Taiwan: At the frontier of composites innovation

 

Focus on Taiwan
Taiwan is a strong global player in the development of advanced composite materials for a range of industries, such as sports, household goods, energy, IT products, automotive, construction and medical.

The development of the composites industry is strongly encouraged by government, with major contributions from universities, and coordination is overseen by the Taiwanese Composites Society.

 

 

Aerospace

The Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC) has a dedicated composite facility – the Taiwan Advanced Composite Centre (TACC). It acts as a hub for the company’s research and development, design, manufacturing and assembly of composite materials. Work at the facility includes parts for the Boeing 787, Bell M429 helicopter, Airbus single-aisle aircraft, Eurocopter EC-120 helicopter, Mitsubishi Regional Jet, Bombardier CSeries and the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter. Airbus selected the AIDC as tier-one supplier for composite aft belly fairings for its A320 family, to be supplied by the Taiwan Advanced Composite Center-19.

 

Sporting goods

A leading player in this industry is Topkey, who began developing bicycle frames from composites as early as the 1990s. It is now the largest carbon bike manufacturer in the world, with a capacity of 200,000 frames per year, and partnerships with some of the world’s leading cycle brands. Its focus is on sports and high-performance lightweight racing bikes. Topkey also holds a strong position in carbon composite tennis rackets. The company manufactures around a third of the world’s carbon rackets, which are used by 65% of the world’s top tennis players. Safety products such as helmets make up the third area of Topkey’s expertise in composites sporting goods.

 

Carbon fiber

Taiwan is the world’s fourth biggest producer of carbon fiber. Several internationally known Taiwanese manufacturers use carbon fiber to produce lightweight bicycles, cars, IT products and electrical components. Bicycle manufacturers such as Giant and Merida, as well as research-intensive carbon fiber manufacturers like UHT Unitech Co, have gained momentum through acquiring exclusive patented technologies.

 

Glass-reinforced fiber

30% of electronic grade glass fibers are manufactured in Taiwan. With the recent trend for increasing use of glass-reinforced fiber, producers of high-end products in the manufacturing and IT industries of Taiwan are integrating demand for glass-reinforced fiber into their product development plans. Taiwan's Formosa Plastics Group has become the leading manufacturer of glass reinforced fiber for electronics used globally, accounting for more than 20% of overall global production.

 

FRP

Taiwan is particularly strong in fiber reinforced plastics (FRP). The Taiwanese FRP industry can be traced as far back as 1966. Initially, only FRP processing was carried out, but this was quickly followed by the manufacture of raw materials and then the development of advanced composite materials, backed up by R&D conducted by both academic and industrial research institutes. In 2015 over half a million tons of FRP products were manufactured in Taiwan. The bulk of them were yachts, fishing boats, bath tubs, panels, cooling towers, tanks and sporting goods.

 

Textile composites

Taiwan is one of the foremost composite and technical textile innovators and manufacturers in the world. These highly specialized composites are used in industries ranging from the automotive industry to alternative energy, where they offer superior performance in a number of applications. Taiwan has invested considerable resources in textile technology innovation, particularly in the fields of technical fabric, nylon yarn, thermoplastic polyurethane fabric, fiberglass and carbon fabric.

 

Recent developments

Composite materials distributor Argosy International Inc. is constructing a new 2,300 sqm2 materials and manufacturing facility in Taichung City, Taiwan, to bolster its business as supplier of advanced composites to the aerospace industry in the Asia Pacific region. Located in the Taichung Duty Free Zone, the new facility will be qualified to AS9100. It will include a clean room, cutting table and freezer to process cut-to-shape composite kitted solutions for customers. The facility should be fully functional in Q4 2016 and the first products manufactured here will be carbon fiber pre-preg kits, ready to lay-up.

Construction is forging ahead on a $10 million polymer research center that marks Taiwan’s determination to target the upscale plastics market. It is being built by the Plastics Industry Development Center. When it opens in 2018, the lab, located close to the main PIDC building in Taichung, central Taiwan, will focus on high value-added items such as medical devices and lightweight car parts. Aerospace is another priority, which will create a lot of opportunities for researching innovative applications using fiber-reinforced composites.

 

Thanks to developments like these, Taiwan is further strengthening its composites industry, and in the years to come looks well placed to be an increasingly key player on the global market.

 

Written by Denzil Walton

Denzil Walton is a technical copywriter, editor and conference reporter. He has over 30 years’ experience writing on a variety of industrial and high-tech topics.

 

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