Known as the "Kingdom of Hand Tools," Taiwan has long been the world's major supplier of general hand tools, and now some makers on the island are taking aim at the high-end market.
With the help of industry and government-backed institutions, such as the Metal Industrial Research & Development Center and Taiwan Regional Hand Tools Association, Taiwanese hand tool makers have been upgrading to high-end and higher value-added products with ergonomic, compact, and multifunctional designs. Branding is another trend that is helping local producers separate their products from the pack.
Shifting to the High-end
One Taiwanese hand tool maker that is moving up market is Ho Cheng Garden Tools Co., Ltd. Founded in 1971 in Changhua County, central Taiwan, the company has specialized in manufacturing garden tools for more than 30 years.
Ho Cheng began with producing shears mainly on an original equipment manufacturing (OEM) basis, and it has prospered over the years by turning out low-end products at competitive prices. In today's changed competitive landscape, however, the company realizes that price alone is no longer a surefire strategy for success.
Seeing the writing on the wall, Ho Cheng has been phasing out its low-end product lines and stepping up development of advanced manufacturing technologies to sharpen its competitive edge. The company has upgraded its product lines into high-end, value-added garden tools, according to Eric Huang, manger of the company.
Today the company sells a broad line of garden tools, including hedge shears, lopping shears, by-pass pruners, by-pass lopping shears, anvils, trowels, prong cultivators, transplanters, tree pruners, rakes, hoses, and other tool kits for gardening. Over 90% of its output is exported.
A common theme across all of the company's product lines is compact size, innovative functions and effort-saving, ergonomic designs. "We do everything in house from developing, designing, and modeling to manufacturing and final processing. That way we can ensure the quality of each new product," Huang says. "Our goal is to add value to our products by turning out premium, high-end, and easy to use items."
"Our products highlight classic designs and professional functions instead of low price. It's like the difference between a Mercedes Benz and a Nissan car," Huang says. "Quality is everything. So we insist on using the best materials. We also are constantly adding new functions and design concepts. Our highly skilled and experienced workers are another competitive edge."
By focusing on the high-end market, the company has been able to tap into demanding markets such as the U.K., the U.S., France, Japan, and Germany. It is also making inroads into emerging markets, such as Russia and Poland.
Ho Cheng has patented its garden tools in the U.S. and Europe. Its products have also won national quality awards for innovative design.
Lilun Plastics Enterprise Co., Ltd. also sees the future in high-end products. The company specializes in sprinklers and related components, based on eight years of experience in manufacturing bathroom hardware and fittings.
Lilun says it has fully integrated in-house production processes, from designing and modeling to manufacturing, to handle both OEM and ODM production. The company is also applying specific technologies from its bathroom hardware line to improve conventional garden tools, says company owner Yu Ching-chih.
The company recently introduced an advanced sprinkler timer with a water regulator, a garden irrigation timer and a humidity sensor. The high-end timer has an adjustable operating time and eight different spraying patterns. It can operate for up to two years on a single 9V battery.
The timer has a reinforced waterproof housing made of acrylonitrile styrene acrulate (ASA) copolymer from Germany. The housing prevents weather-related damage to the timer, improving durability. The ASA-made cases are available in a variety of colors and have a compact design.
The sprinkler timer also has an innovative, built-in electromagnetic valve to control water supply with a response time of only 0.3-second, far faster than that of conventional models.
In conjunction with the humidity sensor the electromagnetic valve can also reduce water waste and electricity consumption. The device meets CA, RoHS, CE, UL, CPU, and NSF standards. "The electromagnetic valve took us more than one year to develop. It has helped pave the way for our entry into the high-end garden tool market," Yu says.
Since its debut, the sprinkler timer has drawn a lot of attention from buyers in the U.K., Malaysia, Italy and Chile. Lilun can turn out 30,000 units per month and welcomes orders on an OEM basis.
"Although we lack the resources for it now, branding is our goal. We are sharpening our competitive edge through constant improvement of our products."
Planet Gear Mechanism
Founded in 1991 in Taichung, Wise Center Industrial Group Inc. is specialized in developing and manufacturing a variety of gardening tools for both DIY (do-it-yourself) users and professionals, mainly offering lopping shears, hedge shears, pruners, grass shears, tree pole pruners, water pipe shears, branch pruners and saws and PVC pipe cutters, coupled with conventional and foldable ladders, sprinklers, shovels, flower scissors, rakes, step stools and related garden accessories.
While working primarily on OEM (original equipment manufacturing) and ODM (original equipment manufacturing), the company also markets its products under own brands worldwide. Over the past decades, the supplier has built solid reputations among professional buyers from North America, Europe, Japan, Australia and China. With a well-equipped production facility in Taichung Export Process Zone, and production lines across Southeast Asia, the firm is undoubtedly an industry-leading gardening tool supplier in Taiwan.
Wise Center's current achievement, particularly the steady and robust growth it has seen over the past few years given volatility of the market, can be attributed to only two factors: constant investment in R&D for truly innovative, useful and marketable products, and the implementation of various programs to enhance management efficiency and effectiveness.
It is not overstated that excellent R&D capability is Wise Center's bread and butter, reflected by various innovative tools the firm has developed, including a shear with handles having irregularly-shaped structure, which, compared to conventional oval- and round-shaped structure, has proven effective to help the handles exert a stronger cutting force with less applied force mainly due to the interaction between geometric and mechanical properties. Chairman Thomas Lin of Wise Center emphasized that handles with irregularly shaped structure generally has stronger resistance to torsion and better ductility and malleability, and features higher structural strength and lighter weight than those with structure in other shapes.
Wise Center's latest innovation is the so-called “Planet Gear” leverage mechanism, which has been applied in its bypass and anvil loppers, hedge shears and pruners. The Planet Gear is composed of a gear aligned with a track on which there is a small, rivet-like unit, to be the world's first for cutting tools and highlighted with incredible functionality.
Compared to conventional leverage mechanism, Lin said a cutting tool with the innovative Planet Gear allows twice cuts in one repetition of opening and closing the handles. The chairman explained that with the handles connecting with the rivet-like unit to control the motion, the unit moves halfway on the track to cause the jaws to open and close once when the handles are closed; and the jaws are then driven again when the handles are opened to push the unit to the end of the track.
“With the amazing feature, Planet Gear-built tools assure the twice efficiency of ordinary models,” said Lin. “You can't see such function in cutting tools by other suppliers all around the world.”
Another feature of the innovative leverage mechanism is the firmer holding and easier cutting of twigs, achieved by the jaws being closed from the outside in to cause the twigs to move inwards. This better prevents twigs, especially thick ones, from being squeezed out of the closing jaws as seen in conventional leverage mechanism, Lin stressed.
Excellent functionalities aside, Lin said that tools developed with the Planet Gear generally have a more compact, minimal exterior than competing models, mostly thanks to the mechanism having a simpler structure so that it can be built into tools without many protrusions.