As Taiwan's plastics industry has faced serious challenges in recent years from both mainland Chinese competition and the global economic crisis, its government has responded by increasing spending on plastics-related research initiatives to boost its industrial competitiveness.
Taiwan's Plastics Industry Development Center, its chief research institute for plastics, has seen its budget and staff nearly double since 2006, as government has sought ways to help what it considers traditional industries like plastics become more competitive, according to the head of the research center.
The strategy is designed to open up opportunities in higher growth areas like green energy and medical manufacturing, and generate jobs in Taiwan, PIDC President Michael Lin said in an interview at his organization's booth at the Taipei Plas show, held March 5-9 in Taipei.
PIDC, located in the central Taiwan city of Taichung, has seen its budget rise from about US$6.2 million in 2006 to US$13 million now. It has gone from about 130 employees to 190, with plans to have 220 researchers and staff by year-end, Lin said.
That has meant more work in some high-profile areas like green energy, with PIDC researchers and company partners doing projects such as developing rooftop-sized wind turbines with fiberglass-reinforced plastics, and improving the plasma coating on plastic lenses in solar-power applications.
It has also led to work in some areas that are perhaps less glamorous, but important, if job creation is the goal, such as helping the hundreds of small Taiwanese plastics firms that make industrial seals upgrade their products and target more lucrative applications, like automobiles, Lin said.
About half of PIDC's budget comes from the fees companies pay, and that spending has been growing along with government dollars.
Lin said the government portion is seen as a good way for the public sector to help Taiwan's mostly smaller companies stay competitive in product development internationally, while helping to hold down their in-house costs for activities like research and testing.
Because they are so small, they don't have enough ability to do a lot of research, Lin said. We try to get them new products and keep their costs low.
PIDC also has expanded a staff that helps companies with regulatory and standards compliance, such as ISO and European environmental regulations, from five people to 20, he said.
Lin said the Taiwanese government has decided in recent years to give more research support to traditional industries like plastics, precision machinery and bicycles, to assist them in upgrading their operations.
Taiwan has shifted some funding it previously spent on information technology industry research, and formed 10 of these old-line industries, including plastics, into a research cluster that it hopes will create jobs, according to Lin.
Employment is a huge political issue in Taiwan. Taiwanese Premier Wu Den-yih said earlier this year that he would resign if Taiwan's unemployment rate does not fall below 5 percent by the end of the year, from its current 5.68 percent. Wu made an appearance at Taipei Plas with an entourage of reporters.
For PIDC, another key research area targeted for growth and jobs creation is the health-care industry.
Lin said PIDC is part of an effort to give doctors and nurses in the hospital system for Taiwan's veterans a platform to develop their ideas, including in mold design.
The doctors and nurses, they get ideas and some have applied for patents, but they don't know what to do, Lin said
The PIDC also is working on minimally invasive surgical devices, and has assisted in developing a safety syringe design to reduce accidental needle-stick injuries.
Other work includes finding ways to better use recycled plastics in electronic products, and pushing applications in areas such as biodegradable or bio-based plastics, plastic films and wood-plastic composites.
One company PIDC is working with now has designed a PET bottle that the consumer twists when the bottle is empty, causing it to collapse and take up less space. The design is geared toward making recycling collection more efficient, Lin said.
All of the center's work has a specific focus on commercial applications, he said.
The purpose [of a project] is to commercialize, Lin said. If it is not, hey, we don't do it.
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