spectrum of rapid product development, but their materials focus is specific to photopolymer systems. Despite Japan's focused attention on photopolymer systems in its rapid prototyping R&D, the JTEC/WTEC panel believes that the Japanese commitment to excellence, timeliness, low cost, and world leadership in manufacturing will inevitably draw Japan's trade organizations and MITI into broader involvement with rapid prototyping R&D.
MITI's Casting and Forging Products Section presently supports two groups or projects in rapid prototyping R&D. The first is the Japanese Rapid Prototyping Industries Association (JARI), which was established in 1994 with the cooperation of MITI. JARI consists of approximately 60 members, some private, some public, including RP manufacturers, vendors, and users; manufacturers of photocuring resins; CAD vendors; software designers; universities; and research organizations. JARI itself is a private organization, not a public one. MITI helps this organization by cosponsoring symposia. According to MITI, JARI has three mandates:
(For an insight into costs of membership in JARI, refer also to the Kyoden site report, Miscellaneous section, p. 85.)
The second RP effort that MITI's Casting and Forging Products Section supports is a research and development effort that is being undertaken by an umbrella organization of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). MITI asked this organization for a development focus, and it designated rapid prototyping. MITI only sends a representative to this organization.
The SME's efforts were begun in 1994, and at the time of the JTEC/WTEC visit, MITI was planning to fund it to 1997 at ¥800 million (~$8 million) total. The purpose of the SME project is to increase the size, accuracy, and strength/toughness of existing photopolymer RP systems, aiming at about doubling current performance. This project is being managed by the half public/half private Materials Process Technical Center of the Small Business Administration. The center designates the areas for research and supplies the funds to the companies doing the research.
The current Japanese RP focus is on laser-cured resins (photopolymer techniques). There is no work on direct metal or ceramic processes at this time. There may be some metal work in the future.
Masanori Hirota noted that rapid prototyping is still in an early stage of development. Although there are about 200 RP machines in Japan, these are considered prototypes and are being used to test the technology. They are not capable of operating as machine tools, nor is MITI pushing for the integration of RP with the machine tool industry. MITI funding for the current RP projects mentioned above will end in March 1998, but the view at MITI appears to be that it may take 7 to 8 years or longer for Japanese industry to develop truly commercial systems. Once RP is commercial, Hirota noted, there will be exciting applications, and industrial companies could decide to export at that time. (Hirota observed that MITI evaluates the impact of a technology by looking at sales and not by analyzing the technology.)
The expectation at MITI is that RP will have a major impact in the area of molds and metal die forming. One limiting factor is that in order for rapid prototyping to be successful, it requires 3D CAD capability, but 3D CAD is not in wide use in Japan at this time. Although MITI managers would like to see more use of 3D CAD, MITI does not presently have any direct projects to achieve this.
(Note that Prof. Kimura at Tokyo University seemed to indicate that MITI does sponsor a consortium, through CALS, to promote 3D modeling. See Tokyo University site report.)
MITI, Casting and Forging Products Section. 1995. Casting and Forging Products Section: Summary of Operations / Re: Promotion of Rapid Prototyping Technologies. (Dec. 11). (Handout given to the JTEC/WTEC panel, in Japanese, translated under contract to JTEC/WTEC.)