Bernie BottensIt was never on my bucket list to go to Taiwan. But when offered the opportunity, I could hardly refuse. I love to travel. I’m in!

But it’s a long plane ride to get there. I won’t bore you with my experiences with the trip. But I must share that landing at Taipei in the evening was nothing less than total immersion a.k.a. jumping into the deep end of the pool. From the experience at customs to discovering that my luggage had not arrived with me made me realize that I was on my own and definitely a long ways from home.

I asked a customs agent how to get to Taichung. He said that I needed to take the bus or high speed rail. I hadn’t done my homework before I left home; a rare thing for me. So now I had to think on my feet. As I walked out of the terminal building, what to do next filled my mind.

My salvation was right around the last corner. As we travelers came out of the baggage area, there was a crowd on the other side of the barrier holding signs showing people’s names to alert travelers to those waiting for them. I saw my name on one of those signs. Salvation was at hand!

Furthermore, it was a two hour ride to Taichung. I did it in the back seat of a Mercedes Benz sedan. I finally got the nap that had eluded me all the way across the Pacific.

My hotel room in Taichung was amazing. Not only because the hotel itself was very nice. The room had so many wonderfully neat features that I threatened to write a travelogue post on it for my Facebook page. I haven’t done that yet but the room was really cool.

Arriving a day early had its benefits. Beyond not having my bag, it gave me a day to acclimate and get ready. My bag arrived that afternoon.

The sun came up for me the first day on Taiwan at Taichung. My 11th floor room looked out on a scene that I had never seen before. My first impressions of the area grew over the next days. Taichung is the industrial heart of Taiwan. There are big factories but there are many, many more small shops and small to medium factories. Like the weeds in my back field, they seem to sprout up anywhere and everywhere.

The streets are lined with multiple story buildings that spring up right at the street edge. Metal role-up doors with shops behind are the norm on the ground floor and cars, trucks, and millions of motor scooters line the curbs and the roads. Things look a little worn and bedraggled. But there’s so much activity that one has little time to dwell on that. The city is an industrial perpetual motion machine. This is the industrial heart of Taiwan.

We spent three days doing factory tours. We did three per day. We had lunch daily at local restaurants picked by our hosts so that we could sample the local cuisine. We traveled in a nice Volkswagen Crafter Van. Our hosts were really great. We couldn’t have asked for more.

The Taiwanese are all in on this project. We, the international press, were but a part of it. Come July 2-5, there will be a woodworking machinery show that is sponsored by the Taiwan Woodworking Machine Association and Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA). From everything that I have seen, it will be a good one.

Okay, if there was anything that they would have wanted me to put into print it would have been the previous sentence. But more than me tumbling to their wants or desires, that statement, I believe, is true on its own.

Most of the businesses that we visited were family owned. The C.E.O. is usually second generation. These businesses have gone through changes over the years. They often began simply by making woodworking machinery. But as time progressed, the first evolution usually seemed to go toward specialization. One that we visited now specializes in gang rip saws and cutoff saws. Another specializes in moulders. Another is a builder of veneering equipment. And on it goes.

The only thing that’s constant is change. So it’s not at all uncommon that the need to keep the family business healthy and moving forward compels them to constantly evolve. Flexibility gives them an advantage in world markets. We heard time and again about their ability to listen to their clients and then customize to the client’s desires while moving quickly to delivery. Current change is brought about by Mainland China’s rising and surpassing Taiwan in the export of woodworking machinery during the past 10 years. But along with the Chinese rise in industrial prowess has come a rise in expected wages. That reduces Chinese advantages in the market and increases Taiwan’s ability to compete. 

Allow me to introduce the Taiwan Woodworking Machinery Association where Taiwan factory leaders, encouraged and supported by TAITRA, gather together to combine their thoughts, ideas, and efforts. It is here that they came to understand that they are stronger together than as individuals. Herein was born the idea of combining efforts to sell specialized equipment systems that could be sold abroad to compete on the world market. They have come to face the fact that they are number four when they used to be number three.

I left Taiwan with a small soft cover publication from TWMA that lists their members and holds advertisements from the members. When I look through it my head swims. But it’s all good because I look at the equipment on page after page of pictures and imagine their uses and what can be done with them. I admit that I had no idea that some of that stuff even existed.

Moving on, there were several things that I saw or heard about on this trip that were truly very cool. The deserve mention again or, perhaps, for the first and only time.

The digital painter/printer from Anderson Group has to be top on that list. My apprenticeship and journeyman certification was gained in the trade show display industry. I understand the need for high quality graphics. This is just a further extension of that. But instead of printing onto plastic film, this product allows you to put very high quality graphics directly onto any substrate. Plus, it has three dimensional qualities. So you can do a copy of an oil painting that includes brush strokes.

Leadermac’s four sided moulder with the ability to replicate hand scraped flooring was very cool. Just yesterday I was sitting at a conference table back here at home. My eye was immediately drawn to the hand scraped/hand planed effect used on the surface of the table. It took me back to the flooring samples at Leadermac and I was making comparisons in the chatter, tear-out, and random lines on that tabletop and remembering how the moulder authentically replicated those effects.

And although I was asked not to write about this, as a wood nut living in the Northwest, home of big timber and log homes, I can’t not mention this. Let me vaguely state that I saw a system somewhere that processes raw logs into log homes. Being a fan of timber framing, I started to salivate over that one. Wow!!! Stay tuned. When the manufacturer has all of their patents in place, look out! These will make a big splash in the timber framing industry in the west and anywhere else that there’s timber for log homes. Enough said.

In conclusion, I’ve been around equipment and machinery all of my life. I can tell when something is right and when it’s not. I came away from my trip with new found respect for the quality of the work that the Taiwanese are doing and I say that from a perspective that may well be unique. This trip allowed me to see many machines spread, in pieces, all over the floor of a number of factories. I saw the bare castings that are to the frames of machines large and larger. They are massive and the machining on them is beautiful. Likewise, the parts that go onto these are well made. There are Siemens motors from Europe. There are first-rate imported products used in these that are the same as those used in the European and American machines. What do you want? Ask for it. You’ll get it.

Do your shopping. Make your decision. But don’t forget to look at what Taiwan has to offer. Here’s two links where you can start.

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