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The development of the FRP industry in Taiwan (Republic of China) is very similar to that of industrialized countries. It started with the processing of FRP products in 1966, followed by the manufacturing of raw materials, and then entered the advanced composite industry through the R&D of academic and industrial research institutes.
(Published on March - April 2008 – JEC Magazine #39)
CHAO JOUE, GENERAL SECRETARY, TAIWAN COMPOSITES ASSOCIATION
The development of the Taiwanese composite industry started in 1966 with a few manufacturers. The industry now boasts 450 companies with more than 20,000 employees and sales over US$ 3 billion, offering around 1,000 products. Its annual growth rate has been 11% since 1980.
Today, 10 major research institutes and 20 universities are involved in R&D, teaching and training related to composites.
Types of FRP and composite products made in Taiwan
Table 1 illustrates the types of FRP and composite products made in Taiwan. In 2006, CCL (cloth/epoxy) products accounted for 264,730 tons, FRTP (GF/TP) for 118,700 tons, FRSP (GF/UP) for 50,200 tons, and CFRP(CF/epoxy) for 3,740 tons.
To better understand the structure of the composite industry in Taiwan, the following sections focus on raw material supply, product markets, processing, structures, and organizations in the FRP industry.
The first glass fibre manufacturers appeared in 1974 in Taiwan, about eight years after FRP production. Before that, all glass fibres were imported. Over the past few years, two manufacturers have supplied most of the production, but there are now five of them in full production, working either as licensees or joint-ventures with Owens Corning Glass Co., PPG or Nittobo to meet the market demand. The total annual glass fibre capacity has reached 260,000 tons.
Carbon fibre manufacturer Formosa Plastics Corporation was set up in 1986, with its equipment bought from Hitco (USA). From an initial capacity of 100 tons/ year, the company reached 700 tons/ year in 1998 and 2,150 tons/ year in 2005. In 2006, it expanded with the construction of a new plant capable of producing 1,700 tons/ year, and now its total capacity adds up to 3,950 tons/ year. In 2009, the company’s total capacity will reach 8,750 tons/ year.
Unsaturated polyester was the first resin introduced in Taiwan and is still the main resin used today.
The production of UP resin started in 1965 and has been growing regularly since 1975. There are 11 UP manufacturers in Taiwan, with a total production over 160,000 tons/ year. The main manufacturers are Eternal, Nan Ya and Qualipoly.
As regards vinyl ester resins, Swancor is the main local supplier and shares a large market in China and Australia. The main market for vinyl ester resins is anticorrosion applications, e.g. tanks, pipes, scrubbers and linings, and high-performance FRPs. PS-type low profile additives are commonly used in pigmented SMC/BMC, while PVAC is used in automotive and Class A SMC parts. Again, the leading manufacturer is Swancor.
Epoxy is the main matrix resin used in PCBs, tennis rackets, golf shafts, fishing rods, etc. Bisphenol A resin was introduced to Taiwan in 1980. Nan Ya is currently the main epoxy resin producer in Taiwan with a capacity of 220,000 tons/ year. The total production capacity is 350,000 tons/ year.
Although the commodity plastics market has reached a plateau, the growth rate of engineering plastics and fibre-reinforced thermoplastics (FRTP) is very high.
For the past few years, the FRTP industry has enjoyed an average growth rate of 20%. In 2006, the total consumption was 118,700 tons, including nylon, PET/PBT, ABS, PC, MPPO, PPO, and PP matrices. For the past years, about 50% of FRTP was imported but this percentage has decreased significantly thanks to the R&D of local companies.
SMC & BMC
Both SMC and BMC technologies were launched in 1977 in Taiwan. There are now 12 manufacturers in this sector. The main products are chairs, bathtubs, washers, cooling towers, electronics, electrical applications, and automotive parts. Research projects are focusing on Class A surface finishes, low profile resins, high flow properties, fast curing, etc.
Hand lay-up used to be one of the most popular processes in Taiwan. However, due to the high labour costs and the requirement for automation and highquality products, spray-up, prepregs, pultrusion, filament winding, RTM, SMC and BMC technologies have taken the lead, while hand lay-up is less than 30% in the GF/UP field.
Characteristics of the FRP industry in Taiwan
The FRP industry in Taiwan has two main characteristics: (1) most of the companies are small- or medium-sized, 50% of them having a capital investment below US$300,000, and (2) large companies have been investing US$10~20 million (sometimes even up to US$100 million) to install complete production lines covering the production of raw materials to end products. This trend is accelerating very rapidly.
Property test and design
Most testing procedures and product specifications follow the Chinese National Standard (CNS) methods, which are comparable to JIS, ASTM, DIN and ISO. The tests and quality control procedures cover physical, chemical, mechanical, electrical, and ageing testing of raw materials, additives, prepregs, laminates and end products. Non-destructive testing methods (NTD), such as acoustic emission, x-ray, ultrasonic-C scanning, thermal imaging, etc. have been utilized by R&D institutes.
In the field of design, structural analysis, fracture mechanics and CAD/CAM/CAE are becoming attractive to research institutes and the industry.
High performance composites
The fibres used by the local industry are S-glass, carbon, aramid, boron, etc. In terms of resins, modified epoxy, polyamide, PPS, PEEK, PSF, PES, PEI, and LCP were introduced in Taiwan several years ago and the demand is increasing very significantly.
New commercial products such as bicycle frames, textile parts, robot arms, etc. have been developed recently.
Since the offset of the “Boeing, Douglas purchasing project”, a special team has been created to investigate the feasibility of manufacturing aircraft parts in Taiwan. Composite materials have also been used in the secondary striation of military aircraft for many years, and new parts will be installed in the newly developed F-5E helicopter and jet fighter.
FRP and composite organisations, research institutes and their activities RP/C, ROC
Created in 1976, the Society of RP/C, R.O.C., is the largest and the most active composite society in Taiwan. Its membership consists of 200 companies and 30 individuals. Its activities include technical services to industry, coordination of the FRP industry, regulation and standardization of FRP products, promotion of new technologies, publishing a monthly newsletter and an FRP journal, etc.
Several government agencies are involved with FRPs, including: 1) the Material Science Committee of the Science and Technology Advisor Group, Executive Yuban, in charge of planning and budgeting tasks, 2) the Office of Science and Technology Advisor for the Ministry of Economic Affairs, supporting R&D projects in industrial technology, 3) the Industrial Development Bureau of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, supporting industrial product development, and 4) the National Science Council, which provides financial support to universities and research institutes for basic and applied research in composite science and technology.
A number of non-profit organizations are also active in Taiwan. For instance, the Material and Chemical Research Laboratory of the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) is conducting applied research and providing technical services.
The Chung Shan Research Institute implements defence research projects. The Centre for Composite Materials offers training courses, technical assistance to the composite industry, contract research projects with the Industrial Development Bureau and the private industry, and support to local and foreign industries. A number of conferences and seminars are sponsored by RP/C Taiwan, SPE-Taiwan Chapter, SAMPE-Taiwan Chapter, and the Chinese Materials Science Society. A polymer symposium is also held annually in the country. Scientific and technical papers have been presented at SAMPE. SPE, SPI ICCM and major journals (e.g. Polymer Engineering Science; Journal of Polymer Composites, Journal of Thermoplastic Composites, J.A.S., Journal of Composite Science and Technology, Journal of Composite Manufacturing, etc.).
Furthermore, the FRP Journal and monthly newsletters from the RP/C R.O.C., Journal of Chinese Material Science, Proceeding of the National Science Council, etc. are published periodically.
A number of international conferences have been organized in Taiwan, such as the International Composite Conferences and Exhibitions held in 1986, 1989 and 1992. The International Plastics Conference SPE was held in September 1989.
Training programmes and continuous education schemes are also provided. The Centre for Composite Materials, supported by the I.D.B. (Minister of Economic Affairs), conducts basic and advanced composite training courses and continuous educational programmes for the local FRP and composite industry. Composites are also the subject of academic research and teaching.
At present, more than 15 universities and colleges offer FRP, FRTP and composite courses. For example, the National Tsing Hua University (Hsin-Chu, Taiwan) offers more than 14 courses covering polymer chemistry, polymer physics, processing design, characterization, stress analysis, CAD/CAM, compounding and special topics. Several research projects focus on the basic and applied science and technology of composites. Graduate and postgraduate programmes are available for students. Joint research projects and training courses between universities and the industry have been very successful for the past 10 years.
Material science and technology are the foundation for the industry. Composite materials are the key component for the current and future material industry. Moreover, the applications of composite materials are expanding to almost every aspect of human life. Hence, the development of composites is strongly encouraged by the government and the industry in Taiwan. Great efforts are contributed from universities, government agencies and industries, coordinated by the RP/C Society, taking advantage of the economic growth enjoyed by Taiwan over the past years.