'3D printing is a gimmick,' says Foxconn boss

Terry Gou, president of one of the world's largest electronics manufacturing companies, says 3D printing has no real commercial value

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 June, 2013, 3:49pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 June, 2013, 7:37am

The president of Foxconn Technology Group, one of the world’s largest electronics manufacturers, has blasted 3D printing, calling it a “gimmick.”

Terry Gou, founder and president of the Taiwanese multinational company, explained to Taiwan media on Monday that the modernisation of 3D printing “did not mean the advent of a third industrial revolution”.

“3D printing is a gimmick,” Gou said. “If it really is that good, then I’ll write my surname ‘Gou’ backwards [from now on].”

Gou confessed that even though Foxconn had been using 3D printing for nearly 30 years, he was not optimistic about the technology’s future, arguing it was unsuitable for mass production and did not have any real commercial value. As an example, Gou said that while 3D printing might be able to manufacture a phone, it would be an unusable model. This was because the printers could not assemble electronic components - a process still requiring humans or specialised machines. Gou said 3D printers were currently incapable of printing leather, leading to unsustainable products which could not be mass-produced.

Gou’s remark about a “third industrial revolution” was made in reference to a 2012 article by The Economist which described 3D printing as such. The piece said the sophisticated 3D printers of the modern era were ushering in “digitisation in manufacturing,” a revolution similar to textile mechanisation and the development of the assembly line.

3D printing technology has become a global trend over the past year. In January, Japanese electronics company Panasonic unveiled a high resolution 56-inch television in January which had been manufactured with the help of 3D printers. The Asian Manufacturing Association, a mainland China alliance, announced its plans in May to invest 200 million yuan in building 3D printing manufacturing centres across the country. The same month, a Singapore start-up company revealed a cheap US$350 3D printer called the “Pirate3D.” Hong Kong based company MakiBox has also started pre-production on an even cheaper model for US$300.

Despite these claims, Gou was adamant that 3D printing was not necessarily the key to manufacturing’s future. Any industry can come and go in response to marketplace demands, Gou said, adding that Foxconn’s diversified product integration had helped the company stay successful – not a reliance on 3D printers. Other reports by Taiwan media have suggested that Gou hopes to expand Foxconn by researching alternate technologies, such as cloud computing, fibre-optics and precision machinery.

Foxconn, formerly known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Company was founded by Gou in 1974 and is now is one of the world’s foremost electronics contract manufacturers, servicing companies such as Apple, Sony and Nintendo. With factories in Asia, South America and Europe, it is estimated that Foxconn is responsible for assembling around 40 per cent of all sold consumer electronic products. The company has also been wracked by several scandals in mainland China, where it has 13 factories employing over a million assembly line workers, according a Bloomberg report. From 2010 to 2012, a number of employees committed suicide at the Foxconn factories in Shenzhen, prompting human rights investigations which revealed poor working conditions.