Automated assembly technologies specialist Universal Instruments Corp (UMC), once a maker of safety pins in the United States, has fastened its Asian expansion plans to the steady growth of China's electronics manufacturing market. The New York-based firm recently stepped up efforts to tailor its advanced assembly machines and software to the needs of consumer electronics goods producers on the mainland. That initiative followed its opening last May of a US$1 million, 6,000-square-foot technology research and training facility in the city of Suzhou, in Jiangsu, east of Shanghai. Senior officials said UIC, a subsidiary of industrial products maker Dover Corp, was also on track to expanding its 8,000 sq ft manufacturing plant in Shenzhen to 100,000 sq ft this year. Financial commitments were not disclosed. Those investments were expected to bolster the company's competitiveness against main rivals Matsushita Electric Industrial and Fuji Heavy Industries in the supply of automated electronic assembly hardware and software to the mainland's consumer electronics manufacturing sector. UIC China/Hong Kong general manager Ong Kay Huat said: 'We've projected around 40 per cent of our global activities - from sales and marketing to design and manufacture - will be located in Asia, with China playing a pivotal role.' He said recent market projections found the mainland's demand for automated electronic assembly technologies totalled US$2 billion a year, despite the economic slowdown worldwide. 'While our business involves supplying assembly equipment and technologies to high-end electronics and semiconductor manufacturers, we are striving to crack the mid-range consumer electronics manufacturing market which promises plenty of steady growth ahead,' he said. Research firm Gartner estimated that, out of the top 100 domestic electronics companies in China, 31 manufactured communications electronics products, 28 produced consumer electronics goods and 24 made data-processing products. Recent official data reported in China found the mainland information technology sector attracted US$5.1 billion in foreign direct investments, about 15 per cent of the country's projected annual total, during the first eight months of this year. Mr Ong said UIC's more aggressive focus on the consumer electronics manufacturing sector stemmed from the mainland's transformation into a leading global manufacturer and exporter of mobile phones, DVD players, colour televisions and other popular electronics products. UIC's crop of customers in Asia have also expanded their production base on the mainland to cope with growing worldwide demand for their goods. These included Taiwan-based Benq and Asustek, South Korea's Pantech, multinational contractors Flextronics and Inventec, and China Greatwall Computer. Mr Ong said UIC's edge over a number of competitors was its manufacturing presence on the mainland since 1992. UIC president Ian McEvoy said last May: 'The advantages to our customers of UIC manufacturing in China is faster response, reduced production downtime and better applications support.' The main automated assembly technology that UIC sells to electronics manufacturers is its GSM Platform for surface mount component placement and it has more than 4,000 global installations.