Stratasys Ltd. and 3D Systems Inc. are among the American companies that are household names in additive manufacturing. Less well known are Beijing Tiertime Technology Co. Inc. and Beijing Long Yuan - Automated Fabrication System, both 3D printer makers located on the other side of the world from the U.S. But Chinese firms like these could become forces to be reckoned with in the additive manufacturing industry if a new Chinese government program is successful.

3D printing industry analyst Terry Wohlers reviewed China's intentions at the recent Rapid 2013 exposition. China's central government is funding a $245 million program over three years aimed at turning that country into the world's primary additive manufacturing supplier. But "China is going to buy its way into the industry," says Wohlers. "It is not spending on R & D. It is more likely to just buy suppliers."

Inspire S200 beijing tiertime technologyOne sign of China's interest in 3D printing is the recent creation of the China 3D Printing Technology Industry Alliance. About 40 companies are members. The Alliance is involved in planning ten regional technology centers for 3D printing support. One center in Nanjing has been approved and a second is planned for Qingdao.

SLS machine from AFSInterestingly, Barack Obama can take partial credit for China's interest in additive manufacturing. "China is getting into the industry because of Obama's comment about 3D printing in his State of the Union address," says Wohlers.

In that speech, President Obama said 3D printing "has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything." He also mentioned an additive manufacturing hub in Youngstown, Ohio being built with help from the U.S. government  and three more about to launch, suggesting Congress should "create a network of 15 of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is made in America."

Evidently Chinese companies would prefer that revolution take place on their own shores. For example, The China Daily reports that Chinese household appliance maker Haier Inc. is entering the 3D printing industry. The Daily also says Luo Jun, CEO of the Asian Manufacturing Association, thinks revenues for the 3D printing industry in China are likely to hit 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) in three years, making China the world's biggest market for 3D printing technology.

Indications are that other Asian nations are also boarding the 3D printing bandwagon. CMET Inc., in Japan, for example, sold 20 high-end 3D printing systems last year, Wohlers says. And the government of Singapore says it will invest $500 million over five years to boost country's skills in advanced manufacturing, including those in 3D printing. The funding is part of government's Future of Manufacturing (FoM) program. Among other things, Singapore hopes the program will help in "exploring the potential of building a new 3D printing industry ecosystem."