14 Oct 2004
Hot Sales(HKTDC Electronic Components & Parts, Vol 04,2004)
Vol 4, 2004
GI Co uses thermoelectric cooling modules to produce 1,000 water tanks a day for sale throughout Southeast Asia
Two humble ceramic plates sandwiching a sheet of PN junction transistors form an ingenious device, which GI Co manager Philip Chiu jokingly says resembles a hamburger.
"This product has different names in different countries," he notes. "They are usually called thermoelectric cooling modules, though they are also known as micro-coolers, TE coolers (TECs) or Peltier elements."
Chiu says it is only recently that the thermoelectric cooling module has come of age, despite Frenchman Jean Peltier having first developed his Peltier theory in the 1830s.
"The Peltier effect makes it possible to produce a solid state heat-pumping device that can transfer heat from one side of a solid crystalline plate to another," Chiu explains. "A century after it was developed, the theory was used by the US for space exploration and the military, as it was only then that the technology was available to implement Peltier's theory."
The technology was used in consumer goods in the 1970s, mostly as cooling modules for car refrigerators, by which time it had also found its way to the Chinese mainland.
GI was manufacturing transistor radios in Shenzhen on the mainland in the 1980s, and Chiu recalls the day when one of his customers bought a thermoelectric cooling module from the US for US$12, a high price at that time.
The cooling module's potential was immediately evident to GI, which began manufacturing thermoelectric cooling modules under its own GI brand name in 1986 and flourished for several years.
"Then prices kept coming down as the technology became very popular in the 1990s, and we had to try hard to maintain our good quality and cut our profit margins," admits Chiu.
GI met the competition head-on by upgrading its products in order to meet the challenge of achieving a lower targeted temperature within a shorter period of time.
The company's success in meeting this challenge is evident in the fact that GI cooling modules of various sizes and dimensions sell to markets worldwide, particularly Taiwan, Europe and the US.
"The medium-sized element is most commonly sourced and is used for car refrigerators, water dispensers and dry boxes," Chiu explains. "Smaller elements are used in medical instruments and other very specialist applications like beauty surgery equipment, while the bigger elements are for industrial uses like cooling moulding machinery."
GI is capable of producing 3,000 cooling modules daily at its 10,000-square-foot mainland factory in Beijing that employs 200 workers and is equipped with high-precision machines bought from the US.
"We also use high-quality tellurium imported from Europe," Chiu notes. "Tellurium is an ideal bed for PN junctions when a hot-cold difference is required."
Product diversification has also helped GI thrive, the company having expanded into manufacturing cool-water tanks two years ago following a request from a Taiwanese customer who had sourced GI's cooling elements for water dispensers.
"We started another factory in Shenzhen to manufacture the water tanks, which are assembled by our customers at their own plants," says Chiu.
The Shenzhen factory covers an area of 8,000 square feet and employs 120 workers, who can produce 1,000 water tanks daily to meet a demand that has grown exponentially.
GI has expanded its water tank business in Southeast Asia, where it is known as a water chiller, and Chiu is confident his product's quality will enable the company to stave off competition from factories on the Chinese mainland.
"Our water tanks are made from high performance GI cooling elements and are able to cool water to a much lower temperature than our counterparts," Chiu claims. "Water is considered cold at 12 degrees Celsius on the mainland, but has to be at least 8 degrees Celsius in hotter Asian countries."
Moreover, Chiu believes GI's operating model will also work well in many developing countries. "These countries have very high import tariffs, so local companies would prefer to ship in various water dispenser parts to be assembled locally, where they can use their own brand names," he maintains.
In fact, GI's water chiller has just received approval from two buyers in Indonesia and the innovative company is currently preparing to make a cool start in this vast - and hot - market.
WRITTEN BY WINNIE HUI
Flat C, 1/F
Lippo Leighton Tower
103 Leighton Rd