From China to Inside 3D Printing

With the Elite Robotics team

Whew. It’s been a hectic (and excellent) start to 2014. Sadly, this blog has languished the past three months as a result. Rest assured that more frequent updates are forthcoming.

In January, I visited several 3D printing companies in China. My first visit was to Tiertime, the largest 3D printing manufacturer in Asia. The popular Afinia printers in the US are rebranded Up! Plus machines by the Tiertime subsidiary, Delta Micro Factory. Today, the company is the #2 manufacturer in the world of industrial FDM machines after Stratasys. Intriguingly, the firm has also experimented with powder binding similar to ExOne/Voxeljet, stereolithography and even sheet lamination.

I was particularly impressed by their assembly process for the desktop 3D printers. The firm cleverly has each machine print out a few of its own parts. This serves the dual purpose of reducing tooling expenses with design changes as well as providing a useful test of machine calibration. If a printer is unable to successfully print these parts, it will never leave the door.

Next, I took a bullet train (reaching 300km/h!) to Xi’an. After a leisurely sunday visiting the Terracotta Army, I packed in a busy day visiting three 3D printing firms. A big thank you to Shuguang Li and Hui Wang for their gracious hospitality. I am excited to be advising Hui Wang’s company Elite Robotics, the largest distributor of Makerbots in China, and the operator of one of the first retail 3D printing stores in the country.

At Bright Laser, I saw one of the most impressive pieces of technology in the world: a two-story directed energy deposition metal 3D printer. Basically, the printer sprays a metal powder like Titanium 6-4 onto a hotspot created by a powerful multi-kilowat laser. The apparatus is mounted on a 5-axis arm, and is equally capable of creating objects from scratch as well as repairing distressed parts.

3m Titanium 3D Printed Wingspar by Bright Laser in Xi'an 3-meter Titanium 3D Printed Wingspar by Bright Laser in Xi’an[/caption]

My third visit was to Shaanxi Hengtong, the second largest manufacturer of 3D printers in Asia. The company specializes in stereolithography printers and also offers a laser sintering system for foundry sands and a few FDM models.2014-01-06 15.16.52

I’ll wrap up this post with the exciting news that I will be working semi full-time on Inside 3D Printing as the conference expands to eight cities and counting worldwide. Please drop me a note if you plan on attending any of the shows! The flagship NYC conference is less than a month away and is looking to be the best yet, with keynotes from General Electric, Intel, 3D Systems, Airbus, Autodesk and Formlabs.

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