China – AM Adoption in the Manufacturing Giant

2020-02-26

Aya Bentur  

Rear-view mirror housing made from BASF Ultrasint PA6 X043 with Farsoon

China has been the headliner in recent news because of the Coronavirus outbreak. Beyond the medical implications, there has been talk about the economic and manufacturing implications. Here at LEO Lane, we would like to give a shout out to Chinese Additive Manufacturing (AM) in these difficult times. So here is a look at the bright side: some Chinese companies in the AM ecosystem.

Not Just Conventional Manufacturing

China, a heavy-weight player in manufacturing, is not just about conventional mass production anymore. We tend to position conventional manufacturing as opposed to additive manufacturing, yet it seems that Chinese companies have realized that it’s not one against the other, not mass production vs smaller local production. These are all part of a system that can work very well together. A growing number of China-based companies are currently offering AM machines, materials, as well as services, in the Chinese market and internationally. At Formnext we saw a rise in Chinese AM exhibitors, and a recent survey by Ernst and Young places China as the second country after South Korea in terms of experience with AM, among the 900 companies polled.

Industries Growing Adoption

One of the sectors that stands out in regards to AM adoption in China is the healthcare sector. AK Medical, for example, additively manufactures orthopedic implants. The company has spinal interbody cages, artificial vertebral bodies, and hip implants (below), all approved for use by the NMPA (previously CFDA), with the first application approved back in 2015. While these applications are metal-based other companies such as IEMAI are developing AM healthcare applications using PEEK and biocompatible AM materials for cases where metal can’t be used (such as in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy).

AK Medical 3D printed hip system with CFDA approval

Another growing sector for AM adoption is automotive. The automotive industry, in general, is pushing AM adoption in end parts as well as tooling solutions. There are many automotive companies manufacturing in China, and while they haven’t advertised their use of AM it’s safe to speculate they have implemented AM for jigs and fixtures in their operations. On a smaller scale, additive manufacturing goes well with autonomous and electrical vehicle developments (such as Olli). Pix Moving, for example, is a start-up developing mobility applications based on a 3D printed chassis and XEV, an Italian company manufacturing in China, is working on an electric vehicle using additive manufacturing for end-production (below).

3D printed Parts XEV car

Material Expertise

An example of a China-based 3D printer manufacturer with a focus on PEEK and other high-performance polymers is INTAMSYS (below from left to right: PEEK, PEI, PPSU, PC, Nylon, TPU). These materials which are known for their temperature endurance, acid resistance and biocompatibility are used for functional parts in various industries such as automotive, medical, and aerospace. China provides various materials worldwide, especially metal, so it only makes sense that material companies will shift and adapt to provide AM compatible materials. Indeed out of the 61 Chinese companies which attended Formnext last year, many where material companies, specifically metal powder suppliers.

Intamsys 3D printed parts

Bringing AM Adoption Further

There are a number of ways that can potentially increase AM adoption. One of them is government policy. The Chinese government is aware of the potential AM can have on the country’s economy. Initiatives such as the ‘Additive Manufacturing Industry Development Action Plan’, which is part of the “Made in China 2025” strategic roadmap aims to encourage the domestic AM Industry as a means to maintain China’s position as an international manufacturing ‘powerhouse’. Another means to increase widespread AM use is collaborations. Farsoon Technologies, another Chinese 3D printer manufacturer, has partnered with several material companies such as Oerlikon and BASF (up top rear-view mirror housing made from BASF Ultrasint PA6 X043 with Farsoon). Farsoon and Oerlikon want to address the needs of the growing local Chinese market by creating an open platform system for all metal AM systems as well as jointly developing custom alloys, which in turn will encourage innovation.

What are your thoughts on the China AM ecosystem? As our thoughts are with our colleagues in China, we wish them and the whole world a quick remedy for Coronavirus and a healthy 2020. For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.

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