Nov 3, 2016 | By Alec

The rise of 3D printing over the past five years or so has been meteoric, but like with any new technology, it has had to face many skeptics along the way. In fact, much of the publicity surrounding 3D printing can be traced back to an article in The Economist published five years ago, creating hurricanes of believers and non-believers. President Obama, famously, was quickly convinced and has been actively promoting 3D printing through America Makes initiative.

The doubters have also had plenty of manufacturing strength behind them, however. Back in 2013, Terry Gou, the president of Foxconn Technology Group, famously called 3D printing “just a gimmick.” And Gou typically knows what he’s talking about, as the president of the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer. But even Gou has now relented under pressure, conceding to the technology's potentials. In response to changing manufacturing trends and shifting operating cost perspectives, Foxconn is now looking to incorporate 3D printing into their R&D and manufacturing processes through a collaboration with Zhuhai CTC Electronic, China’s leading 3D printer manufacturer.

While the news marks a big step in the opposite direction for  Gou, it’s also a huge moment for the industry as a whole, as Foxconn has the power to dictate manufacturing trends. Based in Taipei, Taiwan, Foxconn operates more than 30 science and technology industrial parks throughout China, while also being affiliated with more than 200 subsidiaries throughout the world. Back in 2011, Foxconn alone accounted for 5.8 percent of total exports out of mainland China (much of that being computer parts), making them the number one export company for nine consecutive years. Known as the world’s largest manufacturing foundry, Fortune 500 also ranked them 60th in their list of companies in that same year.

Despite this, Gou and Foxconn have been skeptical about 3D printing until very recently, and saw the burst of the 3D printing bubble in late 2014/early 2015 as proof that a ‘third industrial revolution’ was everything but real. Most prominently, that bubble burst led to a financial reshuffling and stock market troubles for 3D printing pioneers Stratasys and 3D Systems, who are still working to overhaul their 3D printing business models. “3D printing does not herald the arrival of the third industrial revolution,” Gou said in response, further describing 3D printing with hyperbolic gimmickry. “If 3D printing really is that good, then I'll write my surname 'Gou' backwards,” he told local reporters at the time.

His statements make this recent change of heart even more remarkable, and while Foxconn haven’t disclosed anything, Zhuhai CTC Electronic’s Public Relations Manager He SiYi revealed that talks are ongoing. “We have been in discussions with Foxconn for some time, after they expressed a strong intention to collaborate with us and to introduce 3D printing in Foxconn’s R&D process and mold manufacturing activities,” He SiYi revealed.

As one of China’s leading 3D printer manufacturers (with 20,000 square meter R&D factories), Zhuhai CTC Electronic is a prime candidate to enable these activities. Back in September, that same company unveiled two industrial 3D printing platforms, the Walnut 18 selective laser melting (SLM) 3D printer and Riverbase 500 light-curing (SLA) 3D printer. Several CTC  representatives already flew out to Chongqing last month to conduct in-depth discussions with the local Foxconn branch, reaching an initial decision to establish a joint venture 3D printing company with Foxconn Chongqing. “But the local government still needs to be consulted before such a venture can be implemented,” He SiYi added.

While still an ongoing process, this big news obviously says a lot about the state of industrial 3D printing right now. According to industrial expert Wang LianFeng, metal 3D printing in particular has become suitable to manufacture key parts for high-end aerospace, automotive and mobile phone applications. “3D printing is the key technology for intelligent manufacturing. As a representative of large-scale manufacturing, Foxconn can eliminate industrial resistance and pave the way to deal with rising labor costs, introduce robots and promote manufacturing intelligence,” he says. “This collaboration between CTC Electronic and Foxconn will be a real milestone for 3D printing, and for traditional manufacturing integration.”

 

 

Posted in 3D Printer Company

 

 

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