the little band of engineers and executives which met in a deserted warehouse in north Taiwan on February 10 had a simple yet daunting objective: assist the country massively ramp up its output of face masks to manage the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

The 10 roughly those who were beginning a stretch of 15-hour days and fitful rest weren't experts in making masks; many knew little about any part of medical gear. Instead, they were from a clutch of device device companies making the machines which help Taiwans professional tires change. And what they were planning to accomplish would strengthen their frequently under-appreciated role inside countries economy.

within just a week the team had grown to about 40 men and women, turned the warehouse into a temporary manufacturing plant and harvested initial fruit of their labour: a mask-making machine, built from scrape. On February 16, a Sunday, a team of engineers delivered the machine to Sumeasy business, a tiny maskmaker 40km away when you look at the port town of Keelung.

We did not have any reference styles the mask device so we failed to understand what exact parts we required. We just had to attempt to figure it out one by one...Every second counted because the whole Taiwanese public was really panicking they did not have adequate masks to reside through worldwide pandemic, Winston Dai, the general manager of Taiwan Takisawa Technology, a leading detailed precision machinery maker, additionally the on-site task leader, told the Nikkei Asian Assessment.

After delivering the equipment to Sumeasy, Mr Dai and his group fine-tuned this new manufacturing line until 11pm after that went back to function. By 4am they had formulated a plan to create about 90 even more devices in less than a month. Real towards program, those devices are now ready to go.

As a result, within per month Taiwan went from making under 1.9m masks just about every day to making almost 10 times that number. From becoming reliant on China, Taiwan has become able to give millions of masks towards United States, the UK in addition to EU to simply help fight coronavirus.

That mask diplomacy, a chance for Taipei to go toe-to-toe with Beijing, is a welcome result when it comes to management of President Tsai Ing-wen. Taiwan has additionally been lauded worldwide for the efforts in tackling the pandemic. Since April 24, it had just a few hundred cases and six deaths from virus.

nevertheless the popularity of the response in addition has trained a spotlight from the resourcefulness and adaptability of Taiwans device device industry. Before very early February, when three businesses Habor Precision, Tongtai Machine & Tool and Taiwan Takisawa volunteered to help, Taiwan had simply two little surgical mask-machine producers, usually effective at making simply two devices per month. Today above 30 mask-making companies have obtained the 90 devices made by those two equipment manufacturers with the remainder device resources industry.

None of us had made or seen mask devices before. We're mostly making high-end components or machines that go into automobiles, aviation or smart phones. But we thought, they are still machines and there needs to be anything we're able to assistance with, Hsu Wen-hsien, chairman of Habor as well as the president regarding the Taiwan Machine Tool & Accessory Builders Association, informed Nikkei.

a lot was discussing Germanys so-called hidden champions a phrase coined to explain the swath of little-known family-owned outfits, frequently in niche manufacturing portions, that kind the commercial anchor of Europes export powerhouse. But whereas Germanys engineering story is well-known, Taiwans machine tool manufacturers will be the genuine concealed champions.

The trade-reliant island is happy with having processor chip and electronics manufacturing giants such Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing CoandFoxconn, vital backlinks when you look at the international technology offer string. Less detected is the fact that Taiwan can be a machine device powerhouse ranked since the worlds fifth-largest exporter with product sales of $3.6bn behind only Germany, Japan, Italy and China, based on Gardner Intelligences latest data, from 2018.

Established in 1945 with a group in main and southern Taiwan, about 2,000 organizations making accuracy machinery and components have furnished a range of industries that produce key components for armed forces tanks, oil rigs, Airbus, Boeing jets, Teslas Model 3 and Apples iPhones. The combined annual revenue of Taiwanese machinery makers has now reached NT$1tn (US$33bn) annually, business economics ministry information reveal.

Yen Jui-hsiung, chairman of Tongtai Machine & appliance, Taiwans biggest detailed machine device company by income, stated: Our power is the agility, freedom and rate to rapidly answer changes.

Those talents had been going to be tested. When machine device executives initially went to the factory of Chang Hong Machinery in Wugu District of the latest Taipei City among two mask gear producers that was asked because of the federal government to build machines in days their particular minds sank.

the business, family-owned for many years, had been based in a little steel shack with hardly room enough for 10 men and women. There is no standard running process of the machine-making, nor any categorisation or labels when it comes to components made use of. All of the knowhow was in one destination: your head regarding the owner, who was simply unwilling to share his expertise.

Thats almost objective impossible for such a small company to simply take these types of big instructions, Mr Yen said. We shook my head and understood i might have to send a crew which not just know devices but that really transformative to any or all kinds of problems.

Within days they discovered a short-term factory close by but up a hill along with no power, liquid, commodes or mobile phone signal. The Ministry of Economics ordered state-run power and telecommunications companies to create fundamental infrastructure. Machine device companies volunteered top engineers which brought toolboxes, followers, benches and other gear to start out assembling the machines.

Led by Takisawas Mr Dai, the volunteers quickly organized above 40 workstations to erect and test each part of a mask machine. They identified and labelled each of the countless components required and drafted a workflow chart and a timeline to produce each machine. Meanwhile Habors Mr Hsu lobbied even more companies to deliver staff to greatly help.

Media attention aided Mr Hsus recruitment, depicting the machine tool producers attempts as a patriotic endeavour. Grateful emails through the community poured in.

to be truthful to you, at the start, I was somewhat concerned it was not so many companies actively joining this volunteer power or giving their utmost skill, Mr Hsu said. But individuals morale was raised plus companies joined after the public, out of nowhere, began to contact us as a national group.

in the long run, 29 device device producers dispatched about 200 designers whom wound up working 40 days in a row.

As Mr Hsu pointed out, the jobs leading companies were typically competitors. Every one of these big guys compete head-to-head in typical days, he said. Nonetheless they were prepared to reserve their particular competition and work together so closely the nation. It really is a feeling of honour that I feel good becoming part of it.

This huge voluntary work doesn't disguise the truth that Taiwanese machine tool makers face trying times. The coronavirus pandemic features shuttered factories and businesses global, weakening interest in device resources. Taiwans makers have faced a ferocious cost war with China, which surpassed the island as a device tool exporter in 2017.

Taiwanese device tool manufacturers had currently taken a winner through the US-China trade dispute. They expected that an easing of tensions in January would help need collect in 2010 only for those hopes to evaporate amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Taiwans device device industry is greatly reliant on exports, stated Johnson Wang, an analyst from Taiwan Institute of Economic Research. Therefore its incredibly susceptible if global economic climates tend to be weakening. Leading businesses in Japan are cutting costs to grab more company into the downturn, while Beijing is also urging Chinese organizations to use even more neighborhood device tools to assist their domestic players offset the market slump. Taiwanese organizations are being sandwiched.

According into the Taiwan Machine Tool & Accessory Builders Association, the worth associated with islands device tool exports dropped nearly 25 percent to $553m in the first three months for this 12 months weighed against similar period in 2019, as well as the downturn is anticipated to extend at the least to Summer.

a is at its bottom...First it absolutely was the trade war, now the pandemic just tends to make things worse, said Habors Mr Hsu.

Tongtai, which provides the automobile, aviation, electronic devices along with other industries, stated business tasks had almost surface to a halt because the Covid-19 outbreak. It really is impossible for people to anticipate the business perspective for this 12 months, Mr Yen said. It appears to be like everything will undoubtedly be wear hold before the end of June. Everything depends on the containment associated with the coronavirus globally.

If the right has arrived from the outbreak, it is higher awareness of the importance of Taiwans hidden champions.

The island today realises the importance of maintaining key production abilities yourself, stated Eddie Chuo, chairman of Hiwin Technologies, a precision machinery parts maker which also took part in building brand new mask equipment.

People got always pursuing reasonable costs by going low-end production abroad, such as to China, he stated. No one had believed that a low-end item like masks could become such a strategic resource that backlinks to national safety.

Machinery may be the mom of all sectors, and device tools are the first step toward machinery. It's a relief that a tiny island like Taiwan nevertheless has the capacity.

a version of this short article was posted by the Nikkei Asian Review on April 24 2020. 2020 Nikkei Inc. All legal rights set aside.