Laser Wars: British Steel Parent Now Owns Six “Super-Meter” Metal 3D Printers


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In a significant development for the metal additive manufacturing (AM) industry, a division of the Jingye Group, the parent company of British Steel, recently integrated two new “super-meter-level” metal 3D printers machines, the EP-M1550 and EP-M1250, from EPlus3D. This acquisition by Jingye Additive expands the business’s “super-meter” metal AM system count to six and brings its total number of 3D printers to 46, according to Chinese news site Antarctic Bear.

Jingye Additive’s Growing 3D Printing Footprint

The EP-M1550, Jingye Additive’s latest addition, boasts a massive build volume of 1550mm x 1550mm x 1000mm and 16 lasers. This makes it one of the largest, most theoretically productive of the latest generation of LPBF machines deployed in what we refer to as the Laser Wars. The EP-M1250 is nothing to sneezer at either, featuring nine lasers and over two cubic meters (1258 mm x 1258 mm x 1350 mm) of capacity.

In 2018, Jingye Group made its foray into AM by implementing what was dubbed Extreme High-Speed Laser Metal Deposition (EHLA), developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT and RWTH Aachen University. Characterized by its high processing speed, the EHLA process efficiently melts metal powder particles in the laser beam, facilitating rapid production speeds and finer layer thickness. At the time, Jingye Group adopted this technology, specifically for coating offshore hydraulic cylinders.

Then, in 2022, Jingye Additive acquired the EP-M650 metal 3D printer, equipped with a quad laser system and substantial build volume. The division’s achievements in large and ultra-large metal 3D printing have so far been successful, with the company reportedly delivering over 100,000 parts with more than 300,000 cumulative printing hours. Jingye Additive’s largest part required nearly 1,000 hours of printing.

Jingye’s Additive Factory. Image courtesy of Antarctic Bear.

According to Antarctic Bear, Jingye Additive is at the forefront of integrating Internet of Things (IoT) process monitoring for some domestic 3D printing equipment. This enables real-time remote monitoring of each printer, including powder spreading, print time, oxygen content, fan speed, and chamber temperature. These capabilities are crucial for maintaining printing quality, boosting production efficiency, and reducing labor costs. The company’s initiatives in material network management and control have laid the groundwork for digital management, paving the way for the future development of unmanned factories.

Since its announcement of a 100-unit metal 3D printing factory project in 2022, Jingye Additive has continuously augmented its array of large-size metal 3D printers and corresponding post-processing and precision testing equipment. With a total of 46 imported and domestic machines, Jingye Additive is progressing towards becoming a scaled, specialized, and diversified leader in the 3D printing industry.

An Expanding Steel Giant

Established in 2015 and affiliated with Jingye Group, Hebei Jingye Additive Manufacturing Technology Co., Ltd. has invested over $750 million (¥ RMB 5 billion) into 3D printing to date. The company boasts multiple intelligent manufacturing production lines, including metal powder production, metal 3D printing, metal injection molding, and laser cladding repair.

Jingye Group is a diverse conglomerate primarily engaged in the steel industry, supplemented by ventures in steel deep processing, international trade, powder metallurgy, 3D printing, tourism, and hospitality. As of 2019, the group employed 27,000 staff, reported sales revenue of approximately USD$18.7 billion (¥ RMB 127.4 billion). The conglomerate’s main products, steel rebars and medium thickness plates, have been used in significant projects globally, including Beijing Daxing International Airport, the Brunei Cross-sea Bridge, and Pakistan Nuclear Power Plant.

3D printed parts from Jingye Additive. Image courtesy of Antarctic Bear.

Jingye Group expanded its global footprint when it surprised the world with the acquisition of British Steel Corporation in 2020, becoming a multinational enterprise group. Integral to the UK’s economic and industrial growth, British Steel was at one point the largest steel producer in the Western world and the second-largest in Europe, employing over 250,000 people at its peak.

The Broader Chinese Market

According to our research, the Chinese AM industry targeted growth of 30 percent across the three years from 2020 through 2022. From the looks of it, it achieved that goal and continues to expand rapidly. While the Additive Manufacturing Research (AMR) “Metal AM Markets: 2023” report estimates that EPlus3D represents only three percent of the global metal LPBF market, there’s no doubt that the footprint of that one firm is growing, as is the rest of the Chinese LPBF sector.

Alongside the release of this “super-meter”, many-laser machines from EPlus3D are those from Chinese competitors Farsoon and Bright Laser Technologies (BLT). The BLT-S800 from BLT currently holds the title for the metal 3D printer with the most lasers, featuring an upgraded 20-laser high-efficiency printing technology. This surpasses the 16-laser configuration seen in both Farsoon Technologies’ FS1521M and Eplus3D’s EP-M1550 systems. Overall, the EP-M1550’s build volume is larger than both. While the BLT-S800 has a build volume of 800mm x 800mm x 600mm, the FS1521M has a build volume of 1.5 meters in diameter x 850mm, with an optional extended Z-height of 1650mm.

As the owner of British Steel, historically one of the world’s most important companies, Jingye has made a key decision in selecting EPlus3D over its competitors. Of course, those competitors have their own powerful allies, but what all of this indicates is that not only is the Chinese AM sector rising to prominence, but that it and Chinese industry at large may soon begin to overshadow players in the Western world.

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