My recap of the 2016 3D printing exhibition in Tokyo: a deep-dive into the Asian 3D printing market

My recap of the 2016 3D printing exhibition in Tokyo: a deep-dive into the Asian 3D printing market

This article is written by Pierre-Antoine, co-founder of Aniwaa and post-doctorate researcher at Tokyo Institute of Technology (東京工業大学) on the topic of 3D printed interfaces for virtual reality applications.

Last week, I attended the 3D Printing 2016 exhibition in Tokyo. The event was held at the Tokyo Big Sight, simultaneously with several other fairs about nanotechnologies, robotics, energies of the future and other cutting-edge tech industries. The Tokyo Big Sight is a huge building with an architecture straight out of a Stargate movie.

Tokyo Big Sight entrance
The entrance gate of the Tokyo Big Sight center

We thought attending this 3D printing event would be a great opportunity for us to gauge the traction of 3D printing in Japan and get an overview of the industry landscape and main players in Asia. Indeed, although the Aniwaa team is based in Asia (Singapore, Japan and Cambodia), our audience is global and most of our users – as most 3D printing companies – are based in North America and Europe. So we sometimes feel a bit disconnected from what’s going on with 3D printing in Asia.

Anyway, there I am, a gaijin reporting live from Tokyo! Here’s a recap of what I’ve seen and my personal feelings and observations (I’ve listed with the booths in the order that I visited them).

Here are a few general observations and takeaways:

  • There are A LOT of 3D printers manufacturers in Asia. Mainly in Japan, China, Taiwan and South Korea. Although with Aniwaa, we spend a great deal of time to keep our database up to date, I saw quite a few manufacturers that I had never heard of before – some of them being already quite big in their countries.
  • The Asian 3D printing market seems disconnected from the rest of the world. Despite a few manufacturers clearly going for the global market (XYZPrinting, Shining 3D) and the Chinese “copycat brands” selling their stuff on Amazon/Alibaba worldwide, most established Asian 3D printing companies solely focus on their domestic or regional market. I discovered many manufacturers with virtually no presence outside their country of origin, sometimes not even online.
  • European and US brands were completely absent. I saw almost zero European or US company on the floor of the exhibition (besides Stratasys and 3D Systems). An interesting fact, since Asia usually represents a massive market opportunity for companies outside 3D printing.

There are many possible explanations for this, among which the low market maturity, the state of infancy of the 3D printing technology and the current economic turmoil the 3D printing industry is going through. The cultural gap could also be a factor. But I thought it was striking that this 3D printing show was almost exclusively Asian-centric, while it could be considered a great entry point for a Western brand to enter the Asian market.

Now, let’s get to a step by step recap of my visit :) .

  1. Stratasys/Makerbot 🇺🇸: the usual suspects are here, and you can’t miss them

Stratasys MakerBot booth
The Stratasys / MakerBot booth

I’m starting my recap with this because that’s the first booth one would see when entering the 3D printing area of the exhibition (took me a good 20 minutes to find it, the space was HUGE and the number of exhibitors completely overwhelming). I did not spend a lot of time on this stand, clearly Stratasys had invested a lot of money to be super visible on this event. Perhaps interesting is the fact that they really pushed the Makerbot brand forward with several models on display (vs other recent shows such as Frankfurt where the emphasis was more on the Stratasys line).

MakerBot range of 3D printers
The MakerBot 3D printers on display

  1. Mutoh Engineering 🇯🇵 : the local giant

Mutoh Industries is a typical Japanese conglomerate, a massive industrial group branching out in various industries, including 3D printing with Mutoh Engineering. The Japanese manufacturer was showing its desktop line of 3D printers. They have FDM and SLA printers. We haven’t had the opportunity to test any of them yet (and it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen soon judging from the complete lack of interest from them when I introduced myself and suggested this idea!).

Mutoh Engineering MF-2200D
The Mutoh Engineering MF-2200D

Overall, their 3D printers give a relatively low-cost feel, the casings look homemade and the finish is quite poor. We don’t have any feedback regarding their performance, and to our knowledge the Mutoh 3D printers are not easily available outside of Japan. Again, a typical Japanese business approach, focusing solely on their domestic market. Not sure if it’s correct but my feeling is that Mutoh looks like a “too big to fail” conglomerate, happily funding its 3D printing branch with profits from more established businesses.

Mutoh Engineering Value Arc MA5000-S1
The Mutoh Engineering Value Arc MA5000-S1

It’s interesting to note that for this event, they shared their space with 3D Systems and showcased a ProJet 460plus 3D printer, along with Mutoh’s own Value Arc MA 5000-S1 (a huge metal 3D printer). Two massive machines, quite impressive to see them on the floor! Also notable, they showcased a Mutoh 3D body scanner, although it did not look like the unit was ready for sale.

All new 3D Systems ProJet 460Plus
The new 3D Systems ProJet 460Plus

  1. XYZPrinting 🇹🇼: made in Taiwan and ready to conquer the world

By far, the most consumer-friendly booth of the event! The Taiwanese manufacturer XYZPrinting made a big impression a few weeks ago at CES in Las Vegas. They confirmed their ambition to become the undisputed global leader on the consumer segment with a strong presence at this Tokyo 3D printing event. Many colorful 3D printers were being demo-ed by a super friendly staff (believe me this is an exception here, since most staff on the booths do not speak English and are not exactly greeting visitors warmly…).

XYZPrinting Da Vinci 3D printer
XYZPrinting Da Vinci 3D printer

Da Vinci AIO, Da Vinci Junior, new SLA 3D printer: there were all on display and getting quite a lot of attention from the public. I tried the XYZPrinting 3D scanner and although I found the software not very user-friendly, the performance was honorable. At this price point, this portable 3D scanner based on the Intel RealSense sensor offers a very solid performance.

XYZPrinting 3D Scanner
XYZPrinting 3D Scanner

  1. Polymaker 🇨🇳 : innovation-driven filaments

Polymaker booth
Polymaker booth

I had an awesome time on the Polymaker stand. Xiaofan and Aaron introduced me to Polymaker’s strategy: heavily investing in R&D to develop innovative products that will allow users to make the most of their 3D printer and always get outstanding results. Sounds like a good approach! The Polymaker team has created biopolymers filaments with properties similar to ABS and PLA, and also a PolyWood material which look quite promising . Their filaments are also odorless, biodegradable, and work at low temperature. We can’t wait to test the samples we got and review them on Aniwaa.

With a global presence, a strong team and a solid product line, Polymaker is definitely a filament maker to watch, and this awesome startup confirms our feeling that innovation in 3D printing is driven by the materials and not the hardware.

  1. BuildTak 🇺🇸 : if the prints don’t stick…

The super friendly BuilTak team : Mike and Kayla
The super friendly BuildTak team, Mike and Kayla

Sharing the same space was BuildTak, a company aiming at solving once and for all the wrapping issues that most makers face at some point. BuildTak has created the “ideal 3D printing surface”, their product is a plastic sheet which you have to stick to the print bed of your FFF 3D printer, and which will provide an optimal print surface, allowing your prints to stick properly during the 3D printing process. A simple and brilliant idea solving an actual problem, looks like the US-based company has a bright future ahead! And their presence at this Tokyo event shows they’re ready to conquer the world… I actually had bought some BuildTak sheets for my Zortrax M200 before meeting them at the event but haven’t had the time to unpack it yet. Test and reviews coming soon on Aniwaa (hopefully we will never come back to tape and hairspray!).

  1. bonsai lab 🇯🇵 : a kawaii 3D printer made in Japan

bonsai lab BS01+
bonsai lab BS01+

bonsai lab displayed their BT01+ 3D printer, their tiny and kawaii 3D printer. The Japanese company recently released a new model called the FabPod, which was not visible on the stand. They collaborate closely with Polymaker on the low-temperature filaments to create children-friendly 3D printers. Definitely an interesting player, and a cool “manga vibe” from this brand.

  1. Shining 3D 🇨🇳 : game-changers 3D scanners?

Shining 3D EinScan-S
Shining 3D EinScan-S

By far the best experience I had during my visit to the 2016 3D printing exhibition in Tokyo. On display were their two recently released 3D scanners, the Einscan-S and the Einscan-Pro. I was able to test both scanners and they delivered results well beyond my expectations. Sunny and Rebecca from Shining 3D let me use the color version of the Einscan-Pro. Being a long-time user of the Artec Eva (its main competitor and a reference in portable 3D scanners), I was amazed at the overall experience, and the quality of the 3D scans.

Shining 3D EinScan-Pro
Shining 3D EinScan-Pro

The Einscan-Pro is light (0.8 kg) and captures 3D scans super fast, around 15 seconds only for a stunning color scan of a human face. Their software is also really good and easy to manage. Only the dark areas are not captured very well. Also notable, both Shining 3D scanners are very versatile and can be used in several configurations (handheld, tripod, with a turntable…).

Handheld EinScan-Pro
The handheld 3D scanner EinScan-Pro

I’ll write a separate product detailed review for these two 3D scanners but overall I believe the Chinese manufacturer Shining 3D is a very serious player in the 3D scanning field, their products are getting better and better and offer price to performance ratios among the best in the industry.

Other exhibitors in the 3D printing area

> MASS PORTAL

MASS PORTAL PHaraoh ED
The MASS PORTAL Pharaoh ED

MASS PORTAL is a 3D printer manufacturer from Riga (Latvia), the team was not present but they had a Pharaoh ED 3D printer on display on the Polymaker booth. The printer conveys a high-end feel with its solid build quality, and the prints I saw were really neat. I really like how they enclosed the delta architecture within a strong metallic frame. The 3D printer sure looks good, it is however a bit expensive.

> German RepRap 🇩🇪 and Recreus 🇪🇸

German RepRap X350
The German RepRap X350

German RepRap was present through their Japanese distributor IK Works, displaying the X1000, X400 and X350 3D printers. I also checked on this stand some filaments from Recreus, the Spanish filament manufacturer of the famous Filaflex made from a TPE-based polyurethane material. It seems that in addition to growing their line of filaments, Recreus is also developing their own 3D printer, an interesting move!

> Smile Link 🇯🇵

SmileLink Nt100
The Smile Link Nt100

A new 3D printer manufacturer from Japan known for the Nt100, they sell 3D filaments also made in Japan. Interesting approach, as the Smile Link 3D printer can only be operated from the cloud with OctoPrint on a Chrome browser. Fully wireless 3D printing! I tried unsuccessfully to engage with the staff on the stand but they were quite unfriendly and definitely had no interest in their products to be tested by a “foreign” company.. I really need to become fluent in Japanese…

NinjaBot 🇯🇵

The new NinjaNot DLT-80
The new NinjaBot DLT-80

Another Japanese 3D printer brand, Ninjabot recently introduced a new small 3D printer called the DLT-80 , along with a very big one, the NJB-777. Their main 3D printers are the FDM range, machines based on the well known PRUSA I3 design. The NinjaBot team was nice and smiling, and they do have interesting machines!

The new NinjaNot NJB-777 is HUGE
The new NinjaBot NJB-777 is HUGE

> Kyoraku 3D filament 🇯🇵

Kyoraku is a Japanese industrial conglomerate which recently entered the 3D printing space with the launch of a 3D printing filament brand. I haven’t tested them nor have received feedback on it yet, but at least we know they exist!

> Rhombus 🇨🇳

Rhombus 3D printer
The Rhombus 3D printer. Check out the huge spool in the upper part of the machine

Coming from Hong-Kong, Rhombus was showcasing 2 models, a small one and a big one. The big one had 2 extruders to 3D print 2 objects simultaneously. We’re investigating this brand as we did not know it before the show but they are already in our database.

> Carima 🇰🇷

Carima SLA 3D printer
The Carima SLA 3D printer

An interesting South Korean manufacturer. I saw a few Carima SLA 3D printers from Carima, targeting a professional audience. Carima is known for their ultra fast 3D printing technology called C-CAT (Carima-Continuous Additive 3D Printing Technology). The latest Carima DP 110E is equipped with this revolutionary solution that allows to 3D print up to 400 times faster than regular DLP 3D printers.

Moment 3D printer 🇰🇷/ Buccaneer + Bevel on display

Moment 3D printer
The Moment 3D printer

Another South-Korean brand with a quite interesting consumer desktop 3D printer, the MomentBeautiful with an outstanding finish, but pretty expensive.

> iFACT 🇰🇷

iFact Hercules LCD 3D printer
The iFact Hercules LCD 3D printer. The big cathedral on top of it was accomplished in a single print

And yet another manufacturer from South Korea, this time of industrial grade SLA 3D printers. We could not find any information online about this beast but it definitely seems made for serious business. The brochure I got indicates a massive build volume of 340 x 190 x 290 mm. The iFACT Hercules uses a LCD power source to photo-polymerize liquid resin.

_____________

As a conclusion, this visit was very instructive. It’s super interesting to experience first-hand the big cultural gap between our Western approach of doing business and meeting people on a trade show vs the Japanese way. I found myself almost rejected from certain booths while I’m pretty sure the people there were just really uncomfortable with the language barrier (or maybe they really did not like me, I’ll never know for sure!).

Another learning was to see the difference between US and European companies who often establish a strong online presence even before releasing their first product… While in Asia, it seems that many companies do not really care about their online presence, nor do they care about exporting their products as long as their domestic or regional market offers enough potential. A very different business culture than the Silicon-valley one, dominant in Western tech media.

So that’s it for me, I hope this deep dive into an Asian 3D printing show was interesting and that you discovered at least a few new names :)

Thanks for reading this recap and please let us know your comments on Twitter or Facebook!

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