The allure of flexible local production based on 3D printing has led to claims that 3D printing will undermine the advantages that have made China a manufacturing and exporting powerhouse. China, however, is rapidly embracing 3D printing itself according to a new report from Lux Research.
The report states that sales of printers in China will grow four-fold to 37,800 units in 2018, as revenues more than triple to $109 million.
While those sales are still small in absolute terms, the rapid pace of adoption of 3D printing shows that China also aims to be a future leader in this new manufacturing method. Indeed, the education sector, aided notably by government policy, will be the largest market in the near-term, growing at 39% annually.
“While 3D printing has been touted as a way for Western economies to compete with China’s manufacturing advantages, the Asian giant is also taking rapid strides to parlay its traditional strengths into 3D printing as well,” stated Richard Jun Li, Lux Research Director and the lead author of the report ‘China’s Growing 3D Printing Ecosystem.’
“Far from being disrupted by 3D printing, China will thrive as its expertise in electronics, manufacturing, and its growing domestic market make it a threat and an opportunity for aspiring 3D printing value chain participants,” he added.
Lux Research analysts evaluated China’s 3D printing ecosystem, consisting of scanners, printing materials, printers and printing services.
The report states that the automotive industry was an early adopter of 3D printing for prototyping globally, and China is no exception. China’s automotive 3D printing sector will grow at 31% annually, riding on its strength as the world’s largest car market.
Opportunities also exist for high-end materials providers, with the report suggesting that China’s 3D printing ecosystem has a notable gap in providers of quality materials. The report claims that domestic companies are unable to offer suitable high-quality metal, ceramic and polymer powder materials.
Notably, Chinese 3D printer makers shipped nearly 60% of their production to overseas markets, competing on cost with leading global brands such as 3D Systems and EOS. Of the 21,550 printers produced by China in 2013, 12,810 units were exported.