3D Printing

What 3D Printing Could Mean for China

In June, the South China Morning Post reported that billionaire Terry Gou called 3D printing technologies “a gimmick.” As the founder of the world’s largest contract manufacturer of electronics – Foxconn Technology Group’s Hon Hai Precision Industry – Mr. Gou’s opinion became widely quoted across international mainstream and specialist media. Let’s take a brief look at why he is wrong, within the context of China.

Tomohiro Ohsumi Bloomberg
Visitors look at products made by 3D printers displayed in the Stratasys Ltd. both at the 3D & Virtual Reality Exhibition in Tokyo, Japan, on June 21, 2013.

Co- Head of Stratasys Crump, who invented the technology known as Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), known to RepRappers as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), to newcomers the technology that is no most commonly thought of as being 3D printing, refers to the movement in the U.S. and elsewhere that seeks to bring some manufacturing home with the help of 3D printing, as, in part, an oversight of developments in China.

“[It] doesn’t necessarily mean that the mass manufacturing in China or Taiwan or Korea is going to go away,” said Crump at the Inside 3D Printing Conference in San Jose, California. “I think the pie is getting bigger… With 3D printing, we’re expanding in the niches that aren’t covered. This concept of bringing the manufacturing back local is a disruptor, but I don’t think it’s a disruptor where it necessarily reduces the total build in places like China.”

Whilst Mr. Crump takes issue with Gou’s description of the technology, Crump doesn’t see China’s enormous manufacturing business being adversely affected by 3D printing, something I would agree with, given the considerable investment that the Chinese administration has recently made in 3D printing technologies.

The Asia-Pacific region accounts for about a quarter Stratasys’ sales, China has grown quickly to account for a large proportion of Stratasys’ 2012 revenues of USD$359 million.

I believe that most analysts place to much onus upon what the technologies of today mean for the future, rather than extrapolating what the technologies that will evolve from those present today will mean for the future.

Over the coming years, impact will occur, but as additive processes increase the threshold of what can be produced in a cost effective, efficient and sustainable manner as new additive / subtractive combo technologies become more popular, and mass production / additive combo machines such as those of Voxeljet – a company that will soon see it’s initial public offering initial public offering (IPO) – increasingly permeate industrial production.

Voxeljet filed with with the SEC to raise up to USD$100 million in an IPO. The Friedberg, Germany-based company, founded in 1999 and booked USD$11 million in sales for the year ended June 30 2013, plans to list on the NYSE under the symbol VJET.

The economic impact of 3D printing / additive manufacturing technologies is going to be far more complex than most have thus far concluded… Stay posted as we continue to analyse latest developments and project forthcoming trends.

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