A trip to the Taipei Plas show in Taiwan is a reminder of the big role manufacturing plays in East Asian economies.
Taiwan, with 23 million people, exported $1.26 billion worth of plastics and rubber machinery in 2014. By contrast, the United States, with 320 million people, exported $1.74 billion worth of such equipment.
Taiwan is the sixth biggest exporter of plastics and rubber machinery worldwide. It does that with a population and GDP significantly less than the top five exporters: Germany, China, Italy, Japan and the US.
Of course, Taiwan's domestic market for plastics processing is not that big, a few hundred million US dollars, but it is attracting more attention from global companies.
I wrote a story from the fair about how both Arburg and Wittmann Battenfeld have opened tech centers there in the last 15 months.
Arburg said it was drawn by Taiwan's role as the headquarters for a lot of Asian manufacturing companies, particularly contract manufacturers like Foxconn and Pegatron, which control large factories around the world and basically act as the production arm of the global electronics industry.
Arburg may not sell its machines to companies to use directly in Taiwan, but said it wants to be close to the decisions about capital investment and research priorities that will be made by Taiwan's industry.
China's largest injection machine maker, Haitian International Ltd., made a similar argument in opening its Taiwan tech center last year.
To borrow a boxing metaphor, in plastics, Taiwan punches above its weight class.
I spent several days at the Taipei Plas show, which ran from Aug. 12 to Aug. 16, seeing how Taiwan's industry was doing. The short answer: just OK.
Its plastic and rubber machinery exports dropped more than 10 percent in the last 18 months, largely because of China's slowdown, and domestic machinery demand in Taiwan fell by a similar percentage, to its lowest level since 2009.
So executives were looking for new strategies. One that was widely discussed at the show was Industry 4.0, the melding of old-line manufacturing technologies with big data and information technology.
Leaders of the industry's big trade group, the Taiwan Association of Machinery Industry, talked a lot about it during an opening day press conference, and said supporting the plastics industry's move to 4.0 is a priority.
Taiwan's industry is also preparing to spend $10 million on a new research building at its Plastics Industry Development Center, to help its plastics processing industry move more into the medical market.
The PIDC is a somewhat unique institution in the industry, with 200 researchers and staff available to work on application development across a range of industries using plastics.
We'll have more coverage from Taiwan, including its strengths and challenges adopting Industry 4.0 technology, and we'll look at how Taiwan hopes to see gains from that investment in medical plastics.
We'll also look at a Buddhist charity group's work in PET recycling and how that's helping Taiwan recycle much more of its waste (55 percent) than most countries, including the U.S., which manages 35 percent.