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China’s aviation industry to boost demand for 3D printing

The maiden flight undertaken by the China-made C919 commercial airliner marks the start of growing demand for 3D printing in the country

The launch of China’s first commercial airliner built using 3D printed components will pave the way for greater adoption of 3D printing technologies in the sprawling country, according to IDC.

The C919, built by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, took its maiden flight on 5 May 2017, marking a historic moment in China’s aviation industry. The aircraft has a range of up to 5,555km and can carry up to 168 passengers.

3D printed titanium parts were installed on C919 to reduce the aircraft’s weight and increase its safety. Twenty-eight cabin door parts and two fan inlet structural parts were also installed on the aircraft.

Under the country’s Made in China 2025 masterplan, the Chinese government has earmarked the development of aerospace equipment and 3D printing as key growth drivers of China’s manufacturing industries.

“We will see more use cases on the adoption of 3D printing technologies in the aerospace industry,” said Wendy Mok, IDC’s research manager for imaging printing and document solutions.

Mok said the suppliers of the C919’s parts have proven the value of adopting 3D printing in the manufacturing process.

“The success of C919’s maiden flight implies the use of 3D printed parts on airliners has been recognised by the aviation industry in China,” she said, noting that the demand for 3D printers and metal powders will grow accordingly.

Besides China’s booming aviation market, which is expected to become the world’s largest by 2024, the transformation of its rail and automotive industries is also fuelling the demand for advanced 3D printing technology and diversity of materials.

According to the IDC worldwide semi-annual 3D printer tracker, China’s metal-based 3D printer market size in 2016 was 181 units, a figure that will grow fourfold over the next three years.

However, imported 3D printers, which are more reliable and have been proven in related industries, will still hold a significant competitive advantage over domestic ones in China’s high-end manufacturing sectors.

“Market players such as 3D printer suppliers, material suppliers and service bureaus should have a comprehensive understanding on the market segments and their related development trends,” said Mok. “With the right market positioning and entry point, these market players will be able to gain more returns on the fast-growing 3D printing market.”

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