One of the biggest possible economic impacts of 3D printing to the U.S. economy is the fact that it may eventually allow corporations to bring jobs back onshore from China. The United States outsources a large number of jobs over to Asia as a way to cut labor costs. 3D printing and robotics promises to change some of this, as companies can utilize industrial scale 3D printers and automation to manufacture parts for their products, cheaper than even the labor force in China can produce them. That’s if, of course China lags behind in their adoption of these technologies.
It appears, however that China is investing heavily in 3D printing, just like those in the U.S. and Europe. Their corporate and government leaders clearly can identify an emerging technology and its possible economic impact on the future of China. In fact, back in June, China announced a gigantic 3D printer, which they claimed was the world’s largest at the time, with a 1.8 m build diameter. Basically the thing could print out a nice sized bathroom vanity if you wanted it to.
This isn’t where it ends though. 1.8 meters is nothing compared to what China has done since, and plans to do within the next month or so. Southern Fan Co. (As Translated from Chinese), a company also located in China, put out a press release in November of last year, indicating their plans to develop what would turn out to be, by far the largest 3D printer yet. The printer, once complete, sometime this month, according to past releases by the company, will be able to print out metal objects approximately 6 meters, or 18 feet in diameter. Yes, if the printer works as it’s supposed to, the company will be able to print out the entire frame of just about any four wheeled automobile on Earth.
The implications for such a development would be huge for the company, but also for China, who in the last 12 months has really made it a priority to develop their laser sintering technologies. There are already several large scale industrial 3D printers in China, including the one in the image above, in which a team at Beihang University has been able to print out several complex titanium alloy structures. This includes parts used in satellites, rockets, and nuclear power plants. These are actual parts, and not prototypes for parts. Also larger parts such as titanium alloy landing gear for jets, as well as large main force bearing frames of air crafts have been, and continue to be produce by this printer.
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