Anne Zhang, Henry Xiao
AN array of 3-D printers and printed products drew attention from fairgoers yesterday during this year’s China Hi-Tech Fair at Shenzhen Convention and Exhibition Center.
“I am very interested in 3-D printing and gained some knowledge about it on the Internet. It’s amazing to see here at the fair how a 3-D printer works and how it can be applied to our daily lives,” Mohammad Mahdi, an engineer from Turkey, told Shenzhen Daily.
The printers make tangible, three-dimensional products by laying down successive layers of materials on top of one another, said Wo Yuan, marketing director of Shenzhen Weitek Technology Co.
Models of products must be designed and uploaded to the printer in advance, Wo added.
Established in 2011, the company specializes in personal 3-D printers and has taken a leading role in China’s 3-D printing industry.
“Our company is among the top three 3-D printing enterprises in China,” Wo said. “Our printers are primarily sold to countries in North America and Europe.”
The company has sold about 2,000 3-D printers so far this year, a 30-percent increase from last year, according to Wo.
The material Wo’s company uses for printing is biodegradable polylactide (PLA), which is made from corn starch.
The company’s founder and CEO, Chen Wenjuan, said the printers can print various products including cups, toys and adornments in time frames ranging from a couple of minutes to hundreds of hours.
“The technology is revolutionary,” Chen said. “It allows people to express their emotions and thoughts by printing out a product of their own design.”
“If the technology is applied among students, it will help strengthen their creative thinking and improve their DIY capabilities,” said Li Yaotang, director of Guangzhou Institute of Electronic Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Li’s institute is displaying both personal and industrial 3-D printers at the fair. He said industrial printers have been widely applied in factories, especially those in the Pearl River Delta region.
Ordinary Chinese people are learning more about the technology and showing strong interest thanks to media coverage, Li said.
However, some fairgoers said the printers are too expensive to be widely used.
Shenzhen Weitek Technology Co.’s personal 3-D printers cost between 3,000 yuan (US$489) and 5,000 yuan and PLA is 95 yuan per kilogram.
“It’s still too expensive for ordinary consumers,” said Zheng Lei, who works in Australia and is looking for affordable 3-D printers to sell there. “The time for mass use of the technology hasn’t come yet.”
Chen said the obstacles to popularizing the technology lie in the process of model-making.
The types of model-constructing software that exist are too complicated for ordinary people to use, Chen said, adding that 3-D scanners are easy to use, but they are quite expensive.
Li is positive about the future of the personal 3-D printing industry. “It’s estimated that the 3-D printing industry generates about 1 billion to 2 billion yuan a year in China,” Li said. “The output value of the industry is expected to reach 10 billion yuan in the next three years.”
This year’s CHTF has attracted more than 100 delegations from over 50 countries and regions. Over 3,000 exhibitors are in attendance and 10,000 projects are being displayed at the fair.
The fair highlights fast-developing technological trends like wearable devices, intelligent furniture, Internet finance, new-energy vehicles and more.
The fair has also opened areas for innovative projects by university students and has provided a platform for venture capitalists to connect with projects.