Xia Chunguang of BMF Material: A Hardcore Chinese Manufacturer

Author: iAsk   

At the 2nd SAMA International Forum held in Shanghai on October 20, 2017, Shenzhen BMF Material Technology Inc. showcased a "little surprise" that has impressed the world.

It is a model of Eiffel Tower, only 3 mm in height, with precise proportions and refined texture. More importantly, it is not an artwork, but a manufactured product made by the Micro/Nano-scale 3D printing technology of BMF Material.

Shenzhen BMF Material Technology Inc. is a leader in Micro/Nano-scale 3D printing, which is one of the world's most advanced manufacturing fields, and even in the ultra-high resolution 3D printing industry.

"It is what China needs most now", according to Dr. Xia Chunguang, a Co-founder and CIO of BMF Material. 

From Laboratory to Manufacturing, BMF Material Has Been Shaped by History

Born in 1980, Xia Chunguang was always a straight "A" student and followed a career path of a technician. He has received a bachelor's degree in theoretical and applied mechanics from the University of Science and Technology of China, a master's degree in engineering mechanics from the University of Illinois, and a doctorate in mechanical engineering.

If Xia Chuanguang hadn't encountered "3D printing", he would spend the whole life in the laboratory.

In 2004, when he studied for Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, Xia Chunguang was exposed to 3D printing for the first time. "My supervisor gave me a sample of 3D printing, which I found really intriguing." Xia Chunguang recalled in the interview, " I remembered it's a simple print, an optical mesh. It reflected different colors in lights, so we called it structural optics."

Like a theory comes into practice, Xia Chunguang gradually understood the truth of "learning to use". After graduation, he entered the manufacturing sector.

Starting with the Lam Research Corp, Xia Chunguang worked on semiconductor coating equipment and also designed the world's fastest semiconductor atomic layer deposition equipment. Later at ASML, he was involved in designing a new generation of EUV lithography.

Although Xia Chunguang's talent has been displayed working with the foreign industry giants, he has unfulfilled potential and ambitions.

In the past few years, 3D printing technology has entered the public view from the laboratory in a very fast pace. With the surge of public attention and the explosion of technology, Xia Chunguang has become restless.

"To do world leading 3D printing, I have to start my own business!" Xia Chunguang was reassured by the voice at the bottom of his heart.

Over a decade of exploration in the 3D high-end resolution printing in the U.S., Xia Chunguang returned to China from California in 2018, to chase his dream. He settled in Shenzhen and co-founded the Shenzhen BMF Material Technology Inc.

Xia Chunguang has designed and built all the product lines of BMF Material, focusing on developing the world's leading high resolution 3D printing technology, and soon made a breakthrough. He is an independent inventor of the world's latest hob-type micro-stereography and immersion micro-stereography, which have patents in China and the United States.

As the only company in the world capable of manufacturing the 3D printing equipment with 2μm (micron) printing resolution, BMF Material has become the pioneer and leader of ultra-high resolution 3D printing with its strength in hard and core technologies.

Learning for practicewhen science and technology are combined with productivity, the chemical reaction not only contributes to the leap of technology, but also produces huge economic benefits, and even create an opportunity of "corner overtaking" for China's manufacturing industry.

Why are capitals and markets bullish on BMF Material now and in the future?

In June 2016, BMF Material received 27 million yuan of angel round funding from Pinevc Capital, Mobile Internet Alliance Capital and Guangzhihua Fund.

On August 18, 2017, BMF Material completed 60 million yuan of A round of financing, with SCGC as the lead investor.

In August 2019, BMF Material announced the completion of A+ round of financing, led by a fund from Haitong Securities, followed by Pinevc Capital, Zhangjiagang Fund, China Construction Bank and other well-known investment institutions.

Micro/Nano-scale 3D printing has been recognized as the second Top 10 Breakthrough Technologies by MIT Technology Review Magazine in 2015. BMF Material is also recognized as "the most investment-worthy technology company" in the circle of venture capital.

Capitals are confident in its outlook and market recognition. 

At present, 3D printing on micro-nano scale is the world's most advanced manufacturing. There is a huge demand for complicated three-dimensional(3D)micro/nanostructures in various areas, including MEMS, precision optics, biomedical engineering, tissue engineering, new materials, new energy, HD display, micro fluidics, Micro/Nano-optical devices, Micro/Nano sensors, Micro/Nano electronics, optoelectronic device, printed electronics, etc. 

The apparently high-end technologies are in fact closely related to everyone.

Xia Chunguang explained that theoretically, Micro/Nano-scale 3D printing could cover most fields. "5G optical fibre plugs, ceramic antennas, miniature capsule robots for drug delivery in human bodies, even organs like blood vessels."

"Small" means unlimited possibilities, but also "low cost" and " high efficient", which is easy to interpret. With the same material and time frame, it can print 1000 vascular stents simultaneously, which are far more precious than a keyboard.

Because of this, in the first year of its establishment, BMF Material has formed a close bond with SAIC Group, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation Ltd., Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China Ltd., China North Industries Group Corporation Ltd., Beijing Oriental Electronics., SonoScape, China Academy of Engineering Physics, and many other renowned domestic enterprises.

Up to the spring of 2020, there are 437 clients from ten countries choosing to work with BMF Material. Among them are world's top 500 companies, GE Healthcare, the Boeing Company, Merck, Amphenol and more.

With sufficient cash flow and an infinite space for imagination, it's hard for capitals not to be fond of such an enterprise.

From A Leaf Mustard Seed to the Mount of Sumeru, Chinese Manufacturing Needs BMF Material

Thirty years ago, Charles Hull founded 3D Systems, the world's first-ever company to produce 3D printing equipment. After that, 3D printing has become the hottest frontier technology in the world. The prediction that "it will revolutionize manufacturing and reshape the future." has become an industry consensus.

Back to manufacturing, despite being dubbed as a "world factory ", China has a major pain point that its manufacturing lacks foundation and accumulation. Its industry is trying to catch up with other countries though the development is fast. Since the Reform and Opening-up, China has become a "world factory" with lower labor costs, higher quality and efficiency, but imitation and low end production have always been an unavoidable pain point for its manufacturing.

The situation has improved in recent years with the efforts of Chinese enterprises, but the rise in manpower costs is contributing to a new round of industrial transfers to South and South-East Asia.

3D printing will be an opportunity for China's manufacturing to overtake through corners.

Xia Chunguang, who is familiar with the western market, believes that China is lagging behind Europe and the United States in the traditional 3D printing, but begins to lead in the more subdivided and precision areas.

Apart from the example of BMF Material, the statistics of China Securities shows that China's overall 3D printing industry has maintained an annual growth rate of 60% to 100% in recent years. There are two trends of 3D printing technologies—the molding is becoming larger or smaller. Two representative Chinese companies are XDM 3D Printing Technology Co., Ltd. which released the world's largest SLM metal 3D printer in october 2017, and BMF Material.

In 2015, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued the National Plan for the Promotion of the Development of the (3D Printing) Manufacturing Industry (2015-2016), which explicitly included the 3D printing at the national strategic level for the first time, and promoted a comprehensive plan for the development of the 3D industries.

"Compared to the global average growth rate, the market size of the 3D sectors in China has expanded dramatically. In 2011, China's revenue of 3D printing was only about 1 billion yuan. It has reached 7.8 billion yuan by 2015, with a compound annual growth rate of nearly 70%. The scale of 3D printing in China is estimated to exceed 20 billion yuan in 2018, and overtake 35 billion yuan in 2020."

Traditional cutting technologies, such as mechanical, laser, ultrasonic cutting, all belong to the subtractive manufacturing. The disadvantages include high costs, complex assembly and low precision. With the technology of BMF Material, we can easily make "micron" products.

Chinese people have a great virtue of thrift and avoiding waste. They prefer personalized manufacturing, as an example, the ancient tale "Walnut Boat" has satisfied the romantic imagination of "manifesting the Mount Sumeru with a leaf mustard seed". What BMF Material is committed to is turning thousands of years of dreams into a more hardcore reality.

Xia Chunguang hopes that in a decade, people can associate BMF Material with the company that provides the world's most sophisticated 3D. He is still enthusiastic about developing new technologies.

More importantly, he hopes that ten years from now on, China's manufacturing spires with the wind, and stands on the top of the world.

Gloria Ai: Within the limits of human sciences, what's the smallest unit in 3D precision printing?

Xia Chunguang: For now it is about 200 nanometers, but in industrial application, the smallest unit is at two microns, which is about one-forties of the hair's diameter, can't be seen by the naked eye and visible only with a microscope. It's the world's smallest scale of 3D printing.

Gloria Ai: What are the materials invisible to the naked eyes used for?

Xia Chunguang: They can be found in optical devices, various engineering devices and more, which require a precision of no more than ten microns but the processing tolerance must be less than ten microns. So the printer must be in high precision, such as our two micrometers printer.

In glaucoma treatment, there is a technique to surgically fit a tiny needle to the patient's eye to release the intraocular pressure. The needle is extremely tiny, about 100 microns, also with a hole of dozens of microns. The two-micrometer technology can precisely control the size of the hole, which directly linked to the patient's eye pressure.

Gloria Ai: From an engineer at the global semiconductor manufacturer to a co-founder, what is the biggest change in your life?

Xia Chunguang: I've got more things to think about. I was given projects before, like I was a engineering technician, responsible for technologies in the factory. There was a project manager in charge of everything. But now I must handle all by myself, because I' m the CIO, taking care of miscellaneous things including personnel, training, recruitment and so on. I'm getting busier, but happier, since I am doing my most passionate business.

Gloria Ai: Have you experienced conflicts in the identity transition?

Xia Chunguang: It goes quite naturally. At graduation, we identified the market demand for 3D printing. I heard a peer complained that printing precised devices with traditional micro injection molding took a lot of money and time. Only with a metal mold can he make a sample. Then the idea of 3D printing came to us, which can help reduce costs dramatically, and has huge market potential.

So we created BMF Material focusing on high-resolution printing, as an important supplement to the traditional micro injection technology. Based on our client's idea and a model design, we offer the technology to test the reliability of their design. It may take one week other than a month, and costs less.

Gloria Ai: You used a key word "supplement", not "substitute". Don't you think 3D high-resolution printing can replace traditional manufacturing?

Xia Chunguang: No, it's a very good supplement. For example, when we need millions of communication connector module, 3D printing is not the right choice. The single part price decreases with the increase of quantity in the traditional processing, though it may start higher.  Meanwhile, the unit price of 3D printing is basically flat with the increase of quantity, starting lower. The junction point of the two methods is where we can supplement.

Gloria Ai: We are attracted to interview FBM Material in Shenzhen. One of dominant incentives is that it has been recognized as one of the Top 10 Breakthrough Technologies by MIT Technology Review Magazine in 2014 and 2015. How do you define the breakthrough?

Xia Chunguang: Breakthrough in technology can create a lot of new ways of processing which can't be done with traditional technologies.

Once an American client sent us an urgent request to make a part for a biochip, which contains a string of holes of 100 microns. He had consulted a list of printing service providers in the U.S. market, but were not satisfied.

It took at least tens of thousands of dollars to create a mold in the traditional way, and one or two months waiting. Urgent in need of the product, the client directly asked BMF Material for the production time. We assessed the model and it turned out to be a very simple task for us. In a week, we delivered the part priced at 1000 yuan.

It's a huge saving of time and cost, from two months to a week, tens of thousands of dollars to 1000 yuan.

In 2015, The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology explicitly included 3D of printing at the national strategic level for the first time. Since 2017, it has launched 15 policies on 3D printing, seven of which involve 3D printing materials. The demand and policy have helped the development of 3D printing materials market. The market size of China's 3D printing materials is expected to reach 5.7 billion yuan in 2020 and surpass 16 billion yuan in 2024. The prospect of 3D printing materials is considerable. In the global scope, BMF Material has an existing huge market. From communications to medical care, manufacturing to construction, BMF Material serves nearly 500 companies around the world with its excellent hard & core technologies.

Gloria Ai: What areas will such Micro/Nano precision materials are used?

Xia Chunguang: There are many industries, such as the communication industry, more specifically mobile phones, plugs of 5G optical fiber bundles, and microcapsule robots used to release drugs in the human body. Other areas wildly applying the micro/nanomaterials include biological blood filters and membranes.

Gloria Ai: What stage is China's precision manufacturing, especially 3D printing, in history?

Xia Chunguang: China's 3D printing technologies are ten even twenty years behind Europe and the United States. You may find most of China's other 3D printing technologies already exist a decade or two decades ago in Europe and the United States. BMF Material has started a change that China leads in certain areas.

Ai Cheng: A statistics of China Securities shows that China's 3D printing has maintained an annual growth rate of 60% to 100% in recent years. Why does it grow so fast?

Xia Chunguang: 3D printing is an important supplement to traditional processing. More users are realizing the superiority of 3D printing, such as automotive manufacturing, medical, electronic communications, micromechanics, and other industries.