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3D printer & filament manufacturers in China: A complete guide

by Fredrik Grönkvist 

 

3D printer manufacturers

In recent years, 3D printers have become an affordable commodity, costing as little as US$500. This is largely due to the rapid expansion of China’s 3D printer manufacturers. In this article, we share the findings from our own industry research, including manufacturing clusters, compliance related issues and technical specifications.

Primary 3D Printer Manufacturing Clusters in Mainland China

The rapid development of the 3D printer industry is relatively recent. As with most electronics, Shenzhen in Guangdong province is home to the greater part China’s 3D printer manufacturers. There are, however, smaller cluster in other cities and provinces, one of them is Jinhua in Zhejiang, located a three hour drive from Shanghai.

Many minor traders, lacking technical expertise to communicate buyer requirements and ensure quality, have picked up the 3D printer as some sort of gimmick product. As such, many suppliers on online B2B directories are mere middlemen, offering nothing but increased costs and risks. Instead, I advise 3D printer buyers to identify and assess manufacturers on the following factors:

a. Registered Capital: This is a research and capital intensive industry. RMB 10,000,000 (approximately US$1,580,000) and above is to be expected from a medium scale 3D printer manufacturer.

b. Compliance Track Record: 3D printers are, as other machines, subject to various product standards and regulations. Ensure that the supplier has previous experience manufacturing 3D printers according to the standards and regulations in your country.

c. Quality Management System (QMS): A QMS, for example, ISO 9001:2008, is implemented to track and prevent defective components and units. Click here to read more about Quality Management Systems.

3D Printer Product Specifications

Regardless of whether you buy ODM printers off shelf, or develop an OEM model, you need to keep track of defining product specifications. Below follows two sample specifications:

SKU3D Printer A3D Printer B
Print TechnologyFDM (Fused Deposition Modeling)FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling)
Technical Specifications  
– Unit Dimensions450 x 390 x675 mm380 x 360 x 440 mm
– 3D printer Build Envelope300 x 200 x400 mm245 x 205 x 200 mm
– Layer Thickness0.05 – 0.3 mm 0.06 – 0.4 mm
 – Print Accuracy (mm)
X-axis: +/- 0.01
Y-axis: +/- 0.01
Z-axis: +/- 0.002
X-axis: +/- 0.01
Y-axis: +/- 0.01
Z-axis: +/- 0.002
– Nozzle Workig Temperature260 C230 C
– Nozzle Diameter0.4 mm0.5 mm
– Nozzle Moving Speed20 – 150 mm / s (Adjustable)20 – 110 mm / s (Adjustable)
– Heating Time
Nozzle: < 2 min
Platform: < 10 min
Nozzle: < 2 min
Platform: < 10 min
– Voltage
VAC 50/60 Hz
95V – 265V
VAC 50/60 Hz
95V – 265V
– Power350 W350 W
Material  
– Type3 mm PLA / PETG / ABS3 mm PLA / PETG / ABS
– Single ColorYesyes
Connectivity
USB: Yes
SD Card: Yes
USB: No
SD Card: Yes
Support SoftwareSoldWorks, PRO-E, Auto CAD, 3dx Max, UG, Rhino, MayaSoldWorks, PRO-E, Auto CAD, 3dx Max, UG, Rhino, Maya
Support OSiOS, Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows XP, LinuxiOS, Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows XP, Linux

Make sure to list all specifications before making a quotation request. Don’t rely on the supplier to list all specifications.

Pricing & Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ)

While the MOQ is often as low as 5 to 10 pcs, 3D printer manufacturers can often offer major discounts when buying larger volumes. Below follows a few, authentic, price examples for a basic desktop printer:

Price ($, FOB)SKU 1SKU 2SKU 3SKU 4
1 pc (Sample)1250999800900
10 pcs1050899750680
100 pcs950799650580

As mentioned, the MOQ is often set at 5 to 10 pcs, essentially all suppliers are willing to sell individual 3D printer units – with or without buyer branding, as a product sample.

Applicable Product Standards & Regulations

3D Printers are subject to regulations applicable to electronic equipment, and machinery. Below follows an overview of applicable regulations in the United States and the European Union:

  • United States: FCC Part 15, UL
  • European Union: Machinery Directive (MD), Low Voltage Directive (LVD), Electromagnetic Compatibility Directive (EMC), RoHS, WEEE

Ensuring compliance is mandatory. Importing and selling non-compliant 3D printers is illegal and may result in a forced recall and major fines – or even a lawsuit, if a user is injured or property damaged. Our finding, when verifying 3D printer manufacturers in Greater China (Mainland China and Taiwan) is that the top manufacturers indeed has relatively strong compliance track records (i.e., a paper trail of previously issued certificates and third party test reports). Yet, very few suppliers can provide more than one or two 3D printer models with full US and/or EU compliance.

As explained in this article, a product may be partially compliant, in other words compliant with one directive, but not all applicable directives and standards. In the EU, buyers must ensure compliance with a range of different directives, and ensure that the product is CE marked. It’s quite common to find a product that is, for example, tested and certified for EMC Directive compliance – yet without documentation proving RoHS compliance and LVD compliance, the latter which is required for the AC adapter.

For an industry outsider, it’s a rather complicated situation. Still, far from unusual among electronics manufacturers in China and other Asian countries. Complementary compliance testing and certification is to be expected when buying 3D printers from China.

Our finding is also that compliance with EU regulations (i.e., EMC and LVD) is more common than US regulations and standards, for example FCC Part 15 and UL standards. However, compliance with EU standards is a strong indication of supplier capability to ensure compliance with other overseas standards, including those in the US.

Buyers from smaller markets, such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, shall not expect suppliers to hold compliance documents valid in their markets. Instead, supplier and product selection must be based on compliance with other overseas standards. Again, that is in most cases, European Union directives.

3D Printer Filaments

Most 3D printer manufacturers purchase filaments from specialized subcontractors. Different 3D printers are made for certain types of filaments, for example the following:

  • PLA
  • PETG
  • ABS
  • Nylon
  • PET
  • TPE
  • TPU

While mass production using 3D printers is still rare, a 3D printed product is still subject to substance regulations:

  • United States: California Proposition 65, CPSIA (Children’s Products)
  • European Union: REACH, EN 71 (Toys)

This leads to the question as to whether 3D printer filament should be compliance tested as well. However, most substance regulations don’t apply to prototypes used for demonstration. This is likely an area of interest for the future. However, filaments must not be purchased from the 3D printer manufacturer in China, but from domestic suppliers, thereby reducing the risk of compliance issues.


Fredrik Grönkvist is the co-founder of ScandinAsian Enterprise in Shanghai. Since 2010, he and his team have helped hundreds of companies worldwide, primarily in the EU and US, to develop and manufacture products in China. He is also the main contributor on www.chinaimportal.com, a leading knowledge base for small- to medium-sized enterprises importing from Asia. For further questions, you can contact him on www.chinaimportal.com/contact-us/.

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