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Can 3D printing disrupt traditional manufacturing methods?

The additive manufacturing industry (commonly known as 3D printing) has now passed the introduction period and is in a new phase of rapid growth.” 3D printing is a technology that uses a digital model file as the basis for constructing an object by printing layer by layer using an adhesive material such as powdered metal or plastic. More figuratively, it works roughly the same as an ordinary printer, with liquid or powder inside the printer, and then the above-mentioned printing materials are superimposed layer by layer through computer control, eventually turning the blueprint into a physical object.

From the point of view of industrial action, in August this year, 3D printing leading platinum Lithography issued a fixed increase proposal to increase the code of metal additive manufacturing. Rekor Laser launched a new 3D printing laser product in April this year, which can be applied to medical, aerospace, traditional manufacturing, automotive, dental, and other fields. In addition, Shanghai Liantai, Xin Jinghe, clear research intelligence beam, and a large number of non-listed companies are also in the fist, trying to ride on this “industry dark horse”.

In the eyes of industry insiders, 3D printing is undoubtedly the future of industrial development. But before the industry ushered in the explosion, including the raw material side, equipment side, process side, quality testing side, the promotion of cost side, including the production chain links are in urgent need of a breakthrough, widely involved in raw material yield, equipment independent research and development capabilities, process level, inspection and access costs and other aspects.

However, from the situation grasped by Elimold’s research, the development of the 3D printing industry is quietly speeding up in the context of the emerging digital economy and the prevalence of smart manufacturing.

Global industry expansion, China’s additive manufacturing enterprises above the size of the number of surges

Into the Shanghai Songjiang Shanghai Liantai, equipment workshop in the heat of the day, the staff of rhinoceros-sized instruments into the container, ready to be sent to the field. It has been 22 years since the company was founded, and it is one of the witnesses of the development and growth of the additive manufacturing industry.

“In the first 10 years, the track of the industry was very narrow. Especially after the financial crisis in 2008, the company had been in an existential crisis due to the declining purchasing power of its major customers. We had to set a rule at that time that person would only go out but not in.” Talking about those unforgettable years, Ma Jinsong, the company’s general manager, is still full of emotions.

In the company’s exhibition hall, lifelike anime handicrafts, exquisite craft casting parts, small and detailed dental molds …… 3D finished products printed from different materials tell the story of the relationship between different industries. “These stories are just beginning.” Ma Jinsong is confident about the future.

Other countries around the world are also making great efforts to develop additive manufacturing. The global additive manufacturing market reached $15.244 billion in 2021, up 19.5 percent year-on-year, with an average growth rate of 20.4 percent over the past four years, of which the total value of additive manufacturing-specific materials, equipment, and services reached $12.25 billion, according to the 2022 Wallops Report. According to McKinsey’s forecast, by 2025, global additive manufacturing is expected to generate $200 billion to $500 billion in economic benefits.

Focusing on China, “additive manufacturing” appears six times in the full text of Made in China 2025, throughout its entirety. According to the “China Additive Manufacturing Industry Development Research Report 2021”, the revenue of China’s additive manufacturing enterprises will be about 26.5 billion yuan in 2021, with an average growth rate of 30% in the past four years.

Reflected in the main body of enterprises, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, the number of enterprises above the scale of China’s additive manufacturing has grown from more than 20 in 2016 to more than 100 in 2021, and the number of enterprises with business revenue of more than 100 million yuan has exceeded 40. At the same time, the application areas of additive manufacturing technology are also expanding, and Elimold’s research found that 3D printing is not only gradually being applied in the fields of ornament crafts, aerospace, medical devices, and automotive manufacturing, but also continues to expand into biological and apparel design and manufacturing, and the application methods are gradually changing from prototyping to direct manufacturing.

The rise of Chinese equipment has brought down the cost of 3D printing equipment and raw materials globally

In the lab of additive manufacturing company Xin Jinghe sits a giant piece of equipment that takes up almost a quarter of the lab and requires staff to first ascend a four-step staircase to operate.

“This was very advanced equipment a few years ago when it cost more than 20 million RMB just to introduce it from Germany.” Liu Bin, a national technical member of additive manufacturing standardization and chief scientist of Zhongguancun High Poly Project, told reporters, “In the past, additive manufacturing enterprises generally used imported equipment, and a mainstream small device is four or five million yuan to start. Now that localization has been achieved, the cost of equipment can drop by 50%, and in some cases specially designed special equipment can be built for 1 million yuan.” Beijing QingYanZhiBunch and Tsinghua University LinFeng team cooperation, the sword refers to the subject of 3D printing equipment localization. Wang Jiao, executive vice president of the company, told reporters that the company has now independently developed EBSM dual-gun same-width electron beam additive manufacturing equipment, which can achieve simultaneous preheating, filling, and contour scanning, more than doubling the molding efficiency, solving the problem of manufacturing large-size components of advanced metal materials in China.

Another major technological breakthrough in 3D printing comes from the improvement of material yield. “The company used to use the powder material yield is only about 30%, that is to say, put 100 kg of raw materials, may only 30 kg of finished material can be used for printing, the other raw materials are scrapped. And now part of the powder material yield can reach about 60%, compared to the past doubled.” Liu Bin said that the continuous progress of powder preparation technology can effectively drive down the cost of 3D printing raw materials significantly.

In addition, Liu Bin further said, additive manufacturing can not be separated from the special raw materials. With the recent industry continuing to follow up the research and development of new materials, the future, such as high-strength aluminum, high-performance titanium alloy, and other materials may have more stages to show their skills.

Global capital tide, more and more segmented leading landing capital market

Faced with the broad track of 3D printing and the rapid advancement of technology, Chinese A-share companies are accelerating the layout and actively “landing” the industry chain. In particular, the establishment of the Science and Technology Innovation Board has attracted more and more additive manufacturing segment leaders to land in the capital market, leveraging on accelerated development.

On the upstream material side, the science and technology board company Youyan Powder focuses on 3D printing powder materials, including aerosolized aluminum, copper, titanium, high-temperature alloy, mold steel, cobalt-chromium alloy, and other powder materials. Silver Jubilee Technology, on the other hand, mainly focuses on the research and production of fused deposition molding (FDM) materials and selective laser sintering (SLS) materials. At the core parts end, Guangyunda’s wholly-owned subsidiary TongYu Aviation focuses on the application of 3D printing in the aviation field, mainly producing aviation parts, machining, and 3D printing parts, of which 3D printing aviation parts is expected to become one of the company’s important performance growth points. The main layout of RICO Laser is dedicated to 3D printing fiber lasers.

In the midstream equipment end, the existing equipment of Rexchip covers ceramic 3D printing equipment, metal 3D printing equipment, non-metal 3D printing equipment, full-color 3D printing equipment, self-developed 3D printing equipment, etc. Akai mainly designs and develops sand-based 3D printing equipment.

In the downstream product side, Dabo Medical’s main business is the production, R&D, and sales of medical high-value consumables, and its products involve 3D printed hip prostheses, etc. MAP Medical uses bio-additive manufacturing technology to develop and sell major products such as absorbable dural (spinal) patches.

According to Choice data, the A-share 3D printing sector index has risen nearly 30% since the end of April this year.

Li Fangzheng told Elimold, “Recently, the capital market’s attention to additive manufacturing has continued to pick up. On the one hand, it is due to the maturity of additive manufacturing technology, the perfection of products, and the increase of industry recognition; on the other hand, the listing of industry-leading companies such as Plastica has increased the overall attention of capital to the industry.”

Plastic landed on the science and technology board in July 2019, with a cumulative gain of 250% and a market value of more than 16 billion yuan, ranking among the top global additive manufacturing companies. The semi-annual report shows that the company achieved operating revenue of 277 million yuan in the first half of the year, up 92.83% year-on-year. Leveraging capital, the expansion of production activities is still intensifying, and on the evening of August 29, the company issued a proposal to raise 3.109 billion yuan to raise capital for a large-scale intelligent production base project for metal additive manufacturing and additional working capital. Plutonite said the move will significantly enhance the company’s metal additive customized products and raw material powder production capacity to meet the rapidly growing demand for additive manufacturing in aerospace, medical dentistry, and automotive applications, as well as to meet the company’s and the industry’s demand for metal additive manufacturing powder.

Industry pain points to be solved, how to let more traditional enterprises “taste”

Industry development momentum is rapid, but the pain points and difficulties still exist. For a long time, 3D printing has been facing a consensus problem, that is, compared to traditional industries, how does it achieve lower costs and higher efficiency? Further, how to effectively improve the level of the various links of the industry chain, 3D printing can find a match with other industries? All these questions need to practitioners in the continuous exploration and try to solve.

“At present, the combination of 3D printing and aerospace is relatively smooth, because the aerospace designers themselves have the need and willingness to use new technologies and explore the advantages and rationality of using additive manufacturing in different scenarios. 3D printing itself needs to have a development process in the traditional industrial field, requiring companies and customers to approach each other and find the right combination and entry point. ” Liu Bin said.

Relatively speaking, due to the large scale of production of some traditional enterprises, high capacity output value, and insufficient motivation to change, resulting in 3D printing “access” difficulties. Liu Bin told Elimold, that the current 3D printing in many traditional industrial fields in the penetration rate is relatively low, in just the beginning of the stage. If there are more policies to encourage, support, and promote the future, the industry will go faster and smoother. How make more traditional enterprises “taste” 3D printing? Several interviewees have told Elimold that there is a need for some benchmark companies in various industries to integrate additive manufacturing technology, to jointly drive enterprises in the industry to use additive manufacturing technology. In addition, engineers in the industry also need to make a mindset change.

In Li Fangzheng’s view, traditional enterprises to improve their understanding of 3D printing technology can promote their design and equipment technology upgrades. At the same time, only more traditional enterprises join the team of 3D printing, and the latter’s application of the combination of more points, to better promote the application of 3D printing and improvement, the formation of the aggregation effect and virtuous circle.

In addition, the lack of application standards is also another constraint on the road of 3D printing industrialization. The relevant person in charge of the platinum LIT in an interview with Elimold frankly, the maturity of additive manufacturing technology can not be compared with the traditional manufacturing techniques such as reduction, equal material, still need to carry out a lot of basic research work in the scientific basis, engineering applications, industrial production, and other aspects. The lack of industry standards to a certain extent restricts the accumulation, curing, and application of additive manufacturing technology results, slowing down the industrial development process.

“As a new manufacturing technology, counterparts around the world are now actively exploring the standards for 3D printing applications.” Li Fangzheng confidently said, “Once the application standards are developed, the back of the testing and certification to keep up, then the amount of 3D printing scale application can be quickly up.”

The future is promising low-cost consumer-grade equipment is expected to enter thousands of households

Foot full of 3D printing shoes, Beijing Adi Zhi Lian technology limited liability company additive manufacturing director Guo Dan wind into the conference room.

In its footsteps, Guo Dan believes that the pace of 3D printing forward has been unstoppable. “The iteration of industrial technology stems from the demand for practical applications. A few years ago, companies worldwide focused on whether to use additive manufacturing, and in the last two years have focused more on how products can be realized through additive manufacturing, and the perspective of thinking has changed qualitatively.” But he also said, “At this stage, the industry has not crossed the chasm, not from the innovator into the full life cycle of the mass industry. Only after going through the accumulation period, the 3D printing market scale will usher in geometric growth.”

From the perspective of industry development, the long-term shortage of talent restricts the development of China’s additive manufacturing industry. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security released the “fourth quarter of 2021 national recruitment is greater than the job search “the most shortage of workers” in the ranking of the 100 occupations, additive manufacturing equipment operators are listed.

But this situation is also undergoing a positive change. In June this year, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security released information on new occupations such as “additive manufacturing engineering technicians”, which is an important step from the previous policy of supporting school training to vocational recognition. At the same time, enterprises themselves are also actively training professionals to contribute to the development of the industry.

“3D printing is no longer out of reach, low-cost consumer-grade devices are expected to enter thousands of households.” Liu Bin said, “the future may appear home small metal additive manufacturing equipment to manufacture household products, such as special hammers, pliers and other tools. If people need metal parts, they can print parts independently at home by downloading the model or designing it themselves and transferring the model to the device.”

With the input of industry quality talent, equipment research and development technology advances, the emergence of new industry models, a new generation of information technology to empower, as well as policy support for the upgrade, shortly, 3D printing or “spray painting” a three-dimensional rich industrial reality.

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