In the West, we don’t necessarily know a great deal about the shape of the Asian 3D printing market; we do know that China in particular has been working on additive manufacturing technology for some time and has a very active industry. Even the most thorough 3D printing analysts, though, cannot agree on an approximation of the number of participants in the Chinese industry as both the most recent Wohlers Report and Sculpteo’s State of 3D Printing note the opacity of that market. How many companies are making 3D printers in China? That may well be anyone’s guess at this point.
Shanghai-based UnionTech came to our attention in November, when the company made its move into the US market working with Iowa-based RP Support America / RP Sales America to bring its high-quality stereolithography technology Stateside via US subsidiary Union Tech. Because seeing is believing, I welcomed the opportunity earlier this month at RAPID + TCT to see a UnionTech 3D printer in person, as well as meet with the teams from both Union Tech and RP Sales to learn more about what sets these offerings apart.
“UnionTech was established in China in 2000, and came to the US in October 2016, due to a change in patents,” RP Support America President Dan Terpstra told me of the company. “The machine is assembled in Shanghai using international parts, including some from Spectra Physics, ScanLabs, and Panasonic, all top-of-the-line components. UnionTech is the industry leader in China, selling a few hundred machines per year.”
The SLA technology put to use in Union Tech’s offerings is, the RP Sales team noted, a direct competitor to offerings from industry-leading 3D Systems. Some of the key differences on which Union Tech hangs its hat, though, are in its open source philosophy and the price point of its machines. Union Tech uses open source materials and software, and the systems start at $125K, running up to about $260K.
“It’s competition that fuels innovation,” Terpstra told me with a smile.
I spoke as well with Jim Reitz, General Manager of Union Tech, who told me that the company’s value proposition is based on a few key aspects:
- Cost-effective lifecycle
- Off-the-shelf robust components and an open design
- Capable of fine finish
“This is equipment from China, but we don’t have a Chinese machine,” Reitz said as he stood next to the large 3D printer.
Union Tech offers four model sizes for its RSPro Equipment Line:
- Pilot SD
- Build Envelope: 250 x 250 x 250 mm
- Accuracy: ±0.025mm
- RSPro 450
- Envelope: 450 x 450 x 400 mm
- Accuracy: ±0.1mm
- RSPro 600
- Envelope: 600 x 600 x 500 mm
- Accuracy: ±0.1mm
- RSPro 800
- Build envelope: 800 x 800 x 550 mm
- Accuracy: ±0.15mm
On-site in Pittsburgh, the UnionTech RSPro 600 showcased a robust build and a plethora of 3D printed example builds covering a number of bases. Terpstra and RP Sales’ Jeremy Vos, Sales Director, opened up the back of the machine so I could see inside, where granite adds to the stability and robustness of the system. RSPro 3D printers feature an open back vat to pour resin in.
“SLA has been around a long time; we call this a fresh dimension,” Terpstra said of the systems.
Key applications highlighted at the show included investment casting, ceramic-filled materials, electroplating, and even wiffle balls and fine detail uses along with, of course, prototyping. Vos noted that Materialise Magics software is used to “add to the innovation,” while DSM SOMOS materials highlighted durability and accuracy of builds. One build that drew attention at the show was in keeping with RAPID’s location this year in Pittsburgh, as bridges were in focus, and a large (18″ x 10″ x 10″) footstool with bridge-like structures proved to draw curious visitors to learn more. One that caught my eye, though, was a little electroplated part. Terpstra and Vos promised me that the metal-plated plastic part was strong enough to stand on; so I did.
3D printed plastic parts plated with metal are starting a new trend, offering strength along with light weight and low costs compared to fully metal parts. The part at this booth stood up to my standing on it without a problem (other than my general lack of balance on a small, narrow structure). I’ll be curious to see how this application grows across the board as the year goes on.
Iowa-based RP Sales is the exclusive UnionTech distributor in the US, bringing with it, Vos noted, Midwest values as a Midwest company. RP Sales offers service and support to create enduring relationships with customers. The US-based Union Tech subsidiary, for its part, is based in Illinois. Discuss in the UnionTech forum at 3DPB.com.[Photos: Sarah Goehrke]