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Metal Casting Technologies : September 2005
ASIAN OVERVIEW Importance of the Manufacturing Sector in Thailand Because some 30% of the 35 million Thai workforce is employed in agriculture Thailand is still viewed by many to be an agriculture, as well as tourist based economy. However just over 6 million people work in Thai manufacturing industry with manufactured products currently making up around 88% of the total monetary value of exports from Thailand, agricultural and seafood products contributing just 5-6%. Manufacturing industry, including castings production, has developed rapidly over the last two decades and, in spite of problems caused by the recent rapid increases in the price of oil, Thai manufacturing industry now has a higher capacity utilisation than before the 1997 financial crisis. Ongoing expansion, particularly in the automotive sector, continues to offer increasing opportunities for the further development of the Thai parts producing industry especially foundries. However, to become part of this expansion, manufacturers must continue to improve their technical competence and overall performance since there are a number of challenges to be met, including: • Increasing demands from customers in terms of quality, delivery and price. • WTO agreements and globalization affecting local parts content. • Increased competition from China, India and other emerging economies. • Rising energy and raw materials costs. • Tighter environmental regulations. In forums over the last 2 or 3 years on government policy to make Thailand the "Detroit of Asia" by 2010, a number of weaknesses have been identified, notably the lack of applied R & D, inadequate testing and metrology services, and the need to improve engineering skills and overall training. Many Thai SME manufacturing companies have improved their business by investing in better equipment and in Information Technology, and by paying much more attention to both quality and training. However, as reported two years ago , most of the industry still does not see the need to become involved in any science or technology based R & D. Industry in Thailand has grown very quickly but much of the development has resulted from technology brought in from overseas, notably through joint venture companies. Hence, in manufacturing as a whole and not just in foundries, a "materials & process R & D" culture does not yet exist. The situation is gradually improving through improved industry interaction with Thai universities and with MTEC, the National Metals & Materials Technology Centre. This short review describes some of this interchange and some of the activities in Thai foundries over the past year. Current and Developing Research and Technical Capability in Cast Metals Much of the Cast Metals and Foundry Processes research has been, and continues to be concentrated in Bangkok at King Mongkut's University of Technology, Thonburi (KMUTT) and at Chulalongkorn University. As part of its role in building up R & D capability in the metals and materials fields, some of this work at these and at other Thai universities has been fully funded by MTEC. Some examples of MTEC supported university research projects in cast metals are listed in Table 1. Many of these projects have been carried out in collaboration with research staff from MTEC and from technical departments from the Ministry of Industry. As mentioned in earlier reports [1,2] MTEC is a specialist materials centre originally set up in 1988 under NSTDA -- The National Science and Technology Development Agency. The MTEC Mission is to develop and strengthen technological capability in the materials and related sectors, including design and manufacturing, in both the public and private sectors in Thailand. The Manufacturing Design & Technology Centre (MDTC) at MTEC provides technical support and capability development for the Thai Foundry Industry via technical transfer through seminars, short courses and practical training, technical troubleshooting and information services as well as assisting in supervision of MTEC funded university research. NSTDA through MTEC continues to fund scholarships for young Thai engineers and scientists to undertake post-graduate research studies at universities overseas, notably in Japan, the UK and USA. MTEC now has a pilot plant facility at its new Science Park location just outside Bangkok to encourage small-scale development of all types of materials processing in cooperation with industry. Much of the in house cast metals work at MTEC is related to either computer- based engineering and design including modeling and simulation, and the development of databases for alloy selection or technical service/problem solving and training for foundries and die- casting shops. As part of the Foundry Master Plan  MTEC, together with the Centres of Excellence (COE) at KMUTT and Chulalongkorn Universities, has been gradually introducing CAD and Simulation to foundries to demonstrate how they can improve both yield and quality and reduce their response time to new designs. In the past many SME foundries have not even based their design and placement of feeders on simple modulus methods so there is considerable opportunity for savings. Joint venture and some other foundries use pattern plates from abroad in which the layout and filling systems need optimisation to local conditions. Many foundries are now realising the benefits of taking part in the MTEC Quality Programme and from sending staff to tailor made technical training courses run by MTEC, the Thai Foundrymen's Society, the Thai Automotive Institute and the universities. MTEC continues to run very well attended seminars on Engineering Cast Irons, Steel Castings, THAILAND PROGRESS IN CAST METALS RESEARCH IN THAILAND By Dr. John Pearce 36 www.metals.rala.com.au