The Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC) is poised for closer and more intensive collaborations with Hong Kong manufacturers in the Pearl River Delta to increase their competitiveness. The government-funded body has been increasingly in the forefront of helping local industries move up the value chain. It is operating three wholly-owned subsidiaries in Guangzhou, Dongguan and Shenzhen to serve Hong Kong manufacturers in the region. Its more than 200 professional consultants are involved in advanced research to come up with products that suit market needs. Since its establishment in 1967, the council has contributed to local industrial and social development by improving its technological know-how for manufacturers and public organisations. Some of its research projects have been done in collaboration with local institutions, including the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University. Through innovation and an effective use of resources, products enjoy value-added features, the key competitive advantage that can result in long-term economic viability and a better standard of living. In the council's materials technology division, about 30 consultants comprising engineers and scientists are tackling the tough challenge of developing new materials catering to modern-day needs, such as those that minimise fingerprint marks on devices like iPods. 'We are trying to produce materials with smaller sizes, higher power functions, more resistant to wear and tear, more energy-saving and more favourable for heat and electricity transmission,' says Dr Ko Chung-nin, principal consultant, materials technology division of HKPC. He says the council will continue to hire engineers who understand micro-fabrication technology, thin-filming and product miniaturisation. Ko expects more collaborations with mainland-based manufacturers as Hong Kong faces greater integration with the Pearl River Delta under China's Outline of the 12th Five-Year Plan for the National Economic and Social Development. The plan, promulgated in March, stipulates the core functions and positioning of Hong Kong in the development of the delta, and forms a basis for Hong Kong's further regional co-operation with other provinces. 'There will be no boundary between the technology in Hong Kong and the region. Over time, we will offer more services on the mainland to help entrepreneurs and factories commercialise and promote their products,' he says. When not doing research in their Kowloon Tong headquarters, HKPC staff make trips to the mainland for project-related services. The council and its subsidiaries are involved in technology transfer, consultancy, training and other support services in the areas of manufacturing technology, IT, environmental technology and management systems. It has done trouble-shooting for the Hong Kong government and local organisations, and has improved the designs of a range of public services and products from wheelchairs to hospital beds. 'We have made hospital beds more comfortable and made it easier for patients to be moved from one bed to another,' Ko says. In terms of recruitment, the council is open to both engineering and science graduates. Every year, it hires about 10 fresh university graduates as technical trainees. Working at the council provides exposure to a wide spectrum of industrial activities which may lead to broad career prospects. Well-experienced consultants can take up top management or research-oriented posts in the sector because of their familiarity with commercialisation of technology and the supply chain, Ko says. 'Our work puts us in the frontline. We carry out top-notch research that is very down to earth and with much practical value. That is our strength.' Putonghua skills would also be an asset to consultants, in addition to English, he says. As many firms switch to new suppliers for parts and components following the recent earthquake in Japan, the council is gearing up for more support from local manufacturers requested to produce parts that meet required standards. The council has invested HK$6.2 million in expanding its Reliability Testing Centre, providing enterprises with local testing services, saving them development time and costs in the high-end electronics markets. The centre has also upgraded its Reflow Simulation System and offers local small and medium-sized enterprises free service until March 2014, on a first-come, first-served basis.