In terms of 3D printing, China is still a big unknown. Yes, we’re all familiar with printers from firms such as Flashforge that can be found all over the world. Beyond those global players however, China is a bit of a mystery for us. As you may have noticed, we’re doing many articles on women in 3D printing, 3D printing in Africa, 3D printing resellers, and 3D printing in South America. We hope to reach underexposed 3D printing areas and stories in order to give you a better picture of the entire industry, as it is not as the media imagines it to be. Now, we’ll also take more of a closer look at what is going on in China.
Beyond desktop printers, there is a growing and vibrant Chinese 3D printing industry emerging and they may yet challenge established European and American companies. One such emerging firm is FacFox, a 3D printing service that started with humble desktop 3D printers and in a few years grew to a large and diversified service working with clients all over the globe. We talked to Edi Weigh at FacFox to find out more.
Weigh sees, “FacFox as a one-stop manufacturing platform to realize creation, we make the ideal into real products.”
“It all started with a tiny spark of inspiration when we were college students, after hearing about the 3D printer’s capability and it’s potential in creative and manufacturing industry, so we came across the idea to start a workshop that provides customized 3D printing service. We bought our first Prusa Mendel at 2013, then MakerBot 2X and Rostock Delta Printer in 2015.”
Beginning with entry level systems was always going to be a challenge. Given the state of systems in 2014, this would have been almost impossible unless one was armed with extreme perseverance. Interestingly, India’s largest service bureau Objectify also started with desktop machines. In Europe and the US services commonly start with much larger entry-level industrial systems. Whereas Objectify stuck to a centralized service however, FacFox took a much more distributed path.
“a while after the establishment of our workshop, a serious issue started to bother us. With only a few FDM 3D printers we were not able to meet the diversified requirements of clients’ projects. That was when we realized that we needed to embrace the power of a collaborative network. So we created a first primitive website to display the 3D printers connected to us.”
Weigh says, “yes, we got inspiration from 3Dhubs and we really appreciate it.” Rather than focus on consumer 3D printers however, FacFox became a network connecting industrial 3D printing companies in China.
“By 2015, we had gathered over 200 printing companies in China, and started to provide informational services to connect those companies with customers. It didn’t work as expected since there is no added value by only sharing information with 3D printing services, what’s more, the biggest issue remained unsolved: versatility.”
The company clearly had to experiment more with their business model and offering but importantly it was acquiring knowledge.
“If you ask me, what was very beneficial to us in this period, I’d say we learned the limits of 3D printing(especially FDM 3D Printing). Clients want a turnkey solution to realize their creations, the method to achieve this goal is not their top concern. So we started to collect information of both additive and substractive manufacturing methods, and opened our own consulting business to provide a one-stop production plan.”
Pivoting from an in house desktop service towards a 3DHubs for industrial and then yet again towards a one-stop design and fulfillment service may seem dizzying but it shows a company that evolves to meet the market.
“In 2016, we were funded by venture capital and grew rapidly by partnering with the largest 3D printer manufacturers and service providers, we started to step outside our country and target the global market. Now we have full-stack solution for different industries. This is what keeps us growing.”
Right now FacFox offers 3D printing in metal and polymers, CNC, urethane casting, blow molding, injection molding, sheet fabrication, die casting and other processes through one portal. In other places, 3D printing services may be more focused on polymers for example or perhaps even on one technology. Weigh believes that having lots of options helps customers to do what they need. The firm has EOS M280, EOS M400, ConceptLaser M2 and Farsoon and Zrapid metal printers, and offers SST 316L, Aluminium, Bronze, Titanium, Co-Cr, IN625 and IN718.
“It is crucial that 3D printing and CNC machining are both provided, both methods have their own Pros and Cons, 3D printing is fast and cost-efficient for objects with small size and complex geometry, however CNC machining is more accurate and stable in dimensional accuracy, which also costs a lot less in large objects and bulk production. We need to provide an optimal solution to produce a client’s project irrespective of the technology.”
The company considers its key to success is “to think thoroughly about the value you can offer to the client, don’t recommend 3D printing just because it’s lucrative, only by selecting the method with the best quality versus cost can you gain trust and satisfaction from your clients.”
The company really believes in its turnkey solutions approach and thinks that this will save clients time, money and worry.
Weigh sees FacFox’s “core value is to minimize the expense and maximize the quality and efficiency, which is exactly what we pursue. If you are seeking to realize your creation in the best method, then we are the right one you are looking for.”
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