Taiwan’s Plastics Machinery Industry to China: It's Not You, It's Me

By: Tony Deligio 18. August 2016

Despite being separated geographically by only the Taiwan Strait, which at its narrowest point is just 100 miles wide, economically, Taiwan and China are growing further and further apart.


China is still Taiwan’s largest trading partner—its geographic proximity and deep cultural and historical ties help maintain that status—but it is being targeted less and less by Taiwan’s plastics and rubber machinery makers, as they seek new markets on their own and at the behest of their government.


Touring Taipei Plas last week on a press junket organized by show sponsors TAITRA (Taiwan External Trade Development Council) and TAMI (Taiwan Assn. of Machinery Industry), myself and other trade journalists from around the globe sat down with numerous leading Taiwanese equipment suppliers. Many boasted export rates above 90% but none said China was their top market.


The pivot away from China is detailed here, and apparent in the fact that China’s share of Taiwan plastics and rubber machinery exports has dropped from 30% in 2013 to 20% in 2015, with further shrinkage in the first half of 2016.


In its show-opening press conference, TAITRA and TAMI officials detailed the country’s outreach via TAITRA’s 60 overseas offices all around the globe, specifically acknowledging dignitaries on hand from Afghanistan and Malaysia. Even within the press group, you could see this strategy at work as I was joined by reporters from Mexico, Russia, Indonesia, India and Japan.


In 2014 when I attended the show, many Taiwanese suppliers noted that as they invested in new production facilities, they were doing so in Taiwan, after years of almost exclusively building up factories in China. This time around, many of those same companies acknowledged that China’s market is driven largely by cost, while Taiwanese machinery is increasingly marketed on higher technology. Because of this, more than a few said they had all but given up on selling into the mainland.


Earlier this year, Taiwan elected a new president—Tsai Ing-wen—its first female leader and only the second from the Democratic Progressive Party—a party openly opposed by the mainland. Tsai campaigned in part on a “Southward” policy, seeking greater business and cultural ties in Southeast Asia, and she offered some interesting insights into the shifting dynamics between the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China in this July 21, Q&A with The Washington Post:


Q: Isn’t China your No. 1 trading partner?


A: China is still our largest trading partner; however, complementarity between our economies is decreasing. We had the ability to organize a manufacturing process, and then we moved our manufacturing capability to China to make use of their labor pool. But now the situation is very different. [Chinese] labor costs are increasing, and China has their own capability.


Q: So China has become a competitor of Taiwan?


A: They are more and more our competitors.


Breaking up, as the song says, is hard to do; it will be interesting to see how "seeing other countries" is faring for Taiwan at the next Taipei Plas in 2018.


Smart Electronics for Luminous, Smart, Sustainable Clothing

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 18. August 2016


Covestro will “shine” at K 2016 showcasing an item of luminous clothing with a TPU formable film/copper laminate as key.


Our September pre-K 2016 issue includes a feature on materials and additives and you will notice that there is no shortage of new developments in those arenas. Expect to see some pretty exciting new applications showcased by most key suppliers.


One example, is Covestro, Pittsburgh, Penn., which will showcase an item of luminous clothing that utilizes light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to make it stand out, but also can also perform key functions such as protecting pedestrians and cyclists against accidents. What makes it unusual is that the LEDs are not positioned on a panel or strip, but on a piece of soft fabric.


Central to this development is an electronic system that is responsive to movements without losing its functionality. This system comprises a flexible and formable film made from a Covestro TPU. It serves as the substrate for the printed copper circuits which are arranges in a meandering pattern and can thus also be bent and stretched.


This “intelligent” technology involves the manufacture of smart circuits using the following efficient, multi-stage process:


• First, copper films are laminated onto the TPU films.


• The printed circuits are produced in a subsequent structuring operation, which reportedly features highly-effective adhesion.


• The coated films are then shaped as required using conventional thermoforming.


According to Covestro film expert Wolfgang Stenbeck, the TPU films are resistant to standard etching and imaging processes. “Formable electronic systems can be directly laminated onto textiles, as is the case of the luminous dress,” he said.


This production technology is part of various projects funded by the EU Commission, among them STELLA and TERASEL. The objective is to product 2.4-dimensional electronic circuits cost-effectively using conventional forming processes. The freely-formed components can be integrated seamlessly into energy-efficient electronic components. They can be processed using standard PCB industry equipment and are also suitable for applications with higher currents or voltages. Compared to conventional electronic components, the smart circuits offer greater design freedom and reliability while enabling more sustainable products for a variety of industries due to the reduced use of materials. Here are some exciting applications this technology offers:


• There’s a wide range of options for smart textiles, alone. In addition to fashion items, freely-formable electronic systems are already in use in underwear, where they monitor heart rate and breathing. They assist patients with therapy and help athletes monitor their training.


• TERASEL technology also enables production of modular automotive interior components in which all functions are already integrated. It boasts reduced complexity in assembly, lower costs and shorter time to market. It is also said to clear the way for new lighting concepts in automotive interiors and buildings, where designers and architects can position LEDs exactly where they are most needed.


• In consumer electronics, smart circuits are supporting the trend toward increased miniaturization of components, as they can be incorporated directly into the outer shell of products.


• Stretchable circuit board (SCB) technology for manufacturing electronic circuits was developed earlier as part of the STELLA project. This was led by the Fraunhofer Institute for reliability and Microintegration (IZM) and the Technical University of Berlin. Coated TPU films can be stretched repeatedly up to 60%, and on a one-time basis by as much as 300%.


Satellite Featuring 3D-Printed Thermoplastic Chassis to Launch into Space

By: Heather Caliendo 17. August 2016


The project is also an experiment test the viability of satellites with 3D-printed parts in the harsh environment of space.


Three satellites created by the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) will launch to the International Space Station this year where they will be deployed into orbit to explore a little understood region above Earth known as thermosphere. And here’s a component to note: one of the satellites, called UNSW-Ec0, features a chassis made entirely from 3D-printed thermoplastic.


“This region is poorly understood and hard to measure,” said Andrew Dempster, Director of Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) at University of New South Wales (UNSW). “And yet, it’s the interface between our planet and space. It’s where much of the ultraviolet and X-ray radiation from the Sun collides with the Earth, and generates auroras and potential hazards that can affect power grids and communications.”


The satellite is part of an international project known as QB50, which will see a total of 50 small satellites—known as cubesats and weighing just a kilo each—carry out the most extensive measurements ever undertaken of the region between 200 and 380 km above Earth. Each cubesat also carries other instruments with its own engineering and scientific goals. UNSW-Ec0, for example, has three other experiments: a robust computer chip designed to avoid crashing in the harsh radiation of space, as some satellites and space probes are forced to do when hit by cosmic rays; a space-borne GPS to allow satellites to cluster together in swarms; and test a super-reliable computer microkernel in the harsh radiation of space.


The UNSW-Ec0 satellite, along with the other QB50 satellites, will be launched together by an Orbital ATK Antares rocket on Dec. 30, 2016 from Wallops Island, Va.


“This is the most extensive exploration of the lower thermosphere ever, collecting measurements in the kind of detail never before tried,” said Elias Aboutanios, project leader of UNSW-Ec0 and a senior lecturer at UNSW. “The satellites will operate for 3-9 months – and may last up to a year – orbiting this little-studied region of space, before their orbits decay and they re-enter the atmosphere and burn up.”


We’ll keep an eye on this one to see if how the 3D-printed thermoplastic components fare in space. 


Non-Ortho-Phthalates Gain Ground in Flexible PVC

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 17. August 2016

Conversion to non-ortho-phthalate plasticizers expected to steadily continue.


“Health, Environmental Concerns Give Non-Phthalate Plasticizers a Push”, our August cover story, discusses how workhorse ortho-phthalate plasticizers DOP/DEHP and DINP in flexible PVC will continue to steadily be replaced by non-phthalate alternatives.


In my coverage of the broad category of non-phthalate alternatives that are getting the most play, I included DOTP (diethylehexyl terephthalate, aka DEHT). It is more accurate to say they are non-ortho-phthalates.


Our long-time industry colleague Allan Griff, consulting engineer and plastics extrusion pro, told me that there is still some unresolved confusion around ortho- and tere-phthalates, and he will be addressing this in his presentation at the upcoming SPE Vinyltec in Woodbridge, N.J. on Sept. 21. An email from Allan prompted me to blog about this both for the sake of my article’s accuracy and the fun but instructive chemistry lesson he offered as follows:


• A phthalate is based on phthalic acid, which is like a person with two hands (forget the feet right now). The type of phthalate depends on what he’s holding. If he holds two oranges, it’s “orange” phthalate. If he has two fish, it’s “fish” phthalate. And, if he has two-8-carbon chains, it’s diOctyl phthalate (di = 2, octyl = 8 like octopus) = DOP, the most common plasticizer, which can soften PVC resin for use in flexible applications. (He can in principle have different things in right and left hands, but that doesn’t happen in the real world of plasticizers.)


• Now, there are two important classes of phthalates. If the hands are close to each other, like clapping or praying, they can hold onto things together. Those are ortho-phthalates, which are the ones accused of harmful effects. However, and this is critical, if the arms stick straight out to both sides, like a welcoming gesture, they don’t work together at all. That’s a tere-phthalate, and they haven’t been considered dangerous (yet) because they don’t react like ortho-phthalates can.


Allan is referring particularly to DOTP which was first offered by Eastman Chemical as a ‘non-phthalate’ plasticizer (Eastman 168), with 168 SG (sensitive grade) version launched in 2013, a high-purity grade for medical and children products. Also that year, seeing the value of DOTP, BASF launched Palatinol DOTP, and is starting North American production of this plasticizer next year at dedicated facilities in Pasadena, Texas. It happens that this non-ortho-phthalate has experienced a nine-fold increase in consumption in North America and Europe combined, according to recent industry reports from Houston-based IHS Chemical and others. Allan makes the point that while these DOTP products are significantly different than the ortho-phthalates, they are phthalates nonetheless.


Moreover, he points to two other important connections: PET and BPA (bisphenol-A). “No-one has seriously accused this plastic (PET) of harm, other than waste of resources.” He says this might be because no-one wants to go up against the beverage industry, but also because there is a big difference: PET is a terephthalate—the kind with the arms sticking out and joining with other phthalate molecules to form a chain.  Adds Allan, “In other words, it’s the plastic itself, not an additive like DOP in PVC! Here we see the difference between a building block (monomer), which loses its identity (and reactability) as a component of a polymer chain, versus, an additive, which remains unreacted in the finished product.”


He then points out that this is where BPA fits in. “The public confuses polymer with additive. They talk about plastics with BPA ‘in it,’ but that is only PC, which is too expensive anyway for mass usage. However, the BPA anxiety has spread to other clear plastics, including PET, which chemically has nothing to do with BPA. If there is residual BPA in the PC, that is what needs to be talked about, and maybe limits even set much as the vinyl industry set limits for the carcinogenic vinyl chloride monomer back in the 70s.” 

Key Composting Standard to be Revised

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 16. August 2016

ASTM is updating standard as more and more products become certified as compostable.


The composting standard ASTM D6868, widely used by third-party certifiers and laboratories to help manufacturers make verifiable claims about their products, will be revised, according to the ASTM International Committee on Plastics (D20), W.Conshohoken, Penn.


The D6868 specification establishes the requirements for labeling of materials and products including packaging, whereby a biodegradable plastic film or coating is attached to paper or other compostable substrates—either through lamination or extrusion, and the entire product or package is designed to be composted in municipal and industrial aerobic composting facilities.


According to ASTM member Rhodes Yepsen, who serves as executive director of the Biodegradable Products Institute, BPI has tested and certified thousands of products as compostable according to D6868. “As more and more businesses and municipalities collect food scraps for composting, this is a critical standard for determining whether the products included with the food are truly compostable.” BPI is a non-profit professional association of key individuals and groups from government, industry and academia, which promotes the use and recycling of biodegradable polymer materials via composting.


The current specification does not describe the contents of the product or their performance with regards to compostability or biodegradability. In order to compost satisfactorily, the product must demonstrate each of three characteristics:


  • Proper disintegration during composting
  • Adequate levels of inherent biodegradation
  • No adverse impacts on the ability of composts to support plant growth


Currently, there is no known ISO equivalent for this standard.


In addition to businesses and municipalities that collect food scraps for composting, the revised standard is also expected to help regulators and others who specify compostable products.


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