Technology-based development sets the industry benchmark in two decades
The nature of 3D Printing, a rapid proto-typing technology known as a significant symbol of the third industrial revolution, is additive manufacturing (AM). In recent years, 3D printing technology has flourished both inside and outside of China, and has been widely used in aerospace, biological and medical engineering, industrial manufacturing and many other industries.
Though China was late in developing 3D printing, it is the biggest potential market for 3D printing and is expected to grow faster than the global market. As one of the earliest enterprises in China to engage in 3D printing and the first one to successfully take 3D printing out of laboratory and transform it for commercial purposes, UnionTech, founded in 2000, has been involved in and witnessed the major development course of 3D printing industry in China. At the beginning of its establishment, UnionTech formally entered the 3D printing market with its self-developed and self-produced ultraviolet SLA 3D printer. It took UnionTech only 4 years to expand its business into overseas and to cover the global market. Currently, it owns over 60% SLA 3D printing customers in the industrial field in China and serves as an iconic symbol of industrial 3D printing in China.
The early development of 3D printing in China was affected by the market and application circumstances. In the face of a low market acceptance to 3D printing, General Manager Ma Jinsong, who has marketing background and great sensitivity to the market, believed that the expansion of 3D printing market depends not on marketing approaches but upon identification and satisfaction of real customer demands, which is the only way to improve the market acceptance of 3D printing. Relying on years of application experience, UionTech has set up Industrial Application Business Division, Shoe-Making Application Business Division, Dental Application Business Division and Education Application Business Division. By devoting lots of technical and service efforts to study the application in various industries, it has accomplished several successful cases. For over 20 years, UnionTech has been dedicated to developing and updating 3D printing technologies and products based on different applications, to offer the specifically desired product and tackle problems in the application chain. Industrial application, as the first application field on which UnionTech worked, could be divided into many segments, such as aerospace, automobile manufacturing, electronics, home decoration, toy production, architecture and medical treatment. Speaking of UnionTech’s tremendous contribution to the development of 3D printing in China, some of its typical applications in the industrial manufacturing sector in the past 20 years must be mentioned.
Leading application drives the development of 3D printing industry Prototype
As the currently largest prototype producer in Asia, Dongguan FOHAN started to buy UnionTech products when UnionTech set foot into prototype market at its early stage. Being affected by the market and technology, 3D printing developed especially slowly in the first decade when labor force and manufacturing system began to change. In an interview, Wen Binghua, Board Chairman of FOHAN who learnt about 3D printing at the early stage, recalled that, “Since labor cost increased after 2000, prototype production heavily relying on proficient manual works run into trouble and fully revealed its biggest disadvantage. The salary of CNC workers was RMB 1,000 in 1997 and grew in the average yearly increment of 15% 10 years later to RMB 4,000~5,000. In 2000, apprentices paid tuition fees; but now, they get paid. Senior technical workers are the best qualified to speak on technical issues. But it was difficult to find successors to them due to low salary, loud noise in the workshop and serious brain drain. Under such circumstance, many prototype producers started their transformational moves.” As the prototype industry demanded an urgent transformation, FOHAN should quickly change from traditional prototype production to 3D printing, thus getting to know and recognizing UnionTech’s great reputation built on its excellent technologies and services. After a series of application tests, it officially introduced UnionTech’s 3D printers for processing prototypes. As Wen said, “We felt good after using it and bought a unit, then several others in succession.” The number of equipment at FOHAN increased from 2 in 2012 to 5 in 2013, 14 in 2014 and over 30 in 2015. In 2017, the delivery ceremony of the 100th equipment to FOHAN took place in Dongguan. Currently, FOHAN turns into the biggest prototype producer in Asia by running over 500 UnionTech SLA 3D printers.
Successful attempts created win-win situation. Benefiting from its success in the prototype market, UnionTech improved its brand reputation and business performance while laying the foundation for future rapid development. Meanwhile, the prototype industry was able to accomplish a technical revolution and enhance its production process and efficiency with the help of 3D printing. UnionTech and FOHAN has played a supportive role in each other’s development and established long-term partnership.
Wohlers reports a huge growth potential in the 3D printing market in China. As China accounts for about 10% in the global 3D printing market, the size of 3D printing market in China in 2014 was about RMB 2.8 billion and is expected to increase to around RMB 15 billion in 2018, marking a CAGR of 66.3%. By 2020, it could reach RMB 30~45 billion. The entire volume is constantly increasing. According to incomplete statistics, over 50% of 3D printing prototype producers are UnionTech’s customers, such as Dongguan FOHAN, Wenext, Huitong Prototype, Jun Chen 3D, Yisun Science and Technology, Ningbo Xinsiwei and Xunjie Rapid Prototyping.
The picture shows a 2m-high mecha warrior produced by FOHAN Prototype with UnionTech’s SLA 3D printer. Its wall thickness is 3mm. All the parts were printed separately and then assembled. The finished product weights 17~18kg.
In 2008, UnionTech successfully customized and produced the first large-size SLA RS8000 for Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute (Institute 611), driving the application of 3D printing technology in domestic aerospace sector. As space technology symbolizes a nation’s defense capability as well as its politics, countries in the world try to develop new weaponry in a fast way to improve their defense capabilities. In particular, aeronautical manufacturers spare no money or energy to enhance research and development, in order to ensure their technical advantages. Aerospace is one of the earliest industries in China to introduce 3D printing technology. Therefore, UnionTech has accomplished intensive market study before playing actively in the aerospace application. By enhancing its technical support and studying the application, UnionTech is able to develop large-sized 3D printers for it and has entered into cooperation with Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute.
The picture shows RS8000 delivered to Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute (Institute 611).
A 250kg air force guided bomb displayed at China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition 2008 in Zhuhai was developed by adding wings to the existing old-fashioned aviation bomb. When it is released from the aircraft, its wings will automatically extend. Increasing lifting area offers the bomb better aerodynamic performance and wider range of projection. Configuration X control surface mounted at the tail of the bomb could receive satellite navigation signal to control the bomb to glide toward the target.
The green body of the bomb is a traditional aviation bomb.
The white parts are wings produced with UnionTech RS6000 laser rapid-prototyping printer in full size.
The automobile industry is another early application on which UnionTech works. 3D printing has been quickly and widely applied in automobile manufacturing industry and creates a more convenient and efficient way for auto manufacturers, auto parts suppliers and after-sales service providers to make innovations, get rid of the limitations of traditional manufacturing and enjoy a rapid development. In 2002, UnionTech studied the demands of automobile industry and introduced 3D printing to automobile manufacturing. For instance, by working with UnionTech and introducing 3D printing technology, Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Group Corp., Ltd. (JAC) has accomplished a major transformation from a truck producer to a comprehensive automobile producer.
Hefei Jianghuai Automobile Factory, JAC’s predecessor, was established in 1964. It used to develop the first real special chassis for passenger coach in China and set the trend of light truck driving like a car in China. Driven by 3D printing and other new technologies, JAC, a time-honored but young national automobile brand, is revitalized. Up to this day, the first unit of RS600SS has been working for 18 years and is still running in the Product Modeling Center.
“Usually, it takes 2 to 3 years to develop a vehicle model from design to finished product. Under such circumstance, any job requiring 1.5 months is quite time-consuming. If we are able to replace some hard models with 3D printing, model production could be scheduled to be finished in 15 days, which would be a great breakthrough and improvement”, according to a manager at JAC Automobile Modeling Center.
Research and development of automotive parts usually require a long validation process. In the traditional process, it starts from part design, to mold development, manufacturing of part sample, testing of the sample to find out if it meets the design requirements, and necessary modification of design or mold if it fails in the testing. The entire process consumes large amounts of time and money. While the application of 3D printing in the R&D of automotive parts could achieve faster validation of the working principle and feasibility of complicated parts, with no mold development and less time and money investment. Traditional automotive part development usually takes more than 45 days, but it only costs 1-7 days for 3D printing to accomplish the development and validation process, substantially improving the R&D efficiency of new products. Besides, part development by 3D printing could save plenty of cost since it does not require any mold.
Currently, UnionTech’s SLA 3D printing is applied in the R&D and trial-manufacturing of automotive parts, such as grill, instrument panel, A/C tube, intake manifold, engine hood, decorative item, light and tyre.
3D printing first penetrated and was applied to the automobile industry nearly 20 years ago. Nowadays, in addition to JAC, Volkswagen, Ferrari, Toyota, Hyuandai, Chery, BYD, DFLZM, GAC and many other car manufacturers have introduced UnionTech’s 3D printers to satisfy their R&D needs at different stages.
In 2018, UnionTech’s first large-sized 3D printer G1400 was launched and widely used in the production of large household appliances. Gree is a typical customer of UnionTech’s products.
Two years ago, Zhuhai Gree Precision Mold Company Limited invested RMB 18 million to set up a 3D Printing Technology Research Center. In July 2019, a large truck carrying 20 UnionTech 3D printers drove into one factory of Zhuhai Gree Precision Mold. Until now, there are nearly 40 units UnionTech 3D printers running in Gree’s factory to support the development and validation of new products and the manufacturing of prototypes. When the super large 3D printer G2100 was released in 2019, it was immediately purchased by the factory of Gree Precision Mold. According to a manager at the factory, the development efficiency of new products has been dramatically improved since the factory adopted 3D printers, not only saving labors but also ensuring the timeliness of new product development.
The development of 3D printing technology creates shortcuts for the production of household appliances. With rapid prototyping through 3D printing, R&D engineers are able to transform the 3D models in the computer into real objects ten times faster than the traditional production process.
Besides Gree, UnionTech’s customers in household appliance application include Haier, Skyworth, DAIKIN and Edifier.
Kitchen and Toilet Products
UnionTech has witnessed the 20-year development of 3D printing, as well as the 20-year prosperous development of real estate in China. Along with the market development, users raise higher and higher requirements on the space design of commodity apartments. Kitchen and toilet are two spaces confronted with the most problems, requiring the most complicated technologies and causing the most difficult construction. Therefore, design of kitchen and toilet products could directly affect the structure of space design.
Engineers at Water Pik, a shower head brand in the US, have spent the past 20 years developing shower head with 3D printing and rapid prototyping technology. Through rapid prototyping, they are able to turn the 3D model designed with computer into a physical prototype for testing ten times faster than the traditional method. Though sometimes it might take several hours or two days to finish the printing, testers could test the water flow, spray pattern and other elements of various parts after the printing in order to obtain “the most comfortable shower experience”.
UnionTech’s innovative act of applying 3D printing to kitchen and toilet products has seen dramatic breakthroughs. The development of faucet, toilet, shower head, cabinet and many other product with 3D printing indicates that enterprises taking the lead to adopt 3D printing will be able to lead the market with shortened R&D and production time, faster upgrade cycle of products and accelerated new product launch. The courage to innovate in changes decides an enterprise’s future competitiveness and sustainable development.
At present, customers adopting UnionTech’s 3D printing technology to produce kitchen and toilet products include TOTO, Seagull Kitchen and Bath, Zhejiang Sacon.
In 2018, Zhenjiang Evergrande Fairyland project created a public sensation. All 35 castles in the project were produced with SLA 3D printing, a significant technology featuring prominently developed by UnionTech. The project used 2.6 million gram (2.6 ton) photosensitive resin and over 100 3D printers. It took only 1.5 months from printing to coloring, creating a dazzling and stunning effect in the end. There was no such practice of creating a full set of large-sized architectural models with 3D printing before it in China. 3D printing technology shows a distinct advantage over the traditional process that could not support the processing and production of such complicated architectural models.
3D printing has been applied in various industries in recent years. In particular, it has displayed great value in building engineering. Building models created by 3D printing express the unique architectural thoughts and designs with miniatures, offering customers a visual version of the proposed project and reproducing the design detail elements in scale-down models quickly and precisely.
Besides, UnionTech’s SLA 3D printing technology displays a unique strength in producing sand table models. By using highly-flexible photosensitive resin, it can produce solid and durable finished products, with 0.03mm fine structure and 0.06mm wall thickness. Since it can precisely reproduce the original design elements in a very short time and with lower production cost than traditional prototypes, it has been accepted by more and more industry insiders.
3D printing combines drawings with electronic data like geographic information and building scan, to create the real object, or reveal the real 3D view with live-action model. In the future, 3D printing will undergo more diversified development and wider application in all walks of life. 3D printers will be able to handle design, construction and other work processes independently, to offer more possibilities for architectural design.
Medical Apparatus and Instruments
With strong professional sensitivity and social responsibility, UnionTech has been aware of the special role of 3D printing in the anti-epidemic fight early amid the outbreak of COVID-19 this year. The Company proves the importance of 3D printing in the fight against the virus with a series of application to fix the problem of the shortage of urgently-need supplies.
- UnionTech provided strong technical support with 3D printing to the “Goggles” project initiated by the Rapid Manufacturing Team at The Engineering Technology Training Center of School of Electromechanical Engineering and Automation of Shanghai University. It took immediate action and joined in the fight against the norovirus outbreak to produce the sample goggle with 3D printing in one day. Goggles produced were immediately delivered to medical workers in the outpatient services at Shanghai Central Hospital.
- Charm Ray, the only one who is qualified to produce medical goggles with 3D printing in Shandong, has purchased 10 3D printers from UnionTech at one time to produce its self-developed medical goggles. It took just several days from the equipment installation to achieve 24-hour running of over 11 3D printers and daily production of over 500 goggles. As at March 6, Charm Ray has donated over 2,300 medical goggles with 3D printing in total.
Finished goggle housing made by 3D printing
- UnionTech also offered powerful technical support with 3D printing for ICKEY to develop and produce forehead thermometers, which were tested by Shanghai Inspection and Testing Institute of Instruments and Automation Systems Co., Ltd. under five different temperature and humidity settings, and proved to meet the performance requirements specified in the national standard.
3D printing played a visible and valuable role in the production of anti-epidemic medical supplies in shortage, such as goggles, face shields, breather valve, and many other parts and spare parts of medical supplies.
Shanghai Songjiang Economic Committee has acknowledged enterprises who have been dedicated to studying and promoting “non-face-to-face” working mode to achieve higher operation efficiency. UnionTech was featured on the list.
3D printing technology carries people’s infinite imagination of future manufacturing mode and lifestyle. UnionTech grows into a leader in domestic 3D printing industry after 20 years’ development and will achieve new growth in the future. It has constantly enhanced its expertise during the upgrading of technology in the past glorious 20 years. At the same time, in an era highlighting user application, UnionTech is able to provide customers in various industries “one-stop service”, including equipment, service and materials, to satisfy customer demands comprehensively and provide customers with targeted solutions. The distributed manufacturing platform customized based on specific demands has attracted lots of loyal customers and benefited UnionTech to maintain its leading strength and continuous development.
According to General Manager MA Jinsong, “The SLA technology that UnionTech devotes to develop is second to none in the industry. It provides essential support and adds competitiveness to electronics, automobile manufacturing, aerospace, architecture, dental and medical treatment, and various industries. In terms of building platforms, UnionTech has been working both online and offline to satisfy differentiated applications. It sets up 3D data cloud platform and drives the development of 3D printing ecosystem with offline businesses.”
Relying on its 20-year experience in industry application, UnionTech has closely kept up with the market trend, adopted customer-oriented strategy, dedicated to shaping an ecosystem alliance, invested in cross-border cooperation to maximize value, educated talents to drive manufacturing development, expanded the market boundary to reach beyond the industrial limits, and constantly worked with partners to create a highly-open and coordinated business mode and to finally achieve mutual benefits.