Mar. 2, 2015 | By Alec

We’ve known for a while that the Chinese government is particularly interested in 3D printing technology. After all, they have sponsored various innovative 3D printing experiments in the past, which have done and are doing a lot for the development of a Chinese 3D printing industry. Just look at their recent experiment to include 3D printers on warships, to produce custom-made replacement parts in emergency situations.

But now the Chinese government is taking things to an entirely different level. For the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), has just unveiled their ‘National Plan’ for 3D printing. Or to give its full name, ‘The Country’s Additive Manufacturing Industry Promotion Plan 2015-2016’. As the title suggests, this plan aims to develop a functioning and healthy additive manufacturing (or simply 3D printing) industrial system by 2016. That ‘Plan’ features a number of main pillars, such as ensuring that Chinese businesses keep up with the overall level of technology of the international 3D printing market, reaching the international level of advanced 3D printing for aerospace and other high-level industries, and taking and maintaining a large share of the international 3D printing market.

It’s thus an ambitious plan, but the fact that the government is picking up 3D printing technology is saying a lot about its perceived role in next-generation manufacturing. "Most importantly, the “Plan” will increase everyone's confidence. Before the plan, 3D printing was relying on private voluntary promotion, but now the government is promoting the development of 3D printing, and will strengthen confidence among Chinese players," Luo Jun, the Secretary-General of the World 3D Printing Technology Industry Alliance, commented.

Focussing on the development of the aviation and medical industry

As becomes apparent from the ‘Plan’, the Chinese 3D printing industry will aim at to achieve a sales revenue growth rate of more than 30% per year and will seek to establish two or three 3D printing companies with a high level of international competitiveness. As for heavier industries, the focus will be on developing 3D printing technology as an important means of producing and repairing aerospace and other high-quality equipment. As part of that development, application and demonstration centers will be established throughout China, focussing on R&D for medical applications, tools and procedures. Aside from medical and aerospace industries, automotive, cultural and biomedical fields are also set to benefit.

These heavy industry applications will also require the development of domestic manufacturers of high quality titanium alloy, high-strength steel, and even high-temperature and high-strength engineering plastic materials by 2016, to ensure goals can be met. As Luo Jun revealed: "In the field of materials, more companies will be involved, the availability of different types of materials will be significantly increased, while their costs are likely to fall in the next three to five years."

At the same time, the ‘Plan’ is also proposing to strongly promote the application and use of 3D printing for metallic components in the aerospace field and the defense industry. Policies and regulations concerning 3D printed medical devices, for areas such as classification, clinical validation, product registration and market access, are also expected. As insiders revealed, "From the national strategic level, the ‘plan’s’ emphasis is solidly on 3D printing applications for aerospace and biomedical fields. However industrial 3D printing is the future, because the current state of technology in aerospace and medical industries does not yet have a clear advantage."

Domestic industry expects implementation of detailed rules

But such a large scale development cannot function without proper policy measures, and therefore the ‘plan’ further seeks to strengthen coordination, increase fiscal support efforts for investment and financing channels in the 3D printing world, as well as the facilitation of educational training and the expansion of international cooperation. As part of those efforts, the ‘Plan’ also states that it encourages "high-level 3D printing enterprises to enter international markets and to issue non-financial corporate debt financing tools to directly finance themselves."

As part of that effort, the National Science and Technology Program will take care of fiscal support for the development of 3D printing technology. The government’s efforts to broaden the investment and financing channels will also consist of deploying policy guidance for businesses and markets to encourage businesses financial institutions and social capital funds to invest in 3D printing industries. Banks and financial institutions will also be encouraged to increase credit support for 3D printing enterprises.

Though that sounds very promising, insiders are reportedly sceptical about its implementation. One anonymous source said that "this is just a two-year period to promote the program with measures on a macro level. Practically, it lacks specific plans, for instance for the fiscal policy necessary to support the industry."

3D printing industry encouraged to focus on collaboration

While optimistic about the future of 3D printing in China, Luo Jun has also argued that 3D printing enterprises need to be realistic about their position in the market. "3D printing is not a strong alternative technology. It therefore can’t follow the development patterns of traditional manufacturing industries to just produce equipment and sell the equipment," Luo Jun argues. He went on to state that 3D printing equipment manufacturers, material suppliers and service providers should establish strategic alliances to form a community of interests. At the same time, it should seek to incorporate its abilities into big data, cloud computing, networking, robotics, and other advanced technologies such as smart materials and artificial intelligence technology, to enable communal development and growth.

While the ‘Plan’ thus focuses on industrial markets, Luo Jun further argued that he believes that many desktop manufacturing enterprises and foreign investors will gradually transition into the development and production of industrial 3D printers as well. Over the coming years the biomedical market has the greatest potential, where – Luo Jun believes – a large breakthrough will be realized over the next three years or so. Cultural and creative applications are still, meanwhile, lacking focus. The construction industry for example, while very potent, still has a higher news value than actual value in the short-term perspective of the 3D printing market.

WinSun China builds world's first 3D printed villa and tallest 3D printed apartment building

As Luo said: "Starting in 2015, the Chinese 3D printing industry has entered a stage of comprehensive reshuffling. In about three years, the market structure will begin to re-adjust and expand. Mergers and acquisitions should therefore be seen as drama rehearsal."

In short, the ‘Plan’ is thus above all ambitious but slightly vague about its practical implementation. While we’ll have to see how this two-year program plays out, one thing is certain: China is seeking to be at the forefront of the ever-expanding 3D printing industry. 



Posted in 3D Printing Technology


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PinkAsso wrote at 3/4/2015 10:42:20 AM:

Chinese government unveils ‘National Plan’ for development of 3D copying industry

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