In 2014, UnionFab was created to meet market needs and began to offer 3D printing services. Fast-forward to the present day, and UnionFab now has the largest 3D printing factory in China. Over 450 industrial 3D printers are harnessed to serve some 40,000 customers.
I caught up with Allen Yang, UnionFab CEO, to understand how the company has grown so fast and can now serve major customers, including Tesla and Huwai, and also to get an inside perspective on current trends in 3D printing.
From the start of UnionFab, “we focused on technique and how to improve the quality and efficiency and speed of 3D printing,” says Allen Yang. “We have the biggest technical team in China, who have figured out how to improve speed, quality, and service,” he adds. Indeed since beginning to offer 3D printing services to international clients in 2021, UnionFab has over a thousand satisfied customers.
3D printing services are not confined to polymers alone. Four years ago, UnionFab began offering metal 3D printing and has developed the techniques to post-process, including with CNC systems, metal parts, and ensure high resolution and good tolerances. Turnaround on small volume metal 3D print orders have a very fast turnaround time – for orders of less than one hundred parts, this is between 2 to 4 days. The UnionFab CEO is keen to assure me that speed is not at expense of quality.
The secret to UnionFab’s rapid growth is two-fold. One advantage “is a wide variety of materials and a large number of machines so we can do mass production in a short time.” 3D printing systems available to clients include SLA, SLM, SLS, MJF, and Polyjet. Secondly, UnionFab competes strongly on cost, “because these are our machines and we use our own materials. Products from China are just cheaper! We do a lot of price research to ensure we are very competitive, we are 70% cheaper than European or American competitors.”
These advantages translate into several benefits for customers. “Most importantly, they are not worried about their jobs failing. We do that with an experienced technical team, we take over all the demands for the jobs to ensure they can be completed. And communicate to tell the customer if something is missing.” Supporting this is post-printing inspection, “Our quality checks are very important, we have systems in place to make sure four hands do the quality check. So when the job is sent out, it has been seen by four people. Thirdly we have good aftersales service. If there are any problems, we refund or remake.”
To reinforce the point, Aaron Appiah, Director of International Operations, says, “We do not joke about aftersales services. If we can do it, we will do it. If you are not happy, we don’t mind printing it again. But this happens rarely, customers can be at ease.”
Working with UnionFab is straightforward. Potential customers can visit the website, upload design files, and instantly get a quote. Once production is started, updates are provided, including details on shipping. Technical support in English is available via online real-time chat.
Customers can be segmented into prototyping customers who are earlier in the product design lifecycle and those who are in production. “We have a customer who wants to do metal parts for cooling methods. We have produced over 20,000 parts to increase cooling efficiency – efficiency increased by 400%, the parts could only be produced by metal 3D printing,” says Allen Yang.
With such a high volume of work, UnionFab is well-placed to provide insights into broader trends in the 3D printing industry. “Trends are moving from prototype production to end-user production, now almost 40% of our parts are for end use,” says Aaron Appiah. Another trend is that low-volume production has increased significantly, with part orders now at hundreds and thousands. This is because costs have decreased significantly, by approximately 20 times, according to the Director of International Operations.
So what’s next for Unionfab? “We want to be the greatest supplier to overseas customers and let the world access the high-quality capabilities from China,” says the CEO. UnionFab says it will bring “CNC, Casting, and other capabilities from the best suppliers in China because our target is to help our customer have a very quick turnaround”. This will be done for “good value service with a variety of processes”.
The second target is to ensure that end-use part production is the future. For this, UnionFab sees the “need to develop better materials with high functionality for real part production. For metal, we want to cut costs and push printing to real part production.” Further in the future, “our goal is to move 3D printing into a full solution for supply chain,” adds Appiah.
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Currently, UnionFab offers customers the option to Free 3D Print Parts, only paying shipping and duty.