It's Hot, but Cool - A Tour of Taiwanese Machine Tool Manufacturers

Originally titled 'It's Hot, but Cool'

Here's a personal look at several machine tool manufacturers in Taiwan, based on a tour sponsored by TAITRA.

Life is about growing and improving and getting better.
— Conor McGregor

At the end of June, I packed my bags and left for the island formerly known as Formosa. I was invited to take part in a press tour sponsored by the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA). Along with 11 other editors from around the world, I was provided an in-depth look at some of the top machine tool manufacturers in Taiwan.

Although the long flights to and from Taiwan (including complications along the way) were quite tiring and uninspiring, this first-timer’s experiences in this growing manufacturing hub were anything but boring. Unrelated to the weather, the country’s machine tool industry is heating up, and the 10 companies we visited are representative of the positive results we can continue to expect from Taiwan’s manufacturing industry.

I left on a Saturday, a 6:30 a.m. flight. I was scheduled to arrive in Taipei, after two connections and a full 24 hours of travel, at 6:30 p.m. Sunday (Taiwan is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time). Instead, a delayed connection left me stuck in San Francisco for an extra 24 hours. I arrived Monday evening, missing the first day of events and scrambling to catch up with the tour, which had already traveled down to Taichung.

The temperature was scorching in Taiwan (approaching 95 degrees each day), and although we didn’t see much rain throughout the week, the humidity was unbearably high. But we didn’t let the uncomfortable weather slow us down. On Tuesday, we visited three different machine tool builders, and two more each day after, Wednesday through Friday. Friday evening, we rode the high-speed rail back from Tainan City, in the southern part of the country, to Taipei, on the northern tip—200 miles in an hour and 45 minutes. One night in Taipei and a flight out at a reasonable time Saturday morning got me home 24 hours later (Saturday night in Cincinnati).

One of the cool things I observed in the factories of Taiwan is their immense pride in their jobs, their companies and their country. Plant floor workers not only were knowledgeable about the products they were building, but seemed genuinely excited about the level of quality they feel goes into them. Our guides at each company, typically plant managers of some kind, touted their companies’ commitment to research and development and technological advancement (much attention is given to meeting Industry 4.0 design principles, for instance). Company administrators were quick to point out how their companies fit in with Taiwan’s overall growth in the worldwide machine tool arena. More than 80 percent of Taiwan’s machine tool production is exported, so how their products are accepted outside the country is paramount to their success.

But it’s not all about the latest technology. Much of the foundation of Taiwan’s machine tool industry, much like anywhere else, is based on the knowledge of those well established in the job. Many of the companies have long-standing apprenticeship programs that continue to grow to help alleviate labor shortage issues, and the basis of these programs is to begin the transfer of knowledge from the older generation to those new in the industry.

Hand scraping is a traditional skill in which almost every one of the plants we visited is continuing to train employees. It seems counterintuitive to me that an automated, mechanical process can’t do this work more effectively. But as with many other machine tool builders throughout the world, these companies feel that the process is critical for delivering the geometrical precision of mated surfaces to maintain machining accuracy. And they made sure we saw it being performed.

The trip was a great experience for me. It gave me a new perspective on such a large contributor to the world’s machine tool industry, and I now have a much clearer understanding of the potential for growth there.

Our September issue also features a Special Report that further breaks down my observations from the trip, including a short review of each company we visited. You’ve likely heard of many of these companies, and if you haven’t, stay tuned. They’re on their way! 

Editor Pick

Manufacturing Continues to Advance in Taiwan

Taiwan’s machine tool industry has been playing a significant (and growing) role in the global market for quite a while. The country is the fifth largest machine tool exporter, shipping out as much as 80 percent of its production (about $4 billion annually) to 138 countries.