While still a nascent market in China, the production and sale of 3D printers are expected to quadruple over the next four years, according to a new report.
"While 3D printing has been touted as a way for Western economies to compete with China's manufacturing advantages, the Asian giant is also taking rapid strides to parlay its traditional strengths into 3D printing as well," Richard Jun Li, a Lux Research director, said in a statement.
Li is the lead author of a new report titled, "China's Growing 3D Printing Ecosystem."
China is rapidly embracing 3D printing and sales of printers are expected to grow four-fold to 37,800 printers in 2018, as revenues more than triple to $109 million, according Lux Research.
Chinese 3D printers are competing on cost with leading global brands such as MakerBot, 3D Systems, EOS and Stratasys. Of the 21,550 printers produced by China in 2013, some 12,810 units were exported.
Just as in other regions of the world, China's automotive industry is the leading industrial application for the machines because creating prototype parts with 3D printers vastly improves time to market over traditional manufacturing methods.
China's automotive 3D printing market saw $6.8 million in revenue, followed by machines in education with $6.5 million.
China's automotive 3D printing sector will grow at 31% annually, riding on the strengths of the world's largest car market, according to Lux Research.
In terms of unit shipments, the consumer market was the largest application segment, with just over 5,900 units in 2013, according to Lux.
By 2018, the Chinese 3D printer market (excluding imported 3D printers) will grow to 37,800 units, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34%, with printer revenue growing to $109 million in 2018, at a CAGR of 27%.
Worldwide, the sale of 3D printers and related materials is expected to balloon from $75 million this year to $1.2 billion by 2018, according to a Juniper Research report released earlier this year.
Driving that surge from today's relatively low levels will be the entry of mainstream printer companies such as HP and Epson to the 3D fray, Juniper Research noted in its report, "Consumer 3D Printing and Scanning."
According to Juniper, the U.S. and Europe are leading the rest of the world for consumer 3D printer adoption; hobbyists and early tech adopters in those regions are driving that surge. Retailers such as Staples and service providers including UPS are testing in-store 3D printing services to provide their customers an opportunity to use the technology without having to buy the hardware and related materials.
China's consumer 3D printer market is expected to be led by purchases for the education sector. At the same time, 3D printing for China's healthcare market is also expected to increase, according to Lux Research.
In terms of printer type, metal 3D printers are forecast to be the fastest growing segment in the next five years, followed by low- to medium-end thermopolymer printers.
"Far from being disrupted by 3D printing, China will thrive as its expertise in electronics, manufacturing, and its growing domestic market make it a threat and an opportunity for aspiring 3D printing value chain participants," Li said.