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New Hand Tool Applications Shine Promising Light to Taiwanese Makers

Jul 26, 2016 | By Steve Chuang

Digital tools are among promising growth drives for Taiwan’s hand tool industry (photo courtesy of UDN.com).Digital tools are among promising growth drives for Taiwan’s hand tool industry (photo courtesy of UDN.com).

Hand tool manufacturing has been one of Taiwan's traditional industries with strong presence in the global market for decades, and now is witnessing an ever brighter future, mostly thanks to new applications and upgraded production techniques developed jointly by local manufacturers and R&D institutes to secure sustainable development.

In an exclusive interview with CENS, Matt Yang, vice chief of the Test Technology Development Section of MIRDC's Industrial Upgrading Service Department, along with his colleagues, shed lights on the industry's current developments, as well as new applications and prospective techniques MIRDC develops to help local hand tool makers move upmarket and fend off underselling rivalry from emerging competitors in the global market.

Medical Tools
While many of Taiwan's globally known hand tool manufacturers, such as William Tools, Proxene Tools and Re-Dai Precision, are actively upgrading their built-to-order production into ODM (original design manufacturing) and shifting focus from the DIY segment to professional ones to drive the industry's overall production value, Yang believes that medical tools among other applications are showing ever stronger business potential, given that a couple of local suppliers have effectively penetrated the higher-end segment and earned trust from German buyers.

The industry's entry into the global medical tool market dates back to 2009, when MIRDC formally began joining hands with Taiwanese hand tool makers along with local veterinary clinics and a national university to form the Veterinary Surgical Instrument R&D Alliance. Following years of hard work, the alliance members have worked out some quality-approved surgical tools, including bone hammers, self centering bone holding forceps, three-prone patella bone holding forceps, lane bone holding forceps, reduction forceps with serrated jaw and ratchet lock, etc.

Yang mentioned that surgical tools are 80% similar with traditional tools in functions and exterior, and subject to U.S.'s FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulations. In light of this, MIRDC therefore invited a veterinary clinic and a university along with several top-caliber manufactures to the alliance, in efforts to take advantage of the two members' professional knowledge and feedbacks from clinical trials to help those makers develop and improve their products to perfectly meet FDA regulations.

Surgical tools are an ideal product category that the industry can rely on for sustainable development, Yang stated, because the lucrative market grows steadily and is accessible only for players with strong technological competitiveness. Furthermore, ample resources from local hospitals, universities and R&D bodies enable Taiwanese makers to easily introduce key technologies, including human factor engineering based on CAD (computer aided design) and CAE (computer aided engineering) and antibacterial coatings, into R&D and production, so as to make sure their products are complied with FDA regulations and marketable.

“With surgical tools developed by the alliance being proven marketable at home and overseas and receiving high credit from end-users, Taiwan has gradually established a solid reputation as a medical tool supplier technologically comparable with German and Japan, particularly in the segment for bone saws, in the global market,” emphasized Yang.

Additional good news for the alliance members, Yang confirmed, is that their products, especially saw blades and bone saws, showcased at MEDICA 2014, a trade fair for medical instruments held November 12-15 in Dusseldorf, Germany, captured intense attention from overseas buyers and attracted a couple of local firms interested in building long-term cooperation with the suppliers. “Mostly thanks to technological prowess displayed at this big event, a Taiwanese supplier has been in talks with a German supplier of orthopedic instrument for collective branding and promoting,” said Yang. “If the partnership is forged, Taiwan will likely enjoy a stronger presence in the global market for medical tools in the future.”

Although medical tools are contributing only a little to Taiwan's overall hand tool production for now, Yang stressed, “Such products require higher production technology and deeper know-how to produce, and can help Taiwanese makers to set apart from emerging rivals. So we are confident that our efforts to assist Taiwanese manufacturers to explore the niche market are directed right, and have gradually paid off to profit them in terms of additional revenue and reputations.”

Explosion-proof Tools for Energy and Electrical Vehicle Sectors
On another front, MIRDC has recently cooperated with a Taiwanese screwdriver maker to work out an explosion-proof screwdriver set, and Yang opines such products will become a growth propeller for Taiwan's hand tool industry amid thriving energy and electric vehicle sectors throughout the world.

Yang demonstrated a screwdriver from the set to introduce that the explosion-proof, product is certificated by the IEC 60900:2004 standards, and has lots of features that make it perfect for use in construction of power stations, repair and maintenance of electric vehicles and automation equipment with exceptional safety.

The screwdriver has an integral body composed of a specially designed tip and red-toned shaft and handle, with the shaft and handle being thoroughly plastic-coated without any crevices caused during production on the surface. Yang stressed that the exquisitely coated tip is tapered to an optimally engineered angle to avoid creating any sparks during turning, while the coasting material for the body is a special mix of different plastics that MIRDC and the said maker jointly develop for unquestionable insulation against electricity.

“Since the most important characteristics for explosion-proof tools are insulation and safety, we spent lots of time and resources studying suitable materials and engineering tip's design, in hopes of giving the best features to the screwdriver,” said Yang. He went on to say that the screwdriver set has received many inquiries from overseas buyers since released in 2014, and already been shipped to some of emerging countries where infrastructure and power station constructions are underway.

With that successful R&D case attesting to the considerable growth potential of the explosion-proof tool segment of the global market for hand tools, Yang said that MIRDC will continue assisting more Taiwanese manufacturers interested in the lucrative business to obtain related certificates, in hopes of nurturing development of such products in Taiwan's hand tool industry. “As long as eco-awareness remain a global issue to drive the energy and electric vehicles sectors, market demand for explosion-proof hand tools will continuously exist and grow all around the world for sure,” stated Yang.

The vice chief added that a few of Taiwanese suppliers have been capable of making IEC 60900:2004-certificated screwdrivers for now, including Yih Cheng Factory Co., Ltd., the island's largest supplier by shipment and the owner of Lancer, a blooming brand of screwdrivers and tool sets in the global market.

Digital Tools
With wireless communication technology fast advancing, development of digital tools in Taiwan's hand tool industry is also rife with potential.

Some of Taiwan's top-end makers, including Eclator Technology, Stand Tools and William Tools, have ventured into the segment for years, and most would agree that the trend was inaugurated by Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), a government-funded, non-profit institution specializing in development of IT (information technology) and electronic technologies, in 2007, when Industrial Development Bureau under Ministry of Economic Affairs commissioned the R&D body to carry out a three-year project designed to upgrade traditional industries of metal products.

Earlier than the project, ITRI worked out Taiwan's first homemade strain gauge-based digital spanner using improved related production methodologies with help of MIRDC in 2006. Since then, the R&D bodies have continued engaging themselves in developments of more models and related peripherals, and shared research results with local hand tool manufacturers to speed up the industry's upgrading.

Arthur Hsu, MIRDC's hand tool industry researcher, mentioned that following years of development, Taiwan-made digital tools are estimated to contribute NT$500 million (US$16.67 million) to the industry's total output in 2014, and the contribution is expected to keep growing in the coming years for a couple of reasons.

While more and more emerging rivals have begun underselling their digital tools in the global market to touch off fierce price competition, Hsu said, Taiwanese suppliers have gradually focused on niche segments, mainly car production, to explore the blue ocean. “Some have started negotiating with local carmakers for supplying digital torque wrenches for use in car assembly factories for now, and the contract negotiations are expected to be finalized soon,” he mentioned. This strategy will help them sustain profitable growth of the business amid underselling.

More notable is that, Yang added, some digital wrenches for this application have been beefed-up with Bluetooth functions not only for wireless data transmission with remote computers, but also for back-end services, including data analysis and recording, which will enable carmakers to better improve efficiency of production management.

Although admitting the segment still needs time to grow large enough to sustain insiders' profits, Yang gave another reason for his optimism about outlooks of the business by saying, “I truly believe digital tools connected with the Internet of Things (IOT) will be launched in the market within three years, and will allow data transferred and shared among carmakers, workshops and garages through the cloud, so that car repairers can provide truly needed services for different cars depending on information generated through big-data computing and further analysis and fetched from the cloud.” This, he said, will make digital tools part of the IOT and ever more popular in the future.

To explore the possible business opportunities, Yang advices Taiwanese suppliers actively step up expanding their digital tool category from wrenches to screwdrivers, hammers and other auto repair tools, and enhance cooperation with local R&D bodies and IT firms.

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