Interview with Stefaan Motte, Vice President of Materialise: China needs to embrace 3D printing to maintain its status as the “world factory”
Recently, Materialise conducted a survey among Chinese manufacturing companies to understand their interest and attitude towards 3D Printing technology. The survey results show that Chinese manufacturing companies believe that 3D printing is essential to maintaining China’s status as the “world factory”. However, currently not many people are willing to apply it to actual production. More than 30% of people believe that 3D printing will be as important as, or even more important than, traditional manufacturing, but 65% said they have never seriously considered the application of 3D printing. The statistics accurately reflect what I see in the market. In addition to the production of 3D printers, 3D printing has not yet played a role in the vast majority of products produced in China. Currently, most manufacturing companies around the world use this technology in the prototype design stage. However, this situation is changing. 3D printing has evolved from a very niche application to having practical and broad significance in the manufacturing field. It is moving from manufacturing complex and personalized parts to manufacturing terminal parts because it is more convenient, economical and environmentally friendly. Stefaan Motte, vice president of Materialise, believes that 3D printing is mature and will have a profound impact on China’s manufacturing industry.
Enter a new era of 3D printing
Cost, convenience and sustainability are the reasons why companies such as Stryker and GE Aviation have begun to use 3D printing to produce high-quality terminal parts in a heavily regulated market. Stryker has already 3D printed more than 300,000 medical implants, and GE Aviation has also printed more than 30,000 fuel nozzles. These two companies are leaders in the next era of 3D printing and even manufacturing. 3D printing is moving towards mass production of terminal parts, but in the current manufacturing industry, its proportion is still very low. The potential of 3D printing is not only in itself, but in integrating 3D printing into the existing production environment to support the distributed manufacturing process from design to printing to subsequent logistics. Once the terminal components are mass-produced, 3D printing factories will begin to emerge in large numbers. I think this will become a reality in two to five years. This transformation has global influence, especially for China, as pioneers in the 3D printing field are building their internal (ie, outside China) 3D printing capabilities.
Chinese companies have also felt this: surveys show that about 50% of people believe that the widespread use of 3D printing in the world will challenge China’s status as a world leader in manufacturing. Overcoming obstacles Even though multinational companies have begun to use 3D printing for the manufacture of terminal parts, only 11% of Chinese manufacturing personnel believe that 3D printing is ready for this. I think China still has great potential in 3D printing applications. As part of the “Made in China 2025” plan, China plans to prepare for the future workforce by investing in advanced technologies such as 3D printing to improve the competitiveness of the manufacturing industry.
Now, the main challenge is how to achieve this ambitious goal. In order to achieve the government’s goals, China must overcome the key barrier of letting companies understand how to use 3D printing. The survey confirmed this view, 41% of the respondents said that lack of professional knowledge hindered the application of 3D printing. It usually takes several years to fully integrate 3D printing into an existing business. Since this technology has not yet reached the “plug and play” status, companies need guidance to understand how to integrate it into the existing manufacturing environment.
We have been working hard to lower the barriers to the application of 3D printing, especially for mass production of terminal parts. For example, with the processing processor (BP), we can achieve a more streamlined workflow under a variety of machines and printing technologies. However, considering the application of 3D printing, there are still many obstacles. I think Chinese companies can obtain the required expertise by cooperating with leading 3D printing companies. We firmly believe that in the process of co-creation, by combining our expertise in 3D printing with the company’s expertise in its field, innovations that transform the industry can be produced. We organized a co-creation project with Ulsan City in South Korea to show local companies how 3D printing can reduce costs, save time, and improve product quality. Whether it is building a high-yield, certified production line or designing products digitally, we can provide assistance according to the needs of a specific industry. 3D printing has begun to have the ability to manufacture terminal parts. China needs to seize the opportunity, otherwise its status as the world’s factory may be threatened.
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