THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE WORLD’S FACTORY

Text: Ketty Zhong & Thomas Masuch; Photos: Fohan — 2020/06/15

In its production operations, Dongguan Keheng Shouban Model has made the transition from manual labor to high tech in around 20 years.

In recent economic history, the metropolis of Dongguan – approximately eight million citizens and one million registered companies strong – embodied the »Made in China« brand like no other city in the country. One in every five smartphones shipped out around the world was produced here. After being hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis, the government devised a plan to reinvent itself industrially; its efforts can now be described as a rebirth in high tech. This has included 3D printing, which should help raise China’s industry to a new level.

Boasting a history that dates back over 20 years, Dongguan Keheng Shouban Model Co. Ltd. symbolizes the technological development of its home region. »Today, our company is determined to be a high-quality service platform for design, manufacturing, and industrial upgrades in China,« board chairman Binghua Wen proudly states.

These days, the question of whether 3D printing is ready for mass production is no longer an issue for Wen. Located in Chang’an, the mold-making district of the traditional industrial hotbed of Dongguan, his company has achieved internationally unparalleled volumes in industrial 3D printing. Its more than 500 large-scale industrial 3D printers produce an annual output of more than 10 million pieces for products marketed under the brand name »Fohan«.

Services almost exclusively ordered online

The business model followed by Dongguan Keheng Shouban Model is based almost exclusively on 3D printing services that can be ordered online. Although it has now added a number of international customers, the company remains focused on the Chinese market. Its products include prototyping parts, handicrafts, film and television props, and exhibition displays. The 3D printing specialist currently employs 650 people.

Since its foundation in 1998, the company’s development has also mirrored the technological awakening of the entire country. For its first three years, Dongguan Keheng Shouban Model manufactured products using primarily manual methods; it then moved on to engraving, milling, and CNC processing machinery from 2004 to 2010.

It was in 2011 that the company began implementing 3D printing. »In this process, the new requirements for programming were the most critical step,« Wen recalls. Dongguan Keheng Shouban Model has quickly undertaken a massive expansion of its machine park, mainly with the help of Uniontech, a Chinese manufacturer of SLA equipment (see article) that has supplied it with more than 500 machines. In addition, nylon material is now processed on HP equipment. »In the future, we plan to expand to 1,000 machines,« a confident Wen reports.

Additive manufacturing has changed this sector to such an extent that much of the production at Dongguan Keheng Shouban Model is based exclusively on 3D printing. Traditional manufacturing methods involving different technologies are still in use, however: They account for 10 percent of the company’s overall manufacturing and help meet its clients’ needs (while making up for shortages). Dongguan Keheng Shouban Model demonstrates how 3D printing is fueling China’s transformation from the world’s low-cost factory to a high-tech industry location.