By Allen Timothy Chang, via Wikimedia Commons
China is one of the most powerful emerging markets to be investing in 3D printing.
As the world's number-two economy, China's approach to 3D printing is one to watch.
China has recently come out of a short-term slowdown that hampered the growth of its key manufacturing sector due to reduced trade with Europe and the US - which have lowered their orders from the Asian superpower due to their respective financial downturns.
But is this factory-led giant utilising 3D printing in any significant way yet? And is it investing in the technology as much as Europe or the world's largest economy the US?
China's communist government has been investing in 3D printing almost since it first came on the scene, with 20 years of public finances trickling into research and development for the breakthrough. Therefore, China is nothing if not an early adopter of the technology, while the nation now has four major research centres working on bringing 3D printing into the mainstream.
But are there any rivals emerging from this enormous global power that could compete with the likes of 3D Systems and Stratasys?
24/7 Wall Street reports that a group of Chinese researchers has developed a 3D printing machine that can produce the parts for an aeroplane wing for 90 per cent less than it would cost to make it the traditional way.
A report in CaixinOnline stated: "Researchers are still working on the technique's stability and hope someday it can be used for the kinds of repetitious tasks involved in mass production."
Investing in education and research
Chinese colleges are being encouraged to explore the technology. A Beijing University research team was awarded a national prize from the State Council for technological achievement in recognition for its advancements in using 3D printing to produce large, intricate aircraft components.
The team is led by Prof Wang Huaming, but the expert believes that those looking for a revolution will need to play the long game, because as the technology stands it can only supplement traditional manufacturing techniques.
China now has four major research hubs for 3D printing, including Beijing Longyuan Industrial Stock, the University of Science and Technology in Huazhong, Tsinghua and Xi'an Jiaotong University, while every Chinese university has started a 3D printing-focused business.
Battle of the titans
On a wider scale, prior to its slowdown in 2012 China was tipped to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic power and now the country seems to have recovered some of the momentum making this outcome all the more realistic in the foreseeable future. Indeed, China has already surpassed the US as the world's largest automotive market.
In terms of the 3D printing sector, the US currently controls around two-thirds of the market, but the Chinese government is drafting standards and regulations for the industry. In addition, Beijing is looking to stoke uptake and investment by setting up tax incentives to encourage development.
Currently China claims around 3.6 per cent of the 3D printing market, according to a report by Wohlers, lagging behind the two-thirds made up of the US, Europe and Israel.
Guo Ge, general manager at China's largest 3D printing systems producer Beijing Tiertime Technology, stated: "We're a long way from starting another industrial revolution. But if more improvements can be made in materials and operational capacity, manufacturing will be transformed."