China’s plan to survive the 3D-printing revolution: Own the market

Bear market? Pooh!
Bear market? Pooh!
Image: Zheng Yong/Xinhua/Sipa USA
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If 3D printing will up-end manufacturing as we know it, and if China is home to the world’s largest and most successful manufacturing industry, it ought to stand to reason that if—or when—3D printing eventually goes mainstream, China’s manufacturing will suffer, right? Some people certainly think so.

But even if they are right, they are also far from the only ones to have thought of it. China’s plan to counter this eventuality? To take control of 3D printing. Luo Jun, the head of the Asian Manufacturing Association, a Chinese trade body, said at a 3D printing conference in Beijing last week that he expects revenues from products and services in the industry in China alone to grow to 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) within three years. That’s a third of AMA’s own projections of global revenues of $5 billion by 2016, and just under half the $3.7 billion forecast for 2015 that Wohlers Associates, a research firm, made a year ago. Luo sees the market doubling in size every year after that.

Luo’s confidence stems from an investment made by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology late last year. It formed the “China 3D Printing Technology Industry Alliance” to fund 10 research centres at a cost of 200 million yuan, which will be matched by local governments. The first of these, in Nanjing, was approved in March. Some 40 companies have joined the alliance.

If China’s 3D printing industry matches Luo’s projections, it will have grown an order of magnitude from 2012. Last year, the US accounted for about 60% of the industry’s global revenues of $2 billion. China claimed a meagre $153 million.