State-owned Taiyuan Iron and Steel (Group) Co plans to mass-produce ballpoint pen tips and replace imports in two years, company officials said on Tuesday.
The group has spent five years on research and development to acquire the technology, ending a long-term Chinese reliance on imported pen tips.
Without this technology, China's pen manufacturers, which produce 38 billion ballpoint pens per year, have had to purchase the crucial component from overseas markets, costing the industry $17.3 million a year, according to the China National Light Industry Council.
"It will be one of our characteristic products in the long run, and we will try more materials for tips of ballpoint pens to remain competitive," said Li Jianmin, director of TISCO's research and development center.
Wang Huimian, TISCO's senior engineer, said the company will invest more financial resources and manpower to develop next-generation ballpoint pen tips in an environmentally friendly way to further compete with rivals in Japan and Switzerland.
"If these real economy-related factors are underdeveloped, its core competitiveness won't be strong," said Wang.
The pen tip issue was first brought into the spotlight by Premier Li Keqiang in January last year, offering an insight into a major issue confronting Chinese manufacturers — weak competitiveness in core technology.
Making such products requires high-precision machinery and ultra-thin steel plates. Special microelements must be added to liquid steel to make a quality tip that can write continually for at least 800 meters.
Eager to enhance its earning ability, the company announced that it plans to produce 10.5 million metric tons of steel this year, including 4.5 million stainless steel products.
Zhao Ying, a researcher at the Institute of Industrial Economics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, said State-owned enterprises will no longer just carry out industrial reshuffling, resource streamlining and cutting of excessive production capacity.
"All these elements can be reached only through long-term investment and incremental development," he said.