Chinese firms hope to expand into 3-D printing industry

Global Business

3-D printing has become much more affordable since the technology was introduced. Many large companies spearheading the technology have seen their stock rise dramatically, and a growing number of Chinese companies are hoping to get a piece of the pie. As CCTV America’s Mark Niu reported this story from San Francisco.

This printing technology has the potential to transform manufacturing in fields as diverse as medicine, automotive parts, or even fashion. The Beijing-based 3-D Printing Technology Industry Alliance is bringing together experts from around the globe for the World 3-D Printing Technology American Summit in San Francisco.

Despite its successes, 3-D industry experts said there are still many hurdles to overcome to expand growth.

Annie Wang’s company Senvol has created an algorithm that advises manufactures about whether it’s cost-effective to switch to 3-D printing.

“Eighty percent of the time it may be more expensive to make it via 3-D printing. Only a small fraction of parts should be made via 3-D printing. But the parts that you find, that you should make via 3-D printing, could you save you millions of dollars,” Wang said.

The key factors are the cost of 3-D printing machines and the cost of the printing materials. One company that’s positioned in all areas of the market is 3-D Systems, which makes both consumer and production level 3-D printers as well as scanners and design software.

3-D systems has also recently teamed with Google on project Ara, which seeks to print out modular phones composed of replaceable and upgradable parts.

“No one else has done this before where we’re building this complete system where components of the phone move through this machine are printed on demand based on what the customer has asked for in terms of color, in terms of function of that component. Printed on demand at high speeds. This is really a next generation step,” said Tom Charron, vice president of product marketing for 3-D Systems.

Drexel University professor Jack Zhou said support for 3-D Printing from the government, industry and investors is available in China, but global partnerships would speed up growth.

“They need to learn from abroad. 3-D printing is basically a new technology, needs a lot of new development, innovation. If China can catch on that part and then they develop their own technology, that would be very strong for them,” Zhou said.

He believes strides still need to be made in improving printing speed, reducing cost, and simplifying design software before 3-D Printing will move beyond prototyping and truly catch on with home users.