3D printer boom lures new wave of Japan entrepreneurs

Mon Dec 2, 2013 4:24pm EST
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By Stanley White

TOKYO (Reuters) - Junichiro Asami gave up a stable job to join a group of Japanese entrepreneurs building businesses based on 3D printing, showing the sort of pioneering spirit Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes can revitalize a calcified economy.

Whether these entrepreneurs can lay the foundations for a new era in Japanese products though may depend on whether Abe can tear down barriers in a wider business culture that shuns risk and supports the status quo.

Asami, 38, formerly a management consultant at Deloitte, 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.

If history is anything to go by, Asami's and Abe's task will not be easy. After World War II businessmen built companies that turned into the likes of electronics giant Sony Corp, but since then Japan has not produced a new global technology powerhouse as people have become less tolerant of risk and of failure.

Abe, who took office almost a year ago with bold promises to end almost two decades of economic malaise, wants to encourage innovation and make Japan an easier place to do business. But he is trying to shake up a political and economic system largely built around well established industries.

Expectations were high for deregulation that would tear down barriers broadly across sectors, but Abe's economic growth strategy in June 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.   Continued...

A staff member of Nihonbinary points to their 3D printer MakerBot Replicator 2 printing a Polylactic acid bracelet as he demonstrates the printer during the International Robot Exhibition 2013 in Tokyo November 8, 2013. REUTERS/Yuya Shino