Construction is forging ahead on $10 million medical polymer research centre that’s the latest sign of Taiwan’s determination to target the upscale plastics market.

While China and Southeast Asia will continue to churn out commodity products, Taiwanese processors can focus on high-end offerings like medical devices and lightweight car parts.

“We don’t make regular plastic bags and water buckets, things like that. They’re too low value. So we go for high value-added items,” said Zen-Wen Chiou, vice president of the Plastics Industry Development Centre, which is building the new lab.

When it opens in 2018, the lab, a half-block from the main PIDC building in Taichung, central Taiwan, will focus on device design.

“In Taiwan, we still don’t have the capability to design or develop the new polymer materials for medical use,” Chiou said. “Those materials need to pass regulations, and that will take a very long time.”

The centre aims to bring together traditional polymer engineers with experts in human anatomy, hospitals and medical regulations from the Taichung area’s hospitals and medical schools.

Private industry will be able to access the centre’s pricey equipment, too. “It will be an open laboratory that industry researchers can come and use,” Chiou said.

PIDC eschews the theoretical approach of Germany’s famed Institute of Plastics Processing (IKV) at RWTH Aachen University. Instead, the more pragmatic approach here is to work on products that can ship to market in a few years.

Currently, thermoplastics for automotive and aerospace applications are key areas of research. Aerospace, especially, is a high priority for Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, who took office in May.

“That’s created a lot of opportunities for plastics applications, especially fibre reinforced composites and advanced materials,” said Chiou.

The medical polymers lab will join Taiwan’s two other research centres for medical devices. One focuses on electrical devices such as CT scans and holograms, while another is developing metal surgical tools.