HIWIN Introduces First Taiwan-Designed Wafer Take-off Robot

HIWIN Introduces First Taiwan-Designed Wafer Take-off Robot
HIWIN Technologies Corp., Taiwan`s largest manufacturer of linear mechanical transmission components, has made a breakthrough in the field of robots. The company`s president, Eric Y.T. Chuo, announced on Jan. 4 that HIWIN had developed the island`s first wafer take-off robot in cooperation with the WIN Semiconductors Corp.

The two companies have agreed to form a closer union to develop automated production equipment for the robots, which WIN executives say have passed certification and are already rolling off the company`s production lines.

This is big news for Taiwan industry, because in the past wafer take-off robots had to be imported at a cost of more than US$200,000 each. The HIWIN products are only one-fourth the cost of imported robots, according to the WIN sources.

WIN Semiconductors was founded in Oct. 1999 to operate the world`s first pure-plan six-inch GaAs (gallium arsenide) foundry designed to fill the growing demand for low-cost manufacturing of high-speed, high-quality GaAs monolithic microwave ICs (MMICs) and radio frequency ICs (RFICs). WIN offers dedicated foundry services to design houses and integrated device manufacturer (IDM) partners, and supplies HBT and pHEMT MMIC fabrication to IC manufacturers all over the world.

WIN vice president Hua Chang-huang notes that the local production of the new robots will help improve the operating climate for wafer manufacturing facilities, which in the past had to rely on manual operation to remove the finished wafers. Now, with HIWIN`s robots, this can be done automatically.

Hua reports that his company will integrate transmission component technology developed by HIWIN with linear motor technology developed by a HIWIN subsidiary, HIWIN Microsystems Inc., to develop a multi-stack machine capable of more than three manufacturing processes.

Switching Focus

HIWIN`s Chuo notes that there are far fewer telecommunications IC manufacturers in the world than there are IC wafer foundries, which means that manufacturers currently focus on products used in IC wafer plants.

Over the past several years, leading manufacturers of production equipment for telecom ICs, including Applied Materials Corp. of the United States and Tokyo Electronics of Japan, have been gradually switching to the production of liquid crystal display (LCD) panel manufacturing equipment to meet the demand from the fast-growing LCD industry.

HIWIN itself specializes in the development and production of ball screws and linear guideways, which it markets worldwide under its own "HIWIN" brand. It also produces system and sub-system components, industrial robots, and a variety of machine tools, and has set up subsidiaries or R&D centers in the U.S., Japan, Germany, and Russia. Consolidated global sales for 2006 reached NT$6 billion (US$184.61 million at NT$32.5:US$1).

WIN Semiconductors, whose chairman Chen Chin-tsai also serves as vice chairman of HIWIN, chalked up NT$1.5 billion (US$46.15 million) in sales in 2006, up 55% from the year before, and expects a further 50% growth this year. The company hopes to list on Taiwan`s over-the-counter market by the end of 2007.

HIWIN is not the only company in Taiwan that is interested in developing industrial robots; others, too, are working with government agencies and research institutions in this area. In fact, the Taiwan Robot Industry Development Association will be inaugurated on Mar. 8 with strong support from the Taiwan Association of Machinery Industry (TAMI) and participation by the governmental, academic, and industrial sectors. The infant association will sponsor a robot competition at the 2007 Taipei International Machine Tool Show (TITMOS), which will be held on Mar. 12-17 at the Taipei World Trade Center.

Catching Up With Japan

HIWIN`s Chuo, who has been elected chairman of the robot association, says that he developed a vision of the comprehensive application of robots in multi-stack machine tools while visiting the Japan International Machine Tool Fair (JIMTOF) in Tokyo at the beginning of last November. He noted the rapid development of robots in Japan, and believes that Taiwan should follow suit.

Members of the robot association`s preparatory committee include HIWIN Technologies, Thunder Tiger Corp., Mirle Automation Corp., Taiwan Shin Kong Security Co., Gallant Precision Machining Co., BenQ Corp., Pou Yuen Technology Corp., Teco Electric and Machinery Col, Pihsiang Machinery Mfg. Co., First International Computer Inc., Micro-Star International Co., ACE Pillar Co., GSharp Corp., Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology, Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), Precision Machinery Research and Development Center, and Metal Industries Research & Development Center.

This membership reflects strong backing for robot development from such peripheral industries as information technology, telecommunications, image display, semiconductors, electrical machinery, materials, precision machinery, medical equipment, and services.

Chang Tsan-hui, head of the Intelligent Robotics Technology Division of ITRI`s Mechanical Industry Research Laboratories, reports that his unit has already cooperated with Taiwan Shin Kong Security in the development of household robots, the first results of which, a prototype, is now serving as a guide in the day and a security guard at night at the Kaohsiung Science Technology Museum.

The first robot designed in Taiwan specifically to serve as a guide made its debut last November at the second R&D office of the government-backed Precision Machinery Research and Development Center (PMC) in Taichung. This prototype, which incorporates electrical engineering, automation control, electromechanical integration, and model design technologies, was developed by the PMC with cooperation from National Chiao Tung University, National Chung Hsing University, National Changhua University of Education, National Yunlin University of Science and Technology, and Da Yeh University.

More Testing and Improvement

The prototype will be subject to a second phase of testing at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Art in the middle of this year, and further improvements will be made. PMC expects it to go into mass production no sooner than early 2009.

H.Y. Chang, project manager of PMC`s robot design panel, says that the center set aside NT$12 million (US$369,230) to fund the domestic development of intelligent robots in 2006, and that another NT$12 million will be provided this year. Critical technologies, he comments, are image and voice recognition. The robots will use either lasers or the global positioning system (GPS) for navigation, depending on whether they operate indoors or out.

Taiwan`s robot industry is still in the incipient stage of development. However, numerous colleges have organized robot demonstrations and competitions to encourage innovation, and in the middle of last year Teco held its first annual creative robot contests.

Still, the island`s robot industry has already achieved a substantial scale; production value reached NT$20 billion (US$615.38 million) in 2005, mostly from the development of automation applications as well as entertainment and industrial products. Manufacturers in the field are concentrated in northern Taiwan and focus on the development of robotic arms, four-axis robots, system integration, and the provision of value-added services.

There is plenty of potential for further development; TAMI reports that the global industrial-robot industry has grown at an annual clip of more than 20% since 2003, and that its production value is forecast to reach NT$250 billion (US$7.69 billion) in 2015. (Jan. 2007)

(by Ben Shen)
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