Farsoon came out of the shadows a few years ago. The Chinese powder bed fusion company had been operating in China for years before crossing into Europe and America. Patent issues and a focus on the adjacent Chinese market are obvious reasons for the company to spend its formative years chiefly in China. Farsoon now has a European headquarters and is shipping worldwide. There are hundreds of similar firms in China working with Chinese industry. For every INTAMSYS that we have heard of, there are a few dozen other companies that we may never hear from. But, some will undoubtedly take the plunge, hire English speakers and take the competition to our shores.
We can foresee a steady but limited stream of Chinese firms that will follow in Farsoon’s footsteps. They will bring significantly lower costs. A friend told me recently that, in China, firms are building powder bed fusions systems for “one-tenth of the cost of Western companies.” He went on to say that, most players are “mainly focused on the domestic market” and that, of the users, “very few companies in China buy Western 3D printers. All use Chinese machines.”
So, the 3D printing industry that we think we know does not give us a complete understanding of what is going on. We can only see some of the firms competing in the space. Our lens is, in fact, wonky. We only know Uniontech, Xi’an Bright Laser, Farsoon, INTAMSYS, and Tiertime, but there are many hundreds more. Beyond the Crealitys and Anets of the world, there are many industrial-focused sintering, vat polymerization, material extrusion and binder jetting companies. They cater almost exclusively to China, which, in effect, is creating two separate industries, a cheaper one that is China-focused and a more costly one that is global.
It would be a mistake however to take a “low-quality” bias approach and miss the larger picture. Some of these firms will cross over and move up in the world just like Toyota and Kia have done in automotive. Don’t forget DJI completely dominates the consumer drone space and this could also happen through more quality-focused, operational excellence-driven Chinese firms. I think that western OEMs insufficiently appreciate the coming competitive threat from China and just how large and vibrant the industry is there.
A case in point is Farsoon’s Flight systems. This line of fiber laser 3D printers is just coming onto the market. To be honest, the Farsoon systems I’ve looked at in previous years were kind of wonky and some worried me. Farsoon’s Flight system and machines such as the 403P, however, are real improvements, making them credible alternatives to EOS and 3D Systems.
Now, the firm is showcasing a dual-laser setup on its 403P system. This system has open machine and material parameters, which means that it is ideal for those experimenting with materials or want to have total control over which materials can be used in their machines. The 403P is a fiber laser 3D printer that can print polymers such as PA6. It has a minimum layer thickness of 0.06 mm and may perhaps be able to build at four liters per hour. The dual system can print, probably not for larger areas, wall thicknesses of 0.3mm.
The new system uses, “two powerful 300-watt Fiber lasers and two dynamic optical systems, creating two ultra-fine laser spots with fast scanning speed of up to 20m/s (66ft/s) for each. The new dual-laser configuration can offer significantly 50-90% higher production volume rate compared to the single laser configuration of Flight TM Technology 1 , and 3 to 4 times production yield compared to a single CO 2 laser machine 2 . Take its application on Farsoon’s 403P platform for example, the dual-laser configuration can achieve 2 full builds (standard cylinder size 400 × 400 × 450mm) within one single day therefore significantly improves machine uptime and creates maximum throughput yield per floor area within the same time frame.”
Now that’s fighting talk and, if the machine can consistently produce those builds, then it will be very cost-effective machine to operate and may tempt more industrial users. Farsoon’s footprint in the West is currently light, but developments such as this make it likely that it will expand. Farsoon users I’ve talked to are OK with them and, while they’re not raving, they’re not complaining a lot either.
The company also announced “Farsoon PA12 based FS3300PA-F and PA12 based Glass bead reinforced FS3401GB-F”, which should be popular materials with the later being well suited to stiffer items such as housings. The company says of these glass bead reinforced nylons: “Components made from this material are characterized with extraordinary dimensional stability, good thermal and abrasive resistance; making them well suited for industrial applications such as automotive engine system and electrical tools.” They also claim a powder refresh rate of 20%. Another new material is LEHVOSS’ T LUVOSINT TPU X92A-1064 WT. I love this Shore 92 A material and what it means for bringing functional TPU parts closer to mass production.
I’m a known 3D printed shoe skeptic, but I love sintered TPU mass customized handles for bikes, motorcycles, sports equipment, and tools. I also love mass customizing items like seat headrests, bike seats, and entire seats using TPU in part. I would really like to see more high-end mass customized applications like these.
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