Regulation hits 3D printers

Regulation hits 3D printers

Importers of 3D printers say the Commerce Ministry’s new import regulation could make
Thailand less competitive in the field. (Photo by Jirapogn Kuhakan)
Importers of 3D printers say the Commerce Ministry’s new import regulation could make Thailand less competitive in the field. (Photo by Jirapogn Kuhakan)

A group of 3D printer manufacturers have urged the Commerce Ministry to revise a new import regulation concerning the rapidly emerging printing products, saying it could make Thailand's technology-based development less competitive.

The regulation could also impede people's access to the new technology and cripple the 3D printing industry.

The move followed last month's formal approval by the cabinet of the regulation, which requires imports of 3D printers to fall under the Commerce Ministry's import-related regulations.

This means importers of 3D printers will have to comply with all requests and processes related to imports, as well as procedures for printer registration and ownership transfer. Currently companies do not need to register imported 3D printers.

The regulation, which is yet to be implemented, was made to prevent people using an industrial 3D printer to make guns.

"We should not let the new rules affect the course of the country's future or make it more difficult for Thais to access 3D printing innovation," said Nati Sang, founder of MakerSpace, a Chiang Mai-based community of high-tech manufacturers.

"The legislation could impede Thailand's participation in the global innovation landscape," he added.

There are currently three Thai 3D printing companies. However, their printing systems are still far inferior to what global players are offering.

Mr Nati said the regulation was based on erroneous information from government agencies and would correct the problem in the wrong place.

3D printers feature a wide range of abilities and different price points. A 3D printer that can make a 3D firearm costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.   

"This type of printer is beyond what average people can actually afford," said Mr Nati, adding that there are many ways of producing firearms at greater cost effectiveness than using a 3D printer.

The cutting-edge printing technology has changed the way people do business, especially in manufacturing, medical prosthetics and stem cell research, as well as the biological and materials sciences, as they use 3D printers to create bridges, buildings and other supersized structures, said Mr Nati.

Panutat Tejasen, founder of the Chiang Mai Maker Club, an open community to establish partnerships among entrepreneurs and professionals, said 3D printing technology was driving an enormous paradigm shift in the manufacturing sector.

"Implementing such legislation will lead other countries to look down on Thailand," he said.

Wiwat Arunruangsiriloet, an importer and pioneer of 3D printing, said the Commerce Minister should narrow the definition of 3D printers. The legislation should be restricted to metal 3D printers that are capable of making 3D-printed guns.

The new legislation will inevitably push up the price of 3D printing products. It could impede many people, especially science and engineering students, from accessing 3D printing technology that provides rapid prototyping to shorten the design-to-manufacturing development cycle.

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