We’ve been reporting on the 3D printing space for a while now and we have shared many an inspiring story from inside this industry. Here is another one, from a pioneer in the 3D printing space in China: Tiertime. The company was established 16 years ago by two engineering academics—Yan Yong Nian, from Tsing Hua University, one of the most reputable colleges in China, comparable to MIT or Caltech in the US, and his former post-doc student, Dr. Guo Ge. The business evolved from academia to commercial, from conceptual ideas to real practices, and from the lab to the real world.

This is the story of an entrepreneurial journey that would inspire and fascinate readers from all sectors of the industry. 3D printing has become the focus of much hype from the media because of its enormous disruptive potential for virtually every aspect of life and every industry. And this attention is well deserved in light of the technology’s potential capacity to completely transform the world in which we live. Tiertime is a pioneer in this space and can boast a complete coverage of the 3D printing market, with a product lineup including both industrial-grade printers and desktop machines that were developed for the consumer market within six years. When I talked to Mr Guo, I shared with him that I just don’t believe there is an iron-solid need for every household to own a personal 3D printer, as opposed to 2D printers. Mr. Guo, however, took me through the history of how 2D printers became household items and shared his belief that 3D printers will follow the same route as the market matures. The first step is people getting used to 3D printing at their office or service center. Then, when more printable items and designs and printing software become more widely available and easier to work with, people will start to buy desktop printers for quick and easy tasks. 3D printing technology is now completing its journey to the status of mainstream tech in the industrial sector. It has firmly established itself as the go-to solution for prototyping, which makes the journey a fairly quick one, knowing that 3D printing emerged in the 1980s. Its evolution since then has been impressive and has now reached the next stage – a major influx of startups targeting the consumer market segment, along with education.

In short, 3D printing is at the moment undergoing a growth spurt. Tiertime is a company with an eye on the education sector. It has participated in several creative design competitions, some of them specifically targeting schools. Education is unanimously seen as an important growth market for 3D printing, not just in China, but globally. One of the fresh marketing efforts Tiertime has made to promote its consumer-grade products is to use popular culture to tell stories—funny ones—and connect them to its 3D printed figures, engaging and getting attention. That’s a creative branding effort that helped the company capture audiences and effectively convert them into well-informed buyers. Tiertime is one of the companies that laid the groundwork for the 3D printing boom. There is no doubt that 3D printing will change the way we make things, just as the Internet has changed the way we communicate and interact. It is just a matter of time to see its coming. In talking about the most winning business model for the 3D printing space at the moment, Mr. Guo and I agreed that it is the 3D printing service center. There is robust demand for 3D printed products, and the current technology has not yet achieved the one-touch button level of ease of use yet. Printing a good-quality 3D item requires complicated software and specialist skills and expertise, as well as an industrial-scale printer. That’s why printing services make a lot more sense than pushing consumer-grade printers at this point.

Tiertime will continue its work in the 3D printing field, targeting global expansion with a special focus on the educational sector. The company is realistic about competition: it will only become fiercer, both in China and internationally. Only the top performers will be able to stand out in the marketplace and excel. 

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