The president of a small, high-end Taiwanese injection molder has donated $1 million to his alma mater, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, for a 3D printing and rapid prototyping lab.
Lawrence Lin, president of New Tapei City-based Grand Dynasty Industrial Co. Ltd., earned his doctorate in polymer science and plastics engineering from UMass Lowell in 1990.
The 8,500-square-foot lab, named the Lawrence Lin MakerSpace, features 3D printers, CNC machines, laser cutters and other tools to help students prototype their dreams. Catering to youthful inspiration, the facility is open 24 hours a day.
Lin made the donation with his wife, Jang-li Chang, who studied computer programming at UMass Lowell. He said he has fond memories of his time at Lowell, before he went back to Taiwan to work at GDI, which had been started by his father and older brother in the mid-1980s.
Today GDI, which specializes in rapid turnarounds on engineering plastics such as polyetheretherketone and polyetherimide, has a global customer base. Many of its products have high glass-fiber content.
"Even when I came back to Taiwan to take charge of GDI, the training I got from Lowell still supported me," he wrote in an email interview. "I feel that I owe UMass Lowell a lot."
Lin is a fervent believer that 3D printing can play a key role in prototyping parts and streamlining the toolmaking process, two keys to the future of the plastics industry worldwide. GDI uses 3D metal printing to build molds.
Lin's relationship with the university started in 1983, when he began graduate school there. In 2014, UMass Lowell gave him its Alumni Award.
Lin believes smart, environmentally friendly manufacturing is the key to overcoming what he says are the biggest threats to the industry's long-term viability: cheap molds and antiquated process management.
To help upgrade, for example, GDI is part of a private-government partnership to bring to Industry 4.0 technologies to Taiwan's industry.
Taiwan's plastics industry is small but agile, Lin said: "But since most companies are small, they can act fast. Taiwan processors can easily adapt."
Lin said his education at Lowell played a key role in helping the family-owned company make the transformation from Taiwan-focused to globally competitive.
Equipped with only a high school diploma and grit, Lin's father had moved from government worker to real-estate developer before founding GDI in 1984 with Lin's older brother.
After getting his doctorate from UMass Lowell, Lin worked in the United States for a few years before heading back home to GDI. The year was 1993 and the company had a scant 20 workers — including Lin. Its annual sales were $1 million, all domestic.
Lin set about building up the company reputation by careful attention to detail and always delivering on time. Even today, GDI eschews trade shows and makes do with a website that, until recently, hadn't been updated in 10 years, in favor of building its reputation by word-of-mouth.
The approach has worked like gangbusters. Today, GDI's bustling factories focus on making molds and manufacturing engineering plastics parts for top international customers such as Specialized, Bosch and Snap-On.
Lin briskly sums up his business philosophy: "We never went to shows and never published any information in magazines or did any publicity. We just honor our relationship with customers from our heart."
GDI's top markets are in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, with a few customers in Japan and Italy. Trade with mainland China mostly consists of servicing Chinese branches of multinationals. Taiwan represents only 1.5 percent of GDI's sales.
The company, which has 245 employees, has two facilities in New Taipei City that total 95,000 square feet.
Together, the facilities have 54 injection molding machines, including 22 all-electrics from Japanese suppliers Fanuc and Sumitomo, and 32 Taiwanese-made machines from Super Master, Jonwai and Multiplast.
New Taipei City also is home to the company's $3.8 million testing laboratory.
"Most plastic processors, they do not have strong background on the plastic materials. They mostly use common materials, and also their equipment is for regular use," Lin said.
"At GDI, we have quite a few injection machines equipped with ceramic heaters and dew point dehumidifiers in our factories, so we can work with all different type of engineering plastics," he said.
This fall, GDI will start construction on a $20 million, 67,000-square-foot facility nearby, its third manufacturing plant in Taiwan. When finished, the facility's class 100,000 clean room will house 15 machines, targeting, in part, the medical market. Production is expected to commence in early 2019.
Lin owns 60 percent of GDI, with the rest split among about 20 employees.
In 2002, the company expanded into China with a joint venture, TLC-Ningbo Plastic Co., a mold maker and processor. That venture has 250 employees.
In 2014, GDI won a top corporate social responsibility award in Taiwan for powering its offices with rooftop solar power and collecting rainwater for grading and sewage. GDI also pays staff for one day per year of charity work.