Anyone that is paying even the slightest amount of attention to advances in manufacturing sees the potential of additive manufacturing (AM) as an up-and-coming technological force. The US and UK have already invested in 3D printing, partially in recognition of the promise of the technology, partially as part of a reshoring effort.
Now, China has taken its first steps toward promoting AM, at least at a local level. Su Bo, vice minister of Industry and Information Technology, has put forth the idea that China should create a blueprint for the future of AM in the country, and offer tax incentives for research and development, and applications, for 3D printing.
“It is a revolutionary manufacturing technique,” said Su. “Once put to large-scale production, it will ease China’s pressure on energy and resources.”
Not only would this investment help China to begin to catch up with other countries on the AM front, the quote from Su reveals another angle. AM is, generally, a greener technology than many other kinds of manufacturing. China has an enormous appetite for raw materials and fuel to produce those materials. Anything that could reduce consumption of oil and gas would benefit the country as a whole.
While China doesn’t have its own version of Stratasys or 3D Systems just yet, research is being conducted in the field of AM. The forerunners are Xi’an Jiaotong University, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Tsinghua University and Beijing Long Yuan-Automated Fabrication System. That list doesn’t include the numerous efforts at creating 3D printers by smaller firms or individuals.
“Additional manufacturing techniques will enable manufacturers to shorten production cycles, better meet individual needs and easily cope with the production of complex or large-scale components,” said Lu Bingheng of Xi’an Jiaotong University. “There is much to be done for domestic researchers.”
While normally any development in new forms of manufacturing in one of the booming BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) might signal a new wave of departures for US manufacturing, I don’t think this will be the case for AM. The shortened supply chain, and low volume print runs that are typical of 3D printing make it more attractive as a local business partner.
Consider the time factor as another reason for local AM services to remain just that. Part of the appeal of AM, both for businesses and individual consumers, is its speed. Waiting for a part (or timely gift) to be printed out and then shipped from halfway around the world doesn’t make much sense when there are alternatives near to hand.
Below you’ll find a video of the UP! 3D printer, one of China’s first commercial ventures into AM.
Source: China Daily