Tuesday, August 20, 2013

3D printing industry enters stage of rapid development

In the past two years, 3D printing industry has entered a stage of rapid development along with the popularity of desktop 3D printer. Many companies have made great breakthrough in this industry, using polylactic acid (PLA, the most widely used biodegradable material) as one main material, according to Biomaterial China News issued by CCM in August.

On June 20, 2013, Stratasys, an international giant in 3D printing industry, has just declared to purchase another famous 3D printer producer, Makerbot, to develop its low-end products market that uses PLA as the main raw material. On Jan. 3, 2013, another 3D printing giant 3D Systems announced that it has agreed to purchase Geomagic, the world's leading provider of 3D software for creating digital models, to further expand its current product lineup that also uses PLA as the main raw material.

PLA, one of the two raw materials (the other is ABS, acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene) for desktop 3D printers, can be applied in various fields. As a green biodegradable material, the PLA printing-supplies in 3D printing industry have been tested by major European and US certification institutions, proving that they are safe, environmentally friendly and have good mechanical property, and generally, the PLA 3D printing technology can be widely applied in toys, home products, electronics, automobiles, medical treatment and other fields.

The developed countries in the world have made great achievements in the application of 3D printing. In the US, the biodegradable plastic produced by 3D printers has been widely applied in various fields, especially in the children's toys field where the 3D printing technology is already very mature. In the high-end products market, the world's first car to have its body mostly 3D printed (Urbee 2) was completed in Feb. 2013 by the US-based Kor Ecologic Inc., and this car is safe and considered to be the greenest practical car ever made on earth. These achievements may stimulate the market demand for biological materials along with the rapid development of 3D printing industry. According to the statistics from Wohlers Associates, a 27-year-old independent consulting firm focusing on 3D printing industry research, the global sales of 3D printing products (including printing-supplies) reached about USD2.20 billion in 2012, up about 29% compared with USD1.71 billion in 2011. Besides, it also estimated that the global market size of 3D printing will reach USD5 billion in 2017, and even hit USD10.8 billion in 2021.

In China, some domestic enterprises have also made some achievements in 3D printing in recent years. In June 2013, Tianjin Visual Sensitive Technology Co., Ltd., a company engaged in 3D digital technology, achieved the mass production of 3D printers mostly using PLA as raw material. In Oct. 2012, Shenzhen BrightChina Industrial Co., Ltd. (BrightChina), a leading PLA producer in China, cooperated with Shenzhen Weistek Technology Co., Ltd. (Weistek) to develop 3D printing business through a capital increase and injecting PLA printing-supplies business into Weistek (Please refer to Biomaterial China News 1302, BrightChina cooperates with Weistek to develop 3D printing business for more details).

However, China's 3D printing industry is still at the early stage of development. Domestic 3D printing enterprises are small and scattered, and the equipment and printing-supplies (the quality of domestic PLA is not so good) greatly rely on the import, leading to the high production cost in domestic 3D printing industry. But Mr. Luo, Secretary-General of Chinese 3D Printing Industry Alliance, said that the Chinese market still has a great potential, since the Chinese government attaches great importance to the emerging 3D printing industry and people's demand for customized products in which the advantage of 3D printing technology lies becomes stronger. Mr. Luo estimated that the market size of 3D printers in China will expand to USD1.63 billion by 2016, overtaking the US as the world's largest 3D printing market.

Globally, governments are also increasing their supports for 3D printing industry in the past two years. In Feb. 2012, the US government declared that it listed 3D printing technology as one of the national 15 key technologies. In May 2013, the US government further invested USD200 million in the establishment of three institutes engaged in researching 3D printing technology, which provides a positive signal for the global 3D printing industry. In April 2012, China's Ministry of Science and Technology also promulgated the National High-tech R&D Program (863 Program), including 3D printing industry for the first time.

Although 3D printing industry has drawn so much attention, the limitation of printing-supplies remains a big problem for this industry. For example, the relatively high price and unstable quality of PLA limit its application scope.

However, 3D printing industry is still promising. The market price of PLA will decrease when industrial production is achieved and its quality will be improved and gradually become stable along with the development of production technology. Besides, the materials for 3D printing industry can be expanded from biological materials (PLA, etc.) to ceramics, metals, minerals, etc.

Table of Contents of Biomaterials China News 1308:
3D printing industry enters stage of rapid development
A new biomass fiber alliance established in Sichuan Province
China's bio-based polyether polyol industry witnesses good momentum of development
China's PVA market still depressed in Jan.-July 2013
Sichuan Yinge's 50,000t/a bamboo fiber project goes into operation
BASF, Caigill and Novozymes target bio-based acrylic acid
Xinjiang Tianye's biodegradable agricultural film enters field trials
LDA industry attracts some new participants in China
Potato price fluctuates at a high level in Jan.-July 2013
China's PLA foreign trade decreases in June 2013
China's import volume of dry cassava decreases in June 2013
China's import volume of castor oil and its derivatives increases in June 2013
Shandong Fuwin exports 120,000 tonnes of PBS to Spain
Qingdao University's algae fiber program gets technology approval by MOST
Europe to invest USD5.05 billion in commercialization of bio-based products
Jilin Province publishes document on developing PLA industry
Evonik's bio-based PA12 plant put into operation

Biomaterials China News, with 12 to 14 topics in one issue, published by CCM on 8th every month, will bring you the latest information on the market dynamics, company dynamics, new biomaterials products, new biomaterials technology development, new legislations as well as policies and raw material supply dynamics, which are shaping the significant market intelligence of the industry.

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