Apart from a few exceptions – like SHINING 3D and Farsoon – Chinese 3D printing companies are not easy to reach from this side of the Great Wall. Likewise, it’s not easy for them to make their products known in the West. It’s usually a gradual process. The most successful companies are able to gain enough of a foothold in the – very large – domestic market that they can start to invest in global expansion with initiatives that go beyond the hiring of armies of business developers sending out messages on social media. Kings 3D may be one of the next companies to make the jump. And even if it’s not, the company has been able to stand out enough to be noticed, especially for its vibrant activity in the footwear AM segment, a business that is expected to grow significantly over the next decade.
Kings 3D has been building up an offer of SLA 3D printers, specific materials and design software for footwear applications. These include the full spectrum of possibilities: prototypes (to quickly check the appearance and structure of a new design); casting shoe models and lasts(to replace costly wooden models and lasts produced by CNC machining), soft shoe models (for fitting tests, to check function and the degree of comfort), shoe mold production (for small batch production) and even finished shoe soles (for customized shoe development and production). Considering that the majority of shoes are produced in Asia, the business potential is huge.
Available materials have been developed to meet the demand for each of these applications. For example, the UV Resin KS198S is a rubber-like, high toughness UV-curable 3D printing material. Shoes printed with this material show high flexibility, high elasticity and soft touch. Other materials include brown ABS-like resin KS408B, which can be used for both model and sand casting molds. Kings3D also just introduced KS1208R, a new high-temperature-resistant UV-resin material (up to 120°) for footwear mold production. This red color resin can be used for quick design-checks and also to create shoe molds that can be used to produce up to 3 million pairs of shoes.
As a representative from the company exclusively told 3dpbm, the most common systems in footwear are the Kings6035, Kings600 and Kings800 SLA 3D printers, with the choice depending on production requirements. These systems range in price from low $80,000 to around $130,000. The entry-level model, Kings6035, is able to produce about 4-5 pairs of sole models in one build: this takes about 16 hours and means that it can be used to produce about 100 models per month. The Kings600 can do about twice as many, while the top of the line Kings800 would be the model used by large manufacturers, such as Yaoqun Industrial Co., Ltd., one of Kings 3D’s most high profile clients in the Chinese footwear market.
As previously mentioned, the company has been looking to expand beyond Asia, starting with a distributor and footwear AM service provider in Turkey (one of the key passageways between Asia and the West), Kartel Kalip. “I bought the first Kings 6035Pro with a neighboring shoe mold company at the end of 2017,” said Mehmet Karacus, of Kartel Kalip. “It’s really helpful for me. Some designs are impossible to carve from CNC machines, but they’re easy for the Kings 3D printer. We use the Kings 3D printers to print new designs, all kinds of shoe models. And we also use the printer to print master models for casting mold, for which we print all sizes together, with significant demand. Demand grew rapidly – Karacus added – and in 2018 I bought the second printer. Last year, in 2019, I added another printer, the Kings 600pro, which is almost double the size of the previous one, bigger, and faster.”
Possibly the key element in Kings3D strategy to address the footwear industry is the company’s proprietary Orang software. This is no toy. Kings3D sells yearly licenses for about $5,000 and has introduced developed more than 100 different features specific for the footwear industry. According to the company, the use of Orang can improve 3D modeling speeds by 30%-50%. Dozens of video tutorials are available online. There are many other hardware companies in China targeting the footwear industry and rightly so. Demand is so high that many of them will be able to build sustainable local businesses. But Kings 3D seems to be ready to leverage its expertise in footwear AM to expand into new markets.