Sometimes it seems that companies in the west do a lot of talking about the future of manufacturing while companies in China just go ahead and do the things, any-thing, that everyone else is talking about. Shining 3D might just be one of those companies: while many spend most of their time discussing the limits of consumer 3D printing and metal 3D printing, the Hang Zhou-based company – which was founded by current CEO Li Tao as a producer of 3D scanners – has just gone ahead and developed an entire range of professional 3D printers (SLA, SLS, SLM). This adds up to its full range of 3D scanners (blue, white and structured light) and relies on the work of over 200 R&D professionals. I was invited by Shining 3D to attend its 2016 Global Business Partner conference at the new Hang Zhou HQ, located in the South Eastern part of China, roughly between Shanghai and Hong Kong. I had never been to China and from what I understand this is kind of a rural part of the country, very hot and humid in the summer but also very green all over. That said there are huge buildings all around and everything is just extra large. So is the Shining 3D HQ. In Fact Shining 3D seems to have done pretty much what every new 3D printer manufacturer in Europe and the States would like to do (and only very few have succeeded). They have entered into an entirely new business segment and were able to grow into a successful international company, with a solid structure, a large R&D team, many different products, a 3D printing service department and a global sales network.
It all starts from 3D scanning (and software)
Shining 3D started off making 3D scanners and continues to make the largest selection of 3D scanners based on different technologies and placed at different price ranges than any other company in the world. Today this means that it offers the industrial grade OptimScan-5M (blue light) and FreeScan-X3 (laser handheld), the new professional grade EinScan-Pro (structured light), available for around $5,000, and the low-cost EinScan-S (rotational). These are pretty much all the primary 3D scanning technologies in one place. During the factory tour we attended live demos for both the EinScan-Pro and the FreeScan X3. Both worked perfectly and were able to capture highly detailed surfaces withouth any issue and quite rapidly. In fact we were even given the possibility to use the FreeScan X3 ourselves and it proved surprisingly easy and accurate to use. Of course this is no low cost 3D scanner, however it seems safe to assume that its price is highly competitive even for overseas distribution. Then again users of the first EinScan-S witnessed that Shining3D software enabled them to use a basic low cost scanner for serious professional jobs such as scans of highly detailed entire engine blocks.
A physical 3D learning experience
The walk through the Shining 3D Experience Center alone was worth coming here. Once again Shining has done what every young 3D printing company would like to do: build a demonstrative center where the best of each application is on display, through success cases and user experiences. Materialise has something like this in its Leuven HQ, so, probably do a few other big companies, but they have been working with 3D printers for a long time. The 3D learning experience begins in the lobby, when you come face to face with the entire world, in a colorful, bass-relief physical map place below a 100+” megascreen telling about the Shining 3D experience. The educational aspect is key to the company, so much so that it donated its desktop low-cost systems to hundreds of schools in the area. The strategy paid off and the schools like it so much that they soon bought more, bringing the total of Shining 3D printers installed in schools to about 12,000.
Getting Up to Business
The impressive demonstration center in the HQ, together with the internal 3D printing service have a very large number of high end systems: not just from Shining 3D but also from EOS, 3D Systems and EnvisionTEC. Many more Shining 3D systems are in the nearby R&D department which the company let us freely photograph and film (something we could not do even at a certified open source company such as Ultimaker). We were able to take photos of ever single detail of the machines and ask any question which is a totally open policy in sharp contrast with the policies of a country that blocks Google, Facebook and Dropbox. The entire sales and marketing staff was there to answer any question we had, although we did get the distinct impression that when the Shining 3D technicians and marketing people did not want to answer our questions they pretended not to understand it). Shining makes a 250 x 250 x 300 cm SLM system, which is already in its second iteration. It also offers two different SLS systems which can offer the same quality level as the EOS M270 system on the premises. The biggest area is dedicated to SLA, with the largest system’s build platform measuring a whopping 650 x 600 x 600 cm and a new version of it currently being developed.