More and more Japanese creators and business mavericks are building companies and businesses out of the booming 3D printing technology, a move that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes will help revitalize the economy. Abe has called for a new wave of Japanese innovators to lay down the foundations of potentially a new global industry in Japan based on 3D printing, but it will also have to depend on the prime minister himself as he tries to tear down traditional economic barriers in a wider business culture that shuns risk and supports the status quo.
Junichiro Asami, 38, a former management consultant at Deloitte, has given up his office career and is now devoted to a business centered around the booming technology. He is in no doubt about the prospects for 3D printing, potentially a game changing technology that will allow households and companies to bypass manufacturers by producing their own parts and goods. “I expect that entire business models and manufacturing systems will have to change to adapt to the 3D printer,” Asami said at a seminar for start-up businesses.
Japan still has a way to go before impacting the global market with 3D printing technology. Internationally, the 3D printer market is already dominated by the United States and Germany, with 75 percent and 15 percent market share, respectively. Japan’s share is just 0.3 percent. However, industry experts say that there is substantial growing room. Figures from Wholers Associates, a U.S. consultancy and authority on the market, suggest that the global market in 3D printers and related services could grow to almost $11 billion by 2021 from $2 billion in 2012. Some technology evangelists say the spread of 3D printers will unleash a wave of do-it-yourself “makers,” because people will no longer have to wait for a company to design and build things they want.
At this point in Japan’s economic situation, it looks like Prime Minister Abe is going to have to do some work himself. The government sees the potential in the 3D printing market, and it has already revived a nationwide subsidy scheme for start-ups that had been mothballed for about six years. So far this year, the scheme has granted subsidies to 77 percent of all companies that have applied, and the number of firms applying for the subsidy is increasing by the thousands. But Abe, who took office almost a year ago with promises to end almost two decades of economic malaise, needs to make Japan an easier place to do business. He is trying to shake up a political and economic system largely built around well-established industries, but Abenomics – his system for economic growth – has left many areas unaddressed. He has struggled to push through bigger economic reforms, such as making it easier for companies to hire and fire, which analysts say would allow for a more dynamic economy.
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