US Makers and 3D printers are massively inferior to China’s manufacturing hubs

3D printers are interesting and there is some utility for the Maker movement in the USA but they are massively inferior to China’s manufacturing hubs.

There is a new $120,000 3D printer furnace for desktop metal parts that are lower cost. It is 100 times faster than laser metal sintering machines.

China’s manufacturing hubs are an entire ecosystem of suppliers, repair technicians, jobbers, shipping and delivery services, etc. To illustrate what makes Shenzhen so unique, he shared a story at the 2013 Shanghai Maker Carnival: “I’m in my apartment, in Huaqiangbei, and I get a call early in the morning. My factory is short of transistors. So I get up, walk downstairs, buy 3,000 transistors on the street, walk over to the factory, thread it into the reel on the line, and two hours later, the line’s up and running again.” In another city or situation, he says, your factory would be down for maybe 24 hours. Those 24-hour delays begin to mount and seriously slow delivery of your product.

Matt Mets, former MakerBot engineer and Make: blogger who now lives in Shenzhen and runs Blinkinlabs, offers a colorful analogy that also speaks to Shenzhen’s unique ecosystem: “All of the things we’re building are super-small compared to what the giant companies are making, so we’re sort of clinging to the fur of a much larger animal that is big manufacturing, and that animal lives in southern China.

Shenzhen is where new smartphone can be rapidly designed and changed and then manufactured by the millions.

Yes, manufacturing has a lot of robotics for full production but China is filled with people who worked factory lines and can rapidly lay down perfect commercial grade solders.

China’s factories can spot an interesting product on kickerstarter or anywhere and launch commercialized versions in hours or days.

A factory or design team can a product like a hoverboard, figure out how it’s made, and start churning out near-identical products or improved versions.

3D printers and maker tools and Tech shop equipment are not full commercial factory grade. They do not have a supply chain that can scale and adapt to supply raw materials or components.

China’s factories have computer controlled machines and robotic assembly lines.

There is also a critical level of unrecorded manufacturing knowledge that permeates everything in China’s manufacturing hubs. A lot of professionals and leaders who are manufacturing and designing and building businesses and products every day.

Just having some good 3D printers and metal printers will not be enough. It is like thinking some highly flexible scripting and automatic coding could replace the software companies of silicon valley.

Replacing or seriously displacing a manufacturing hub will take scale and decades of commitment and a long road and a lot of innovation to catchup and get competitive.