Chinese-made desktop 3D printers from manufacturers such as Anycubic, Creality and Flashforged have been constantly improving in terms of quality while maintaining very affordable prices. This is enabled by these companies’ ability to rapidly scale and sell more and more machines all over the world. Now, this dominance in the desktop 3D printer market is confirmed by new data collected and released by the National Bureau of Statistics of China (NBS), which sees Chinese 3D printing companies account for 70% of the global desktop 3D printer market.
Just a decade ago, Chinese 3D printing companies were lagging behind in additive manufacturing with several European and North American countries taking a significant lead in this field. Before 2012, only a few companies in China focused on the development of a desktop 3D printer market, with Tiertime as one of the pioneers in this area. At that time, 3D printers were expensive, and the number of users was limited.
With the emergence of open-source came a series of 3D printers from companies such as Makerbot, Reprap and Ultimaker, and a new group of entrepreneurs, makers and enthusiasts entered this area. In China, companies that had been investing in R&D in 3D printing boomed. After nearly 10 years of development, China’s 3D printing industry has undergone radical changes in scale and structure.
Among these Chinese 3D printing companies developing desktop 3D printers, some focused on the Chinese market, while others targeted the global desktop 3D printer market. At that time, most people have no idea about the meaning of additive manufacturing and how it related to their lives. Gradually, 3D printers were gradually introduced to the global market. Over the past 8 years, Chinese 3D printing companies marketing desktop 3D printers have been increasingly accepted by the global desktop 3D printer market, due to effective manufacturing supply chains, R&D, production capacity, the convenience of cross-border e-commerce and cost-effectiveness.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic posed significant new challenges to the global economy. Thanks to the effective response from the Chinese government to the emergency, the whole industry in China quickly resumed work and production. At the same time, the global desktop 3D printer market saw demand take off (especially for the affordable FFF and LCD systems), due to the impact on the supply chain, lack of medical equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE), and working-from-home policies.
The global desktop 3D printer market has now reached 3-5 million units in 2020. Users purchased 3D printers for producing face masks, face-covering and other PPEs. This helped 3D printing become well-known among the general population and has greatly increased the visibility of desktop 3D printers. According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China (NBS), in 2020, the value-added of Chinese high-tech manufacturing industry increased by 7.1%, compared to 2019. The production of 3D printing equipment, smartwatches, civilian drones, and integrated circuit wafers has increased significantly. The growth rate of these emerging products has more than doubled, and market demand is huge.
As reported, Made-in-China desktop 3D printers have accounted for more than 70% of the global desktop 3D printer market share. They have been frequently listed among the Best 3D Printers by media worldwide.
Changing the desktop 3D printer market game
With the rapid growth of the global desktop 3D printer market, companies such as Creality, Anycubic, Flashforge, ESUN and Elegoo continue to grow. The number of employees in the Chiense desktop 3D printers industry now numbers in the thousands, and revenue ranges from hundreds of millions to more than one billion CNY. However, excessive competition is gradually leading to an involution of the industry.
Derived from agricultural involution: Its principal thesis is that many centuries of intensifying wet-rice cultivation in Indonesia had produced greater social complexity without significant technological or political change, a process Geertz terms “involution”. It is used to refer to irrational internal competition or “voluntary” competition. IN this context it refers to the phenomenon of peers competing for limited resources, leading to a decline in the individual’s “benefit-to-effort ratio”.
Since 2021, most countries have found their own way to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The global demand for 3D printers maintained a healthy growth, though the growth rate declined compared with 2020. According to the economical operation status of Shenzhen, (issued by Shenzhen Bureau of Statistics), in the first half of 2021 the output of 3D printing equipment increased by 32.4%, which is significantly lower than the average growth rate that doubled in 2020.
Coupled with factors such as rising chip prices, rising raw material prices, and falling prices for 3D printers, the industry has experienced a certain degree of involution. The desktop 3D printing market has fallen into a situation where the growth is not as expected, but the competition is intensifying. How should Chinese desktop 3D printer companies deal with this new reality?
From competitive to collaborative development
On September 8th, 2021, Nanjixiong, the leading additive manufacturing industry media in China, hosted a desktop 3D printing business dinner in Shenzhen and won the support of the world’s leading desktop 3D printer industry chain upstream and downstream manufacturers.
Attendees came from world-leading desktop 3D printing companies which account for more than half of the global market. See the image below.
Although all the representatives from the companies in attendance are experienced in the global desktop 3D printing market, some of them met for the first time. During the meeting a Consensus on healthy and sustainable development has reached, and is referred to as the “Nine-Eight Consensus” of the desktop 3D printer market. Directives include:
- Being a “3D printing evangelist”: promote the 3D printing technology and expand the market by focusing on education, i.e., 3D printing competitions and campus activities.
- Strengthen R&D and technological innovation: create greater value for users, enhance brand value recognition, and reduce industry involution.
- Further explore the application of 3D printing: integrate 3D printing technology with all walks of life.
- Develop product standardization: establish product certification, improve product quality, and make users be more confident in 3D printing.
- Strengthen product innovation and encourage diversification.
- Competition and cooperation: sustainably develop the industry on the right track.
As organizers, Nanjixiong hope that the Chinese desktop 3D printer market and industry can become healthier, more sustainable and overcome industry involution. The media platform also said it looks forward to taking Chinese 3D Printing companies and China’s overall AM industry “to a higher level”.