Earthenware, cast, and forged metal are three of the oldest material products in Thailand. Kitchen utensils, canon, sword, knife, etc., were found in various historical sites with the age ranging from Sukothai era (about 1260 AD). These are the evidences of knowledge and know-how of the ancestors of Thai people that transfer from generation to generation nearly without formal education. The study and research in materials science and engineering formally started about 20 years ago in Chulalongkorn University with the establishment of the Department of Metallurgical Engineering which separated from the Department of Mining Engineering and the Department of Material Sciences. Later, in order to combine the effort in these fields, the Metal and Materials Research Institute was set up as an organization to promote research and development in metal, ceramic, and polymeric materials. The Scientific Instrumentation Center of Chulalongkorn University was also set up to provide testing and inspection services for inside and outside users of the university.
In the beginning, the number of staff and students in metal and materials fields were quite low due to the low level of demand in the industrial sector. The Thailand Institute of Scientific and Technology Research (TISTR) was the only other organization under the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment (MOSTE) that provides some research works and technical services related to metals and materials.
With the funding support from the U.S. government in the year 1973, the Science and Technology Development Board (STDB) was set up as an organization to promote research and development in science and technology in Thailand. Then, in 1976, the Metal and Materials Technology Center (MTEC) was set up as one of the three national centers with the mission to raise the competitiveness of the supporting industry in Thailand through the development of metal and materials technology. The National Electronics and Computer Center (NECTEC) and the National Center for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (BIOTEC) were also set up under MOSTE to promote research and development in related fields. Later, STDB was transformed into the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) which combined the three national centers with the so-called central office as an autonomous organization under MOSTE to increase flexibility and freedom of operation.
In the Ministry of Industry (MOI), the Metal and Machinery Industry Development Institute (MIDI) was established with funding support from the Japanese government to provide technical services to metals and machinery related industries in Thailand.
To accelerate technology transfer among the industry, MIDI acted as a coordinator to set up various forums such as Foundry Forum, Mold and Dies Forum, and Electroplating Forum. The first two were transformed into societies and are very active at present.
Human Resources Development Through Scholarship Program
To alleviate the problem of lack of qualified and well-trained engineer and scientists in Thailand, MOSTE and NSTDA created a scholarship program to send students to study abroad in Europe, U.S. and Japan from bachelor to doctor degrees. The first phase of the program for 1200 students started in 1984 with focus on the three major fields of electronics as computer sciences, biotechnology, and metal and material sciences. About 60% of the graduates came back to work as researchers in the three national centers. The rest were distributed among various universities and other government organizations such as Chulalongkorn University, Chiengmai University, Mahidol University, Department of Science Services (DSS), TISTR, MIDI, etc. Those who work in the three national centers are the most active producers of research work in their own field of endeavors.
MTEC’s Role in Promoting Metal and Materials Technology in Thailand
The mission of NSTDA was stated in the Royal Decrees as the organization responsible for the promotion of research, development, design, and engineering (RDDE), human resources development (HRD), technology transfer (TT), and infrastructure development (ID). Through the history of MTEC, the activities under the mission can be divided into three phases. The first phase since 1976 emphasized on raising awareness and capability of domestic staff in the educational institution and industry. These activities consisted of:-
• funding support for RDDE
• workshop and seminar for HRD and TT
• procurement of laboratory equipment for ID
Under the guidance of the Board of Director which consisted of experts from both government and private sectors, 21 programs of technology for funding support ranging from casting, machining, mold and dies design, machine design, ceramics, polymers, to mathematical modeling were specified. Metals, ceramics, polymer, biomaterials, design and manufacturing are four major groups of target technology. There were about 30-40 research projects funded each year. Even though the outcomes of the projects did not lead to actual applications, the activities had created strong awareness and interest in various educational institutions, this resulted in the establishment of materials related curriculum in almost all of the national universities instead of the former two programs mentioned above in Chulalongkorn University.
The second phase started in 1990 when the first batch of graduates returned to work as researchers in MTEC. The activities now shifted to build up a “Network Laboratory” in the national university to strengthen the capability of university staff with the aim to create the center of excellence in specific fields which related to the needs of domestic industry. Twenty-one network laboratories were established under the three-year funding support. These network laboratories have to develop their capability, organize training program, provide technical services to the industry, and, at the same time, create relevant research projects for their own students.
The third phase started from 1999, corresponding to the government restructuring program and the introduction of “Performance Based Budgeting System”, several changes in the approach for RDDE and HRD were implemented such as:-
• Five-year strategic master plan (2002-2006) was drawn-up based on surveying results of target industries, SWOT analysis, etc.
• Transformation of “network laboratory” to “specific technology laboratory” with more focus on industrial linkage.
• Basic material sciences training courses were organized for high school science teachers and counselors for better understanding of the subjects. Mini materials science projects with the combined effort of teachers and students were funded.
Material Sciences and Technology Conference (MSAT) has been organized bi-annually since 2001 to exchange research and development information among domestic researchers.
• There were over 100 oral and poster presentations in the MSAT I.
• Industry-University Cooperative Research Center (I/U CRC) establishment similar to the ones in U.S. and Canada was planned and implementation is under negotiation.
There are five major areas of materials technology identified from the strategic master plan for RDDE activities. These are:-
• Materials technology for value-added of domestic resources.
• Materials technology for manufacturing competitiveness.
• Materials technology for the development of alternative energy.
• Materials technology for medical sciences.
• Materials technology for agricultural development.
Some of the products and processes developed under this plan are chitin-chitosan, complex shape ceramics, rubber compounds, ceramic filter, automotive hand-brake, gasohol/diesohol, fuel cell, solar cell, hydroxie apatite, dental light-cure materials, rapid prototyping for surgical operations, active packaging materials, and walking tiller tractor, etc.
Overseas collaboration is extensively pursued to leverage domestic resources, gain international acceptance, and shortened lead time for domestic technology development. Recent collaboration activities are, for example:-
• International Symposium on Alcohol Fuel (ISAF XIV) organized in Phuket, Thailand in November 2002.
• General Assembly of the APEC Network in Materials Evaluation Technology (ANMET II) organized in Bangkok, Thailand, in November 2003.
• Asian Foundry Congress (AFC 8) organized in Bangkok, Thailand organized in Bangkok, Thailand, in October 2003.
• Collaboration with the National Science Foundation (NSF), U.S., to develop I/U CRC in Thailand, exchange of researchers and information.
• Collaboration with the National Research Council (NRC), Canada, to develop fuel cell technology in Thailand.
• Collaboration with the Agency of Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), Japan, EPFL, Switzerland, and the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Thailand, to develop Nanotechnology in Thailand.
Other collaboration include KAIST and KRISS in South Korea, Baylor University in U.S., Governors’ Ethanol Coalition (GEC) and the International Committee in U.S., and a group of private sectors in Japan.
Future Development and Conclusion
To catch up with the global race toward nanotechnology, the cabinet agreed to set up Nanotechnology Center as the fourth national center under NSTDA. The first five-year plan called for the investment of US$ 25 million in term of HRD and ID. There are about 100 domestic researchers in various national universities and research organization working in nanotechnology related topics at present. Besides, clustering of domestic industry is strongly promoted with NSTDA and the three centers acting as facilitators.
In conclusion, MTEC is playing a major role in the development and strengthening of materials engineering research and education in Thailand. HRD is the key to successful and sustainable technological development especially in the materials engineering field due to the lack of human resources in the beginning of industrialization in Thailand. Scholarship scheme, RDDE support, I/U CRC, Specific Technology Laboratory, etc. are planned with the output, outcome, and impact on increasing the number of domestic scientists and engineers. However, technology transfer and commercialization of products and processes are important means to ensure sustainable support from both the public and the private sector in Thailand and overseas.
National Metal and Materials Technology Center
National Science and Technology Development Agency
114 Thailand Science Park
Klong 1, Klong Luang, Paholyothin Road
Email: [email protected]