Chances Abound for 3D Printing in Metal, Insists Bright Laser Tech's CEO
COVID-19 and China
The magic hand of a 3D printer is working. Image credit: Ines Álvarez Fdez/Unsplash

Metal 3D printing, as one of the most advanced 3D techniques, is ahead of traditional metal processing in customization, efficiency and quality. The global market has scented its potential in the fields of aerospace, auto manufacturing and energy – all are showing an upswing at present, and 3D printing is playing a major role in the evolution of each.

As the 'First-ever Metal 3D Printer' company on the Star Market, Bright Laser Tech (688333: SH) is an early entrant in developing metal additive manufacturing technology with its in-house research team. With nearly 10% R&D investment of revenue, it is able to customize products to satisfy different clients, fast.

After a recent interview with Dr. Xue Lei, the CEO of Bright Laser Tech, we learned a lot more about this company's deployment in the emerging healthcare, electronics and auto industries, and its penetration strategy for China's CNY 34 trillion ‘New Infrastructure’ plan.

From material to appliances

The 3D  upstream includes 3D scanners, software, additive materials, and printer parts manufacturing. The middle-stream dominates the whole value chain, primarily providing 3D equipment and printing services. The downstream orients 3D technology for a variety of business applications, from aerospace, auto, energy, electronics, mold-making, healthcare and countless uses in the cultural sector.

Different from other 3D printers, Bright Laser Tech starts from material techniques and then extends to the downstream appliances. From Mr. Xue's perspective, the 3D materials, equipment and procedures should be consistent in terms of compatibility and quality. Metal printing usually applies to fine-precision devices and parts, which cannot be achieved by traditional industrial methods. Since materials play a vital role in the whole processing, the independent research and development of materials show the core competency of a company in this field.

The company's powder production line has successfully developed a series of titanium alloy powders: TA1, TA15, TC4, TC4ELI, etc. Known for its stable quality, fine-precision work, high-sphericity and low-impurity, its powder is widely used in the national aerospace field and world-class transport companies such as AirBus. Accordingly, the company's revenue increased to CNY 11.67 million in 2018, at a compound annual growth rate of 67.4%.

High R&D capability for high-demand customization is the pivot that this Xi'an-based high-tech company has long been devoted to. Corresponding solutions to practical issues occurring in the research are ultimately converted to built-in functions in the equipment. For example, the new type of BLY-S450 is designed and developed on the basis of five critical business scenarios revealed by research.

From the prospectus above, agent sales of equipment and parts rank the second on the top three revenue sources, the others being the customized printing product and the self-developed equipment parts.

The rising 3D printer company is also a sales agent for the German 3D giant EOS, the latter known as the most abundant metal 3D printer manufacturer. More than simply selling EOS's products, Bright Laser Tech also provides local tech support and maintenance. The underpinning logic is that the market always prefers a set of integrated solutions consisting of equipment, technology, materials and design. One benefit for the young Chinese 3D printer maker out of this agency business is to leverage the experiences, technical competencies and customer network.

Chances multiply in metal processing

Metal 3D printing can quickly produce sophisticated devices while reducing materials cost and weight. This has allowed it to win the favor of the aerospace market.

The market scale of aerospace parts is forecast to reach USD 150 billion, while 3D printing only counts for less than 1%, which leaves this potential technology with many blanks to fill in. The aerospace market took up over 62% of revenue in 2018, a significant advantage to drive future growth. Its 3D printing services assist multiple national-level projects, from military and civilian airplanes, battleplanes, new missiles, space stations and satellites. This industry appreciates the value created by this high-tech, giving very cost-effective rewards to the printer providers.

“In fact, the order amounts from other industries are constantly increasing,” Mr. Xue says. “We target the whole metal processing industry. Bright Laser Tech has the chance to win in any field where metal processing is involved.” ‘Deploy ahead of the market, cultivate a long-term vision and be agile before the unexpected’ is the strategy being adopted to expand the business to other industries.

As an integrated 3D printing solution provider, Bright Laser Tech deploys differently in terms of depth and width to satisfy varying demand. Starting from the clients' perspective, moving swiftly to create highly customized products and services sets the fundamental tone.

Grasp the timing of the New Infrastructure plan

The concept of New Infrastructure was introduced by the standing committee of the political bureau of CPC Central Committee on March 4, 2020, to promote the innovative construction of 5G networks, data centers and industry IoT ('Internet of Things'). This national project consists of three phases: digital facilities, digit-centered innovative facilities and digitally transformed traditional facilities. As the most disruptive tech subsector in the field of additive material processing, metal 3D printing is considered by many as the next technological breakthrough to transform the economy.

Moving one step ahead, Bright Laser Tech landed on China's Star Market last July, at a market value of CNY 4.2 billion, moving to bankroll its powder production lines and R&D projects. In Mr. Xue’s development framework, the company is currently at the second stage, when the automation and operation optimization are the main tasks, surpassing the first stage to verify technical principles. The third stage, or the next one, is to realize the smart manufacturing of 3D printing practically.

Now this young listed company aims to serve more diverse clients inbound and outbound. Positioned as a trustful metal printing service supplier for aerospace players, the Chinese inner-land high-tech company has never  hidden its ambition to advance to the global top tier.

Editor: Luke Sheehan
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