A Bigger Platform for Makers and Manufacturers – the From Maker to Manufacturer Forum Documentary

On November 16, the From Maker to Manufacturer Forum was held at the Taipei Innovation City Convention Center by the Labor Affairs Department of New Taipei City Government. OpenLab Taipei founder Honki Cheng (鄭鴻旗) and Taiwan Surface Finishing Association (TSFA) Board Director Mingwu Xu (徐明武) both talked about how to help makers sell their products.

Small-scale manufacturing through online platforms

Kicking off the conversation, Cheng said that lack of information meant makers and industrial designers were sending designs through Taobao to China for small-scale manufacture. This is because Chinese websites tend to provide more information than Taiwanese websites, and, more importantly, most manufacturers in Taiwan don’t do small scale.

Taobao is a good place to find small-scale manufacturers, but wouldn’t it be better if you could do it in Taiwan? Image by Kenming Wang @flickr

According to Xu, everything new comes from something old. Taiwan’s small and medium enterprises have huge potential. The TSFA is going to build a matchmaking website where enterprises can meet makers or other potential collaborators. Makers will also be able to log in to find resources for their products, and small-scale manufacturing will also be possible in the future. “Most manufacturers won’t turn down opportunities, so makers will easily find partners on the website when they have new products,” said Xu.

Cheng suggested that manufacturers should be involved in education so that students learn about industries and can find the information they need faster. Xu responded that the TSFA had thought about starting a tourism factory, but legal complications meant they had decided to focus on their website, which will feature a forum where experts answer questions.

Next year, the TSFA will be holding a surface finishing competition open to college students, which will include initial research and development and environmental protection. No Taiwanese colleges are currently offering electroplating or surface finishing courses at the moment, so people have to come up with their own syllabus.

New opportunities for old technologies: always keep an open mind

On collaboration between manufacturers and makers, Xu said makers first have to dream big, then to look for manufacturers who might have the answers they need. Manufacturers always try to meet makers’ needs: “We have everything from aluminum and steel to semiconductors. Makers can talk with manufacturers about their new ideas and discover new opportunities in old technologies. Keep an open mind, and you’ll discover new things.”

Xu gave examples of collaborations between makers and manufacturers in other countries: “A lot of American websites allow people can share their ideas or fantasies. Manufacturers look for the ones they like and contact the creators. Today, many factories in Taiwan are being run by innovative young people, and they need new ideas to brainstorm. Our website will feature surface finishing and other types of factories.”

You can find business partners just by sharing your ideas online. Image by maxpixel

One of the manufacturers in the audience said that usually makers have no idea what kind of technologies exist at the current moment, so they’re unable to base their ideas on new technologies. This is why it would be great if there were courses to help makers generate better ideas.

“We would love to have the Department of Information Technology or the Department of Labor publish information on our website,” Xu replied. “Innovation is the only way we are going to survive. Manufacturers rely on customers, and makers rely on themselves. The government has provided us with a platform, and we’re going to try to keep it working well and share what we know. We do have courses, but they’re all within the industry. On this platform, people can get to know the manufacturers better.”

Cheng concluded: “Usually, we don’t get to see the creativity hidden inside the factories. Many people are interested in how products are manufactured. They need to learn about these technologies so they can come up with great ideas and create something powerful.”

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