TSRC has a high level of technical competence in the area of synthetic rubber and is moving towards an ever-increasing specialisation in sophisticated products.
TSRC stands for the Taiwan Synthetic Rubber Corporation, established in 1973. TSRC's head office can now be found in an imposing new building right in the centre of the capital Taipei. Its factory is located in the city of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.
More than 1000000 tonnes
The company's first synthetic material was S-B-R (styrene butadiene rubber) which remains its major product. Production capacity for this tops 100 000 tonnes in Taiwan alone, with an almost equal capacity in the People's Republic of China. TSRC added BR (butadiene rubber) to its product range in 1982. This is used mainly in the manufacture of tyres. "Fortunately we had had time to invest on the mainland before the government changed its policy," says Cary Wu. "For us it was a natural decision to locate our manufacturing facility near the customers."
In 1988 TSRC started the production of TPE (thermoplastic elastomers), mainly used in the fabrication of soles for shoes. Among customers can be listed a number of the internationally well-known sports shoe brand names.
The competition among sports shoe manufacturers is extremely tough, with factors such as design and image often counting for more than quality of the material. This is something that TSRC would like to see change. "We know that it is important to use naphthenic oils in TPE to avoid the rubber bleeding," says Dr. Otto Cheng, technical consultant at TSRC. "In my view such a matter should be a very important consideration for shoe manufacturers, but unfortunately their level of knowledge in this area is not always sufficiently high. They could use something like this in their marketing: 'No bleeding!'"
Increasing the understanding of the importance of rubber formulation for the end-user is important, he believes. Dr. Cheng would like to see, for example, seminars where suppliers of various components, manufacturers of polymers, oil, TPE, compounds and shoe manufacturers could meet and learn from each other. "It is my belief that shoe manufacturers would actually like to have better properties in their products," says Dr. Cheng. "But they don't often turn to us for advice."
Naphthenic oils right
Sports shoes are hostage to fashion like most products these days. It is vital that they can be made in exactly the colour the designer has deemed right, and equally important that the rubber used does not become discoloured by any component. This is why technical white oils are used in a number of products. These oils have an extremely low aromatic content. Since aromatics contribute to good solubility properties in oil, the good solubility properties of naphthenic molecules become extra important in technical white oils if the end result is to be a stable material. "It is absolutely clear that the choice should fall on naphthenic oils," says Dr. Cheng.
Most of TSRC's production of TPE is exported to the People's Republic of China, to where shoe manufacturers have moved most of their production. There is, of course, a risk that in time competitors to TSRC might appear on the mainland. That is why the company is beginning to reposition TPE away from shoe soles, now increasingly regarded as a simple consumer item, to high specification applications and niche markets such as adhesives, plastics and so on.
"This is going to require an increased investment in R&D to develop more products for new areas of use," says Cary Wu. "We know there are interesting products, for example hydro-treated TPE, which command a high price but also give the customer tremendous value. That's the direction we are going to move in."