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. However, China is rapidly embracing 3D printing itself, and sales of printers there will grow four-fold to 37,800 printers in 2018, as revenues more than triple to $109 million, according to Lux Research.
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,” says Richard Jun Li, Lux Research Director and the lead author of the report.
“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. Among their findings is that automotive is a leading industrial application. The auto 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 the strengths of the world’s largest car market.
Opportunity exists for high-end materials providers. China’s 3D printing ecosystem has a notable gap in providers of quality materials. Domestic companies are unable to supply high-quality photosensitive resin materials or high-quality metal, ceramic and polymer powder materials.
Market is driven by exports. Chinese 3D printer makers shipped nearly 60% of their production to overseas markets, competing on cost with leading global brands such as MakerBot, 3D Systems, EOS and Stratasys. Of the 21,550 printers produced by China in 2013, 12,810 units were exported.