The Taiwanese Touch

Machine tool builders in Taiwan are striving to increase equipment capabilities while keeping unit prices down. Here's a report from the recent Taiwan International Machine Tool Show in Taipei.


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While walking the aisles of the Taiwan International Machine Tool Show (TIMTOS) in Taipei, it became clear to me that the island’s manufacturing environment is evolving.

For one, Taiwan’s machine tool industry is advancing. The machine tool builders I saw at the show this past March say they are focused on improving the performance, capabilities and quality of their offerings while maintaining their traditionally low unit costs. This was evident in the selection of machines featured at the show, which, I must admit, included more five-axis and turn-mill offerings than I thought I’d encounter. There was also a noticeable selection of large machines, such as horizontal boring mills and vertical turning centers geared toward big oil and aerospace applications. And in addition to integrating more advanced machining capabilities into their designs, many builders explained that they are focused on developing more energy-efficient models. Increasingly aggressive R&D programs have helped in these efforts, supported by shared research parks that have been formed for some of the machine tool builders.

Taiwan’s machine tool industry is growing, too. According to the 2011 World Machine Tool Output and Consumption Survey compiled by Modern Machine Shop publisher Gardner Publications, Taiwan now ranks sixth in total production of machine tools and fourth in machine tool exports. Approximately 75 percent of machine tools produced in Taiwan are exported. Not surprisingly, China is Taiwan’s main focus for machine exports. With last year’s signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), which aims to reduce tariffs and commercial barriers between the Chinese and Taiwanese governments, machinery exports to the Mainland are likely to increase. However, Taiwanese machine tool builders are also looking to emerging markets such as Turkey, Brazil and Russia.

The United States remains one of Taiwan’s top export markets. Many of the models installed here are private-labeled by more familiar German, Japanese or American machine tool companies. That said, some Taiwanese brands are familiar to U.S. shops. These include Feeler (Fair Friend Group), Femco, Fortune, Goodway, Johnford, Kent, Leadwell, Tongtai, YCM Americas, You Ji and others.

Taiwanese machine tool builders tend to be relatively small, family-owned businesses, but they are well-supported by the national government. This is because the government recognizes that manufacturing and machine tool building is vital to the island’s economic growth and development. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising that the president of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou, launched TIMTOS with an introductory speech and took time to walk the show and talk with various equipment manufacturers.

Like the Taiwan machine tool industry, the TIMTOS show is also evolving. It’s getting bigger. The last time a Modern Machine Shop editor attended this show was in 2005. At that time, TIMTOS occupied just the three halls at the Taiwan World Trade Center site and featured 642 exhibitors in 2,624 booths. The number of exhibitors and booths at this year’s show totaled 928 and 5,152, respectively, thanks to the addition of a new facility at the nearby Nangang site.

Still, these numbers could have been much higher. Show representatives say they could have filled 7,000 booths if they had the capacity. This is one reason why Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs is building a second facility at the Nangang site, which will offer 5,000 booths between just those two buildings. That second building at Nangang is scheduled to be completed in time for TIMTOS 2013.

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Taiwanese machine tool builders clearly have their sights set on establishing themselves as leading providers of quality equipment at respectable prices. Judging from what I encountered at TIMTOS, U.S. shops are well-served to consider what these builders have to offer when the time comes to add machining capacity. This online slide show offers examples of some of those new technologies and products on display at the 15th edition of this biennial show.

Finally, I must thank TAITRA (the Taiwan External Trade Development Council) and TAMI (the Taiwan Association of Machinery Industry), which co-hosted the show, for their helpful assistance and guidance on my trip.