At this year’s RAPID + TCT event, there was an overwhelming presence of Chinese manufacturers of metal laser powder bed fusion (PBF) machines. For some, it was their first time exhibiting at the North American event, representing their expansion into the region’s market as well as the quick growth of Chinese 3D printer manufacturers overall. The event presented an excellent opportunity to learn more about a number of firms that North American additive manufacturing (AM) users were previously unfamiliar with. 3DPrint.com was able to speak to HBD, Bright Laser Technologies, EPlus3D, and Avimetal to learn how these companies differentiate themselves from the rest of the metal PBF sector.
Dedicated to metal AM, Guangdong Hanbang 3D Tech Co (HBD) has created some 23 different 3D printers, ranging from small to large and including both LPBF and directed energy deposition. Among the most recently released is the HBD-1500, with a massive build volume of 460x460x1500mm, making it one of the biggest metal PBF systems in the industry. Its clients include the China Iron & Steel Research Institute Group, which installed 23 medium- and large-format HBD printers and aims to build up 150 to 200 by 2025. It also sold 30 medium-format HBD-350T machines to Chinese 3D printing bureau, Wenext, which already had 1000 polymer systems.
While the company has been advertising in the U.S. market for a number of years, this was HBD’s first exhibition at RAPID + TCT. So far, the company has established offices in Europe and Turkey and has a goal of creating on in the U.S. to service its customers in the country, according to Area Sales Manager Marson Ma. These clients have acquired HBD machines but have typically installed them in other nations, with most focused on Europe and Asia.
The company distinguishes itself as possibly the first Chinese manufacturer to step into industrial 3D printer production, focusing entirely on metals rather than sell polymer machines, as well. Because the company is entirely privately-owned, it has a great deal of flexibility. Like many of the world’s metal PBF makers, HBD is targeting the aerospace, medical and dental, and transportation sectors.
Established in 2011, Xi’an Bright Laser Technologies Co., Ltd (BLT) was among the earliest Chinese manufacturers of metal PBF machines. In addition to manufacturing machines, it also produces titanium and Inconel powders, claiming to have over 10 production lines as well as a 3D printing service bureau with 200 units. The company states that it was able to grow a whopping 66 percent in revenue from 2021 to $140 million in 2022, leading it to break ground on a new 163,200-square-meter construction site that will allow it to manufacture metal 3D printing powders and custom metal parts.
Eliza Duan, head of Overseas Business for BLT, explained that one of the company’s biggest differentiators is that it is vertically integrated, offering consulting, powders, services, and machines.
“Our products cover the entire supply chain. We can even provide customers without any knowledge about 3D printing special training,” Duan said.
In terms of domestic revenues, Duan suggested that its business is pretty evenly split between services and machine sales.
Eplus3D was established in 2014, initially, partnering with 3D scanner firm Shining3D to sell its technology to Europe and North America, but later opting to sell it directly by opening an office in Germany in 2021. It now delivers its polymer and metal PBF machines to over 40 countries.
In 2022, Eplus3D released the large-format EP-M450H (455 by 455 by 1100 mm), with single- or dual-500W or 1000W lasers. Among its customers is Hebei JINGYE Group, the owner of the $4 billion conglomerate, British Steel, one of the world’s largest steel companies.
Avimetal is perhaps the newest PBF manufacturer from China. Unlike the rest of the firms mentioned, it is wholly State-owned, allowing it to grow quite quickly. In fact, the company went from only manufacturing metal powders to making four printer models (with two additional variants) in just one year. Avimetal is already exporting materials and machines abroad.
The firm develops titanium, nickel, copper-chromium, aluminum, steel and related alloys for PBF and directed energy deposition AM, as well as metal injection molding, hot isostatic pressing, and laser cladding. Printers range from the φ170mm×120mm Avimetal-MT170 for dentistry to the 650mm × 650mm ×800mm Avimetal-MT650 for batch industrial production.
Sales Manager Silvia Gao admits that the company has yet to penetrate the U.S. market, which makes sense given how new its entry into 3D printing is, but, the rapid speed with which it was able to develop its machine portfolio suggests that its government assistance could cause it to grow quite quickly.
Just as China was able to layout a nationwide high speed rail system in what seemed like no time, it would not be at all surprising if the country was able to tackle the AM industry in the same way. I was surprised that more PBF makers were not State-owned, but that could change.
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