Polyplastics Technical Solution Center
Polyplastics is a joint venture between Daicel Polymer Ltd. (55 %) and the US-based Tekona Inc. (of the Hoechst Group, 45 %), and is a manufacturer of resin material for engineering plastics (high performance plastics used in automobiles and consumer electronics). The company has the world's largest factory used to manufacture POM (polyoxymethylene) and boasts the highest market share in Japan at 60 %, in addition to PBT (polybutylene terephthalate).
While Polyplastics manufactures and sells resin, its Technical Solution Center is responsible for technical support of resin products developed and manufactured by the company's customers. The company initially created a center in Japan (located in Fuji) and secured a domestic top market share through its technical support. In recent years, it has expanded overseas into China (Shanghai) and Taiwan (Kaohsiung), and, in 2008, into Thailand within NSTDA's MTEC. As ASEAN and, in particular, Thailand becomes the center for automobile manufacturing, Technical Solution Center provides technical support in manufacturing and defect analysis to “molders” who are subcontracted by the automakers.
The quality of high-performance plastic parts is dependent on the characteristics of the plastic material as well as the product design, molding equipment, and the settings of the equipment. Thus, the role of the Technical Solution Center is a fourstep process of material selection, product and mold design, molding, and molded product analysis, where the two latter steps are focused in Thailand. When customers have issues, the center performs a defect analysis (for example, an analysis of impurities that may have been mixed into the plastic) and cross-section analysis to determine the cause of the defect and offer advice. It sometimes goes on-site to confirm the molding process and make suggestions for improvements.
At present, many Japanese automakers including Toyota and Honda have development centers in the Bangkok vicinity. The large parts supplier Denso also established a development center, using it to work with automakers on local development projects. As auto design and development procedures previously done in Japan are transferred to Thailand, Polyplastics deems it important to build relationships through its technical support during product development, so that its materials can be used. In the future, it will need to support processes such as material selection and product and mold design through computer-aided engineering.
The three key benefits of creating a center within NSTDA's MTEC are as follows: (1) information, (2) personnel, and (3) equipment. In regards to information, Polyplastics can detect development needs of the nation and customers through its NSTDA contacts and develop ways to roll out its business in foreign markets. For technical information, the company is in an environment where it can easily interact with advanced technologies sponsored by the NSTDA. Regarding personnel, the company can expect to gain motivation in technical matters by working with NSTDA staff. In addition, one can expect a stable pool of employees because the NSTDA's image (i.e., an elite organization with many PhDs) and geographical benefits (short commute times and Bangkok vicinity location) make it easy to attract quality workers. In regard to equipment, private firms can borrow low-usage but expensive equipment such as molding and measuring equipment. The NSTDA also has large conference rooms, which Polyplastics is considering using for the company-sponsored seminars. However, according to the director of the center, these merits “cannot be realized by simply creating a center within NSTDA's MTEC. It is important to build good relationships with the NSTDA's research center and to closely share information with them” (from an April 2010 interview).
There are merits for MTEC as well. By working with Polyplastics, MTEC can gain technical expertise about industrial applications for high-performance chemical materials. Polyplastics provides opportunities for internships in its Japanese technical centers to NSTDA employees, providing a valuable opportunity for NSTDA researchers to learn about the industrialization of the center's technology.