1993 / 7月
Laura Li /photos courtesy of Hsueh Chi-kuang /tr. by Christopher Hughes
Hsinchu is now world famous as Taiwan's "technology city." Its Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) and industrial park, added to the science and engineering orientated National Chiao Tung and National Tsing Hua universities, all come together to create a complete system. Manufacturing circles agree that without the ITRI Taiwan's electronics industry and industrial park would not exist today. There would not even be the Taiwan miracle and the foreign exchange reserves of which we are so proud. So how is the ITRI used?
There is a well-known saying in manufacturing circles that "technology is concealed in the human body." The highly nourished human strength of the ITRI can be said to be the main reason why it has won the faith of the country's industrialists. Among the present 5800 employees there are more than 400 holding doctorates and nearly 2000 with master's degrees, with an average age of 33. It is not only a treasure trove from which enterprises winkle out talent, but there are even parents who think of ways by which to come here in search of eligible son in-laws.
It is said that in the early 1970s the minister of economics, Sun Yun-hsuan, thought that domestic enterprises were lacking strength in research and development, so the government took a lead in establishing the ITRI. Due to fears that public-run units might take control and not let the institute have sufficient vitality, Sun created the ITRI in the form of a private foundation, drawing the directors from both the heads of the ministries of economics and finance and from the private sector.
The ITRI was formally established on July 5, 1973. At the outset it only had three laboratories and around 400 employees. After 20 years of expansion it now has seven research laboratories, for electronics, machines, materials, chemical engineering, energy and resources, photoelectrics, and computers and communications. There are also four support centers which are respectively responsible for metronomics, pollution prevention technology, industrial safety and hygiene, and aeronautical technology development.What is the ITRI doing?
Broadly speaking, the work of the ITRI can be divided into two main areas. The first is that of accepting commissions from government units (especially the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) which directs industrial technological development). This includes taking on topical special technology development projects, along with generalities such as assisting in upgrading plans for traditional industries. This kind of work is generally on a large scale, and its technical level puts it into the mid--to long-term research and development bracket (three to five years). The results are then fairly and openly transferred to businesses. After the ITRI receives a government commission, it uses a contract by which money is supplied according to the budget plans laid down for that commission. The form of a contract is used to clearly stipulate the rights and obligations of the government,the ITRI and any participating manufacturers.
In the past, special government projects were very few, at not more than three or four a year. In recent years, though, there has been an increase, with the number jumping to 34 last year. Previously all such projects were taken on by the ITRI singlehandedly and then transferred out when the research and development was completed. Now the wish is for more and more medium and large manufacturers to take part, on the one hand supplying funds for research and development and on the other learning from the process and discussing things with each other and thus arriving at more efficiency in research and development.
As well as this, in recent years Taiwan's financial strength has grown and the New Taiwan Dollar has appreciated significantly. This has led the ITRI to begin introducing technology from abroad, becoming a technological bridge between foreign high technology and domestic businesses and shortening the length of time spent on research and development. In future the institute can even extend this introduction of technology to mainland China and speed up scientific and technical cooperation between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Apart from accepting special government commissions, the other main job of the ITRI is to accept commissions from the private sector, looking at its different needs, fixing contracts and doing research and development under various headings. This kind of technology is mostly short-range and can be put on the market as soon as the manufacturer gets it. The ITRI also uses the technology it already possesses to undertake technological guidance and transfer work, for which it receives some fees for its services.
So as to allow the ITRI's research and development results to get known throughout business circles, apart from publicity meetings, research seminars, and its five service "windows" spread throughout Taiwan, each one of the laboratories has a number of technical promoters who go to all areas, just like salesmen, to promote their technology.The ITRI's results:
Still remember the musical greeting card that was all the rage for a time? That was the first little gadget fired off by the ITRI's electronics laboratory. It might have been small fry, but it did bring in no mean amount of foreign exchange. A number of other prominent Taiwanese exports, such as telephones, carbon-fibre bicycles and sunglasses are also due in large part to the sweat off the brows of the ITRI workers. Among the 34 special government projects commissioned last year, a total of 274 domestic and foreign patents have been won. That is on average a patent coming out every 1.3 days. In respect of technology transfers, the ITRI received applications from more than 200 manufacturers last year for help in supplying them with technology and teaching them how to use it.
Looking at it as a whole, there is of course still some distance between the ITRI's levels of technology and those of the advanced large manufacturers overseas, and there is still a need to strengthen its personnel. But the research and development budgets of such overseas manufacturers is terrifying. For example, Japan's Matsushita last year had a research and development budget of NT$85 billion (around US$3.2 billion). The previous budget of the ITRI was around NT$10 billion a year, which is no more than a trifling US$400 million. Yet the ITRI's topics cover every industry without exception. When speaking of the fruits of those technologies that need money to push them out, it is not surprising that there has been some impact.
"Holography," part of opto-electronics technology, can project three-dimensional type images on a screen. Used in clocks and sunglasses, the new products can be sold for many times the price of the old ones.
Greetings cards that can sing are an invention of the electronics laboratory, who have been honored as "the little soldier with great accomplishments."