Talk even briefly with L.M. Li, general manager of the Hong Kong Productivity Council's Manufacturing Technology Division, and you quickly get a sense of just how important plastics is to Hong Kong's economy, and what a crucial role that region plays in mainland China's booming plastics industry.
HKPC is a 37-year-old organization that aims to bolster the global competitiveness of companies in Hong Kong, which packs 6.85 million people into 400 square miles of land, an area about six times the size of Washington, D.C. During a June 28 visit to HKPC's office, Li quoted 2002 government statistics indicating that plastics and related industries employ about 18,000 in Hong Kong at roughly 2,700 companies, which represent about 17 percent of the firms in all of Hong Kong's manufacturing sector.
For years now much of Hong Kong's manufacturing has migrated across the water to the mainland in south China, especially the 16,500-square-mile Pearl River Delta. With 2001 gross domestic product exceeding US$100 billion, PRD is one of China's biggest economic engines and one of the world's largest manufacturing basins.
Li said industrialists in Hong Kong own at least 15,000 plastics and plastics-related companies that employ 2.5 million in the Pearl River Delta.
Hong Kong and PRD together account for 6.2 percent of all plastics processing by volume (tons processed) in Asia, which itself represents 28 percent of global production, according to Hong Kong government statistics. Hong Kong has fueled much of PRD's growth, as manufacturing for years has fled the Hong Kong islands to the lower-cost Chinese mainland, leaving Hong Kong to focus on higher-value-added functions such as management, design, finance and quality control.
HKPC and its subsidiary companies employ 600 consultants and staff, about 70 of which Li said are involved in plastics. The group - which provides services to more than 4,000 companies each year - lists a plastics technology center, a rapid prototyping technology center and a plastic machinery performance testing center among its two dozen or so centers of excellence.
In May 2001, the organization absorbed the major facilities and services of the Hong Kong Plastics Technology Centre Ltd., which was founded with both government and private funds in 1988 and had been located at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Li said HKPC - whose governing council represents managerial, labor, academic and professional interests, as well as government departments concerned with productivity issues - has an annual operating budget of HK$400 million (US$51.3 million). The group covers 60-70 percent of its expenditures via fee income from its services, and the government covers the balance.
Though Hong Kong does not produce any plastic resins, HKPC works with materials suppliers, doing everything from structural analysis and property testing to processability evaluation and defect analysis.
The group assists with the full spectrum of plastic product development and manufacture - from modeling, prototyping and quick tooling to in-mold decoration, testing and nearly all conceivable types of advanced molding technologies. Li gave an example of how the center, through aggressive product development efforts, was able to produce a Sony Corp. robot toy dog with 70 percent of the functionality at 7 percent of the original product's cost.
He also commented on advances the organization is making in the area of plastics machinery.
``We're becoming more of a machinery development center,'' Li said. ``We do a lot of mechanical and qualitative testing, and we can do benchmarking of machines,'' though he noted that the group has never promoted that service. He said the council works with at least 10 major Hong Kong-owned plastic injection machinery makers, and also has been involved in projects with plastics auxiliary equipment and specialized equipment such as micro-injection molding presses.
HKPC offers a plethora of other services, including: advising on manufacturing and management best practices, helping companies adopt international quality-management systems, assisting with ``eco-design'' to develop environmentally friendly plastic products, providing training, organizing trade missions, facilitating technology match-making and publishing plastics magazines, technical books and supplier directories.
Li said HKPC also offers companies the opportunity to join a so-called ``industrial club,'' which currently includes more than 400 plastics members. For an annual membership fee of HK$1,500 (US$192), a participating firm gets 20 hours of free consulting services, plus free directories and other benefits and discounted services such as training. Most of the participants are small plastics processing companies.
HKPC's own Web site perhaps best summarizes the organization's objectives: ``As the Hong Kong economy moves away from assembly operations to higher value-added production, a constant flow of creatively applied technology is essential if the territory is to stay ahead in competitive global markets.''