TMTS 2018: The Smartification of Machine Tools

TMTS 2018 to light up the city of smart machinery – Taichung; Industrial Automation had an invitation for the preview press conference.

Mr Jui-Hsiung Yen, Chairman of TMBA, flanked by top executives of Taiwan’s machine tool industry.
  • Client

    Taiwan Machine Tool Builders' Association (TMBA)

  • Services

    Trade Association for machine tools/Trade Fairs

  • Technologies

    Trade association/Trade Fair

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Smartification may be described as the process, begun a few years ago in the wake of Industry 4.0 or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), of smart connected devices – devices that are intelligent, gather crucial data and have the ability to communicate with each other through proper interfaces. Machine tools – the mother machines that basically cut, grind, bend, shape and polish to a fine finish parts and components that help build stuff ranging from submarines, automobiles and spacecraft, and everything man-made from metals and other materials – are no exception, and are also undergoing the process of smartification.

The occasion was the Pre-Show Press Conference held recently in Taichung for promoting the Taiwan International Machine Tool Show (TMTS) 2018, to be hosted by the Taiwan Machine Tool and Accessory Builders’ Association (TMBA), coupled with visits to a few machine tool factories. The 2018 edition of the biennial event is planned on a large scale in Taichung High Speed Rail Zone from November 7th to November 11th. “The show’s chosen motto for this year is ‘Manufacture Linking • Activate the Future’. The smartification of machine tools links the industry to global smart manufacturing trends, enhances the competitiveness of end customers, and taps the capabilities of Taiwan’s smart manufacturing in an effort to provide buyers with complete solutions,” said Mr Jui-Hsiung Yen, Chairman of TMBA, addressing the trade media specially invited from 16 countries – all important markets for Taiwan’s machine tools – besides members of the Taiwan press. Mr Yen, who is also the chairman of the TTGroup, the biggest machine tools group in Taiwan, further stressed how Taiwan’s machine tool suppliers have made use of smart technologies to enhance environmental protection and energy-saving functions so that their products can meet the standards and requirements of environmental protection in the international manufacturing industry.

The machine tool industry contributes the largest share to Taiwan’s machinery sector and consists of a complete value chain system, which includes R&D, component processing and manufacturing, and even assembly, testing, sales, and after-sales service. “Occupying a global market share of 5 to 6%, Taiwan is the seventh largest machine tool producer in the world. Taiwan’s machine tool industry is export-oriented with a share of 79%, making it the fifth largest exporter of machine tools in the world,” said Mr Carl Huang, President of TMBA. The remarkable thing is Taiwan exports its machine tools to the world’s major machine tool manufacturing customers such as those from China, United States, Japan and India. In accessories like ball screws, Taiwan has become the third largest exporter in the world.

An estimated 750 companies (738 in 2016) will participate in this year’s show, which will utilise 4,300 booths, occupying a total area of 91,000 sq.m. A little over 10% of the exhibitors come from over a dozen overseas countries, including China, Germany, France, Switzerland and the US. Both the number of exhibitors and number of booths will create a new record this year – the 5th edition – in what is a less than a decade old event that started in 2010. “It is estimated that 85,000 buyers (81,487 in 2016) from domestic and overseas markets will visit this year, making it the largest machine tool show in Taiwan this year,” said Ms Elisa Li, Vice-President of TMBA. TMBA also organises purchasing conferences during TMTS by inviting international buyers and exhibitors to conduct face-to-face matchmaking meetings.

For overseas visitors – and not just end-users, but more importantly dealers and distributors – a visit to TMTS is important because up to 90% of Taiwan machine tool and accessory industry is located in the central Taiwan, especially around Taichung. It helps them touch base with their principals and suppliers, keeping them abreast with the latest developments in the field as well. Once in Taichung, within a 60 km radius, one can buy everything needed to build a quality machine. As Elisa added, “The tight connection from accessory production to machine tool assembly offers the best solution for global equipment end-users, allowing central Taiwan to become a unique cluster of machine tool industry in the world. Central Taiwan is also the largest community of automation and machinery users in the manufacturing sector.”

A gradual development

The success of Taiwan’s machine tool industry has been developed over the last 60 years by accumulating technical knowledge and expertise from foreign manufacturers, mainly from Japan but also from major machine tools builders of Europe and USA. While the early emphasis was on the domestic market, as manufacturers improved their designs and technology, they were able to dominate the market in South East Asia. After the 1980s, under the support of research institutions, the domestic machine tool industry gradually moved toward numerical control and made a significant increase in production. Since then, it has kept pace with the global developments in the sector and has built up competencies in 5-axis CNC machines, large machines for the aerospace and energy sectors, integrating additive manufacturing in hybrid models as well as developing CNC controls first to supplement the traditional controls and now, build standalone intelligent controls with global connectivity.

Realising the importance of cooperation and collaboration and making the best of limited resources, leading machine tool builders of Taiwan have resorted to forming alliances. The M-Team Alliance for example, is a collaboration of leading machine tool manufacturers like the Victor Taichung group, YCM group, Tongtai Machinery or TTGroup, Quaser, Litz and a few others who joined later. Similarly, domestic machinery companies and aerospace manufacturers have formed the A-I-M alliance for cooperation including research, development and manufacturing among aerospace industry chain. This includes A-team (aerospace companies), I-team (Intelligent R&D institutions) and M-team (Machinery manufacturers). Since close to 90% of Taiwan machine tool builders are SMEs, this is not only important but also essential to pool resources in order to face global competition. Another noteworthy point is the high importance given to R&D by the leading companies, many spending as much as 10% or even more of their annual turnover on staying competitive. Little surprise that some of the companies are also manufacturing machines for global OEMs.

But not all of Taiwan’s machine tool builders are SMEs. The Fair Friend Group (FFG), for example, incorporates 10 leading companies including a few acquired in Europe with over 100 years of machine building tradition, including well-known brands such as FEELER and MAG. In total, FFG operates 54 manufacturing plants in 10 countries, making it the world’s largest machining centre manufacturing group, according to the group.

The numbers tell a story as well. Gardner Research ranks Taiwan 7th in the world in machine tool production with annual output value USD 4.29 billion, and the 5th largest exporter in the world with annual export value of USD 3.35 billion, the figures being for the year 2017. Over half the exports are to China where the demand is for midrange products and automated manufacturing cells. The domestic consumption of machine tools in Taiwan at USD 1.78 billion in 2017 ranked 9th in the world, while annual import value was USD 840 million, leaving the country with a huge trade surplus. The main user industries for Taiwan machine tools are automobiles and aerospace, followed by energy, electronic goods, medical equipment as well as precision moulds.

Like Germany, Taiwan has an excellent tradition of high level cooperation and coordination between the industry and academia as well as active support from the government. In fact TMBA acts as a communication bridge for government, industry, academia and research bodies, and continuously provides an integration platform of industry-academy cooperation at major exhibitions, domestic and international exhibitions. All major machine tool builders also help engineering institutes by donating equipment and money, and provide apprentice programmes. Some companies like FEMCO also sponsor foreign students to study at universities in Taiwan, including some from India. For a small country with limited human resources, it is a good investment in building a human resource base for its marketing activities worldwide.

The future is intelligent machines

The Government of Taiwan has assigned Taichung as the capital of intelligent machinery, and set the intelligent machinery as one of the top five star industries which is going to be promoted. “The global manufacturing industry is gradually putting intelligent factors in the overall manufacturing process, thereby enabling the manufacturing system (including the single enterprise and the whole supply chain) to choose the proper and efficient methods to complete the work or to adequately handle unexpected situations at the right time,” says Yen.

In addition to changing the manufacturing system and product manufacturing process, the move will result in the development of new mechanical systems and related hardware/software required for the new manufacturing system (intelligent manufacturing), especially the level of intelligence of production equipment (such as CNC machine for metal processing) will become an important indicator for global equipment suppliers to enhance the competitiveness of their products.

Today, machine tools made in Taiwan have excellent competitiveness on quality and price front. Use of intelligent technology, e.g., flutter suppression, thermal compensation, anti-collision and real-time remote monitoring and production process management, has improved the functionality and efficiency. Besides better design with effective space utilisation and aesthetics, automation is a key differentiator. The use of robotic arms has increased the proportion of unmanned production. Design of the communication interface between the machines themselves and between the machine and peripheral automation facilities have become the current focus of automation development. 

Like other top global manufacturers, Taiwan made machine tool makers today have the capability to use their solid information and communication technology (ICT), coupled with mobile devices such as smart phones/tablets, to provide smart functions such as remote management and monitoring to end users. Also, various industrial sectors can store, process, and analyse sensor data collected from factory machines or equipment through the cloud system (National IIoT PaaS – NIP), and further provide service designs that will act for smart solutions in the market.

India is an important market for Taiwan and a growing one with increasing engagement for cooperation between the two governments in the wake of the Make in India initiative. But with a strong base for quality mid range machine tools in recent years, India is not an easy market, a fact acknowledged by most manufacturers in Taiwan.

(Associate editor Milton D’Silva was in Taiwan on invitation from the TMBA. This report has been compiled using inputs from the organisers)


Photo 1: Mr Jui-Hsiung Yen, Chairman of TMBA, flanked by top executives of Taiwan’s machine tool industry.

Photo 2: (L-R) Mr Jui-Hsiung Yen, Mr Carl Huang and Ms Elisa Li.

Photo 3: Visitors throng the venue during the 2016 edition of TMTS.

Photo 4: Holding discussions with overseas visitors at a booth.