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China Market Insider Additive Manufacturing to Revolutionize Chinese Mold Making

Author / Editor: Henrik Bork / Nicole Kareta

According to the Chinese Engineer Ye Jiyuan in an essay for MM China, the industry has realised that AM will by no means destroy traditional mold-making, but can make it more agile and sustainable.

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China has been proceeding systematically with the modernization of its mold manufacturing.
China has been proceeding systematically with the modernization of its mold manufacturing.
(Source: gemeinfrei / Unsplash)

As in other countries, a shock wave first hit the mold making industry in China when the first companies abroad started to use rapid prototyping, says Ye, who has 15 years of experience in Chinese mold making and is currently working as the managing director of the company Tianjin Lim Laser Technology. The use of molds in the manufacturing industry is history, Chinese media also trumpeted.

In the meantime, however, the understanding of the new technology has grown, and now the apocalyptic prophecies have given way to a new understanding of the relationship between additive manufacturing (AM) and mold making, Ye said: “Chinese mold making companies are beginning to understand that additive manufacturing is not destroying the mold making industry, but that they can use AM as a new process technology,” the former EOS manager in China writes.

This is currently highly topical in China, since China’s government has explicitly named additive manufacturing as one of those future technologies that is to be promoted even more than before in the wake of the Corona crisis. AM is an integral part of the ‘New Infrastructure’ initiative propagated by President Xi Jinping and formulated by officials of the Central Planning Authority NDRC in Beijing.

An example of innovative applications of AM is provided by the Chinese start-up company ESU 3D Technology in Shanghai, reports MM (China). A customer asked the company whether 3D printers could be used to simplify the production of a closure button for medical injection bottles, writes the Chinese trade magazine.

The part, which is only one to two centimeters in size, places high demands on traditional mold construction with deep grooves in the middle, different wall thicknesses, and holes on the right and left sides of the product. The start-up company is now working with AM to shorten the cooling cycle, balance the mold temperature control and improve the overall quality of the product.

Not only China’s political leadership — which consists to a large extent of skilled engineers, but also a large number of young technicians and entrepreneurs in China — sees additive manufacturing as a future technology that can contribute to the upgrading of the domestic manufacturing industry from the ‘workbench of the world’ to a high-tech high-end production.

Accordingly, the Chinese market for additive manufacturing equipment is growing rapidly. Already in 2013, Beijing had launched a technology promotion program for additive manufacturing with the equivalent of 245 million dollar. No other country had invested so much in research into AM applications at that time.

Since then, China has been proceeding systematically with the modernization of its mold manufacturing. Concrete goals are set out in the ‘Action Plan for the Development of the Additive Manufacturing Industry (2017 to 2020)’, which calls for an annual growth rate of approximately 30 % in the Chinese AM industry. So far, this plan has not only been fulfilled, but surpassed.

The Corona crisis — and the shock it has caused to China’s manufacturing industry, the industrial backbone of its economy — has now strengthened Beijing’s conviction that AM must be used to enhance the value of the manufacturing sector and must be massively promoted.

The keynote speech of Party leader Xi Jinping and the ‘New Infrastructure’ plan of the National Reform and Development Commission (NRDC), in which AM is explicitly mentioned, has in recent months laid “the political foundation for the rapid transformation of China’s traditional manufacturing industry with digitization and profound application of 3D printing technologies” in China, writes the expert portal Weike Wang.

Now it is important to quickly develop general industry standards in the application of AM in China and also to find better, alternative materials that can replace copper alloys and other traditional materials in mold making, writes Ye Jiyuan in his article for MM (China). But he has no doubt that AM has the potential to modernize China’s mold manufacturing industry from the ground up.

This article was first published at ETMM.

* Henrik Bork is Managing Director at Asia Waypoint, a Beijing-based consulting agency specializing in China. He was China correspondent for major German daily newspapers for many years. "China Market Insider" is a joint project of Vogel Communications Group, Würzburg, and Jigong Vogel Media Advertising in Beijing.