JEC Group have brought together the international community of composites leaders and executives in our Composites Circle as an unique networking opportunity to meet with both peers and future partners.
Boosted by its 25 years of nearly uninterrupted growth, extensive expertise in composite processing, and worldwide reputation in the sports & leisure industry, OEM Topkey is setting out to conquer new markets.
(Published on March - April 2008 – JEC Magazine #39)
Founded in 1980, Topkey is a world-leading original equipment manufacturer (OEM) in the composite industry, with 6000-plus employees at seven different sites in Taiwan, China and the United States and about US$150 million in turnover. The group specializes in collaborating with customers worldwide for high-tech composite applications in the sports & leisure, medical and aviation industries.
A leader in its markets
Topkey started out in sports & leisure specializing in tennis racquets, but gradually opened up successfully to other areas, such as bicycles and helmets. Eighty percent of Topkey’s business is still with the sports & leisure industry, including 40% in tennis, badminton, squash and other types of racquets, 25% in bicycles and 15% in helmets. Topkey is very well-positioned in each of these markets and works with the world’s leading brand names, e.g. Babolat, Wilson and Prince. The group produces as many as two million racquets every year, and targets the high end of the market. The racquets used by half of all the top players rated by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) are made by Topkey, which supplies about 30% of the world market. The group has been working in the bicycle market since 1992, and is known for its bicycle frames. Here again, it targets the high end of the market, thanks to its carbon expertise. The company recently developed a one-piece fork crown – a part that has always consisted of at least three different pieces. Topkey has been working in the helmet sector since 1995, producing mostly motocross and superbike helmets, but also jet, firefighting, and recreational helmets.
Topkey’s has always banked on process expertise and R&D, which is an advantage. While at first the company worked only as a subcontractor, it gradually made a name for itself as a partner, and these days, is a driving force for its customers.
In its production units, Topkey routinely uses a wide range of processes (hand layup, filament winding, vacuum bag moulding, pressure bag moulding, RTM, autoclave, table rolling, RIM, and BMC). It also works to improve these processes and adapt them so as to be on the cutting edge of technology.
Topkey even formulates its own resins and produces its own prepreg materials with fibres purchased from Formosa Plastics Corp., Mitsubishi and Toho. Its command of all the processes and materials used allows the group to prospect for new customers and markets more satisfactorily – for example, taking its carbon prepregs to the helmet sector, where injection-moulded fibreglass was the rule. Topkey makes no secret today of its determination to work with all materials so as to meet all specifications.
The company’s determination to work in high-value-added sectors is behind its diversification – in particular in the medical and aviation sectors, which account for 20% of its business today – and is a logical continuation of its strategy to harness process and materials. To reach its goal and boost its growth, Topkey is also making acquisitions, for example of American company Composite Solutions Corporation.
JEC Composites Magazine: What is driving the composite market today?
WALTER SHEN: The use of composite materials is expanding in our daily life worldwide due to their major functional advantages, such as their low weight, mechanical strength, chemical resistance (high specific strength and corrosion resistance), low maintenance, and easy design. It is safe to say that they are now attracting a lot of attention.
The composite market is driven by the need for environmental friendliness and a greener world, e.g. by participating in all kinds of renewable and alternative energy production initiatives, or by replacing metals with composites to face the issues of natural resource shortage and price inflation (the price of metals such as steel, aluminium or titanium has inflated by 300- 500%, compared to 20-30% for composites). The cost-to-performance efficiency of composite materials makes them very competitive, which will help them play a major role in promoting our quality of life.
JCM: What are the trends in the sport & leisure sector?
W. S.: The use of composite materials in sports and leisure equipment has been evolving through the development of highperformance, high-value products. Thanks to innovation and breakthroughs in material technology and industrial product design, there are many examples of how these materials have helped to successfully challenging the impossible. Despite the slowdown and stagnation in the industry, manufacturing and processing technologies and skills are still improving steadily, promoting the use of highly efficient and environmentally-friendly materials.
JCM: Which sectors are you exploring in particular?
W. S.: Topkey’s vision of composite materials and how they can contribute to renewable or alternative energy solutions while promoting environmental friendliness has led us to explore the following fields:
JCM: What is your development strategy for Topkey? Do you plan to invest?
W. S.: Topkey’s development will be structured according to the following main lines:
These two areas are currently where Topkey is putting most of its energy. In the medical equipment sector, Topkey produces cradles, headholders, extenders and accessories for all kinds of computed tomography machines. The company uses a sandwich structure consisting of carbon-fibre
skins and a foam core, a combination that offers low interference during Xray or electronic wave transmission. It also manufactures ramps for people in wheel-chairs to facilitate accessibility for the disabled. GEHC, SRI and TMSC are Topkey’s main customers in this field.
The company’s main products for the aviation sector are aircraft seating components. Phenolic resin is used to meet fire and smoke standards.
The design and manufacture of these parts take things like low weight, highstrength characteristics, and passenger safety into consideration. It also produces honeycomb interior panels and ducts for air conditioning systems. Topkey Group subsidiary CSC produces a range of composite aircraft parts that includes primary and secondary structures, as well as interior components, for customers such as Recaro Aircraft Seating, Koito Industries, Boeing, Bell Helicopter, MD Helicopter and AIDC.
Boosted by its leading position in the sports & leisure sector, Topkey has not been timid about taking up new challenges and seeking out new growth engines in the medical and aviation industries. And it is not ruling out other future possibilities, either, like proposing products under its own brand that are complementary to its customers’ products, or supplying prepreg materials to other companies.