By Yuttanant Boonyongmaneerata Martin Metznerb and Klaus Schmidb
Thailand of course is well-known for her tasty Thai foods and charming tropical beaches. The lesser-known is the fact that Thailand also houses a somewhat large surface finishing industry, comprising of thousands of plating lines and strong chains of chemical suppliers and equipment manufacturers, which firmly supports various major industries both locally and internationally including automotive, electronics, sanitary and jewelry. With supportive infrastructure and long industrial experience of job platers and in-house platers, the manufacturing activities of many of globally-known brands’ products of high surface finishing standards are being conducted in Thailand. The major surface finishing processes of focus in the country include electroplating of precious metals, zinc and zinc alloys, nickel-chrome, hard chrome, anodizing, plating on plastics, and electroless deposition.
Key drivers of TEPNET from the surface finishing industry, academics, and government agency
Nevertheless, the Thai plating industry also faces growing challenges in various fronts including human resource and processing technology. In contrast to the expansion of the industry and economy (according to Future Market Insights, compared to other regions, the electroplating markets in Asia Pacific (APEJ) have the fastest growth of 4.6 % CAGR in 2016-2026), over time less numbers of personnel are found to enter the plating industry as workforce. More importantly, skilled platers, chemists, and engineers with strong ability to design, analyze and develop processes are always increasingly in demand. On the other hand, while the Thai in-house platers are focused on special processes and process know-how behind them, the Thai job platers are generally pushed by pricing. This makes the building up of know-how difficult and serves as a barrier for developments of customized or more advanced surface finishing techniques and processes which could be required for intricate, high valued parts.
In response to the above challenges, the Thailand Electroplating Professional Network, also known as TEPNET, was developed in 2015 by Metallurgy and Materials Science Research Institute (MMRI), Chulalongkorn University, with supports from the National Science Technology and Innovation Policy Office (STI). TEPNET is essentially a triple-helix collaboration of the surface finishing industry, research institutes, and government agencies, established to increase the level of competitiveness and sustainability of electroplating industry in Thailand, and to strengthen the country’s electroplating industry as the regional leader with abilities to serve global communities with high standard. Specifically, TEPNET aims to propel developments in four areas, including:
- Capability to produce products with high quality, and with environmentally-friendly and efficient energy consumption processes
- Capability for developing and applying knowledge, technology and innovation as a basis for industrial developments
- Production of defect-free parts with competitive production costs
- Skilled workforce to enter the industry continuously
With the aforementioned goals, TEPNET has been carrying out a stream of activities to foster collaborations and the developments in various areas. Some key activities are as follows:
- Empowering of strong network
TEPNET serves as a central body that brings parties in the surface finishing community together to share visions and voice the real needs of the industry. These are then translated to the activities with real impacts. The network is actively geared forward with contributions of TEPNET triple-helix steering committee.
- Advancement in R&D
TEPNET is fostering the development of open research that would impactfully benefit the surface finishing in a large part. This activity is driven by the research & academic arm of TEPNET, comprising of MMRI, Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA), and National Metals and Materials Research Center (MTEC). With strong caliber in academic and industrial research in surface finishing, the team aims to develop both fundamental and applied research in process reliability and process improvement which can then be translated to the industry in response to the actual needs.
- Development of human resource
The research & academic arm of TEPNET is also organizing an innovative training program, namely Electroplating and Surface Finishing Technology that combines the flexibility of on-line class and hand-on practicality of in-class experience. The program is open for the industry and students with an aim to develop important skillsets for the current and future taskforce. Furthermore, the team is developing a platform that will bridge the local vocational schools and the surface finishing industry together for effective translation of knowledge and workforce.
- International hub of surface finishing
TEPNET is organizing activities to promote Thailand as one of the important hubs of surface finishing to serve international academics and industrial communities in the field. In collaboration with Reed Tradex ASEAN’s leading exhibition organizer, TEPNET organizes an annual Surface & Coatings Forum to serve as an international platform to communicate and deliver cutting edge technologies and discuss important industrial issues with wide audience. Collaborations with international experts and associations are continuously developed to promote mutual developments of all parties.
With these key activities, TEPNET is thus unique in its integration of parties from various sectors to propel the advancement of the surface finishing industry based on science, technology, research, and education. Ultimately, this would lead to the developments of production efficiency, sustainability, human resource, and collaborations. Along with Tom Yum Koong soup and Phuket island, perhaps surface finishing could be on the list of the country’s well-known soon!
Dr. Yuttanant Boonyongmaneerat is an associate professor at MMRI, Chulalongkorn University and serves as a chairman of TEPNET steering committee. A recipient of Thailand’s Young Technologist award & Young Scientist award, and MIT Technology Review’s Innovator Under 35 Singapore, and a co-author of over 60 international publications, Dr. Yuttanant has 20 years experience performing academic and industrial research in the field of surface finishing technology, and spearheads the developments of electroplating and surface finishing networks in Thailand.
Dr. Martin A. Metzner is the Head of Electroplating Department at Fraunhofer Institute IPA, a board member and vice president of Federal Association of Surface Treatment ZVO (Germany), and also serves as a lecturer at Stuttgart University and Ilmenau University. Dr. Metzner has over 20 year experience in electroplating research and development in a global stage, and utilizes his skills and experience for development of research and education programs of TEPNET.
Mr. Klaus Schmid is the Head of Electroplating Process Workgroup at Fraunhofer Institute IPA, and serves as the head of electroforming Technical Committee, Germany Society for Surface Technology DGO. Klaus Schmid has over 20 year experience in electroplating research and development in a global stage, and utilizes his skills and experience for development of research and education programs of TEPNET.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the support from National Science Technology and Innovation Policy Office (STI) for the project entitled Development of Electroplating Professional Network granted to Chulalongkorn University. The co-operation between MMRI and IPA is also supported by German Federal Ministry of Education and Research BMBF under the announcement Richtlinie zur Förderung von Konzeptions- und Vorbereitungsmaßnahmen zur Etablierung gemeinsamer Forschungspräsenzen mit Partnern in Australien, China, Indien, Indonesien, Japan, Republik Korea, Malaysia, Neuseeland, Singapur, Thailand, Vietnam with the project title Aufbau einer Forschungsstation für Energieeffizienz elektrochemische Beschichtungsprozesse und -anlagen – ECOPLATE, support code 01DP17044, project executing organisation DLR Projektträger, Bonn. The authors thank BMBF and DLR for the support.
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a Metallurgy and Materials Science Research Institute, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
b Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation, IPA, Stuttgart, Germany