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EY ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR - ADVANCED MANUFACTURING

Nanofilm boss has his eye on the horizon

For CEO Shi Xu, the power of new technology is the key to surviving and to succeed as a business in a changing world.

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"Based on our expertise and experience in the vacuum coating industry and using our core technology as the catalyst, we will further our efforts to vertically integrate the supply chain, expand our product coverage and increase our market share," says Dr Shi.

THE core capability of Nanofilm Technologies International is the next generation coating technology called filtered cathodic vacuum arc (FCVA) which is one of the key new areas in materials science. With FCVA it is possible to modify the surface properties of metal, ceramic and even plastic materials to perform special functions to meet ever-increasing requirements on material functionalities. FCVA can improve and even enable many new applications in many different industrial sectors.

"I regard this award as encouragement for a researcher-turned-entrepreneur," says Shi Xu, chief executive officer of Nanofilm Technologies International Pte Ltd, which has been named EY Entrepreneur Of The Year - Advanced Manufacturing.

In 1991, Dr Shi obtained his PhD in Thin Film Technology from the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. He started research in 1994 in FCVA technology when he was a lecturer at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and subsequently founded the company.

During his tenure of nine years at NTU, Dr Shi published over 100 research papers and filed five key inventive patents. He founded Nanofilm based on the award-winning FCVA technology and patented this in 1999. Since the spin-off, Nanofilm has developed strong capabilities in production, quality assurance, engineering and research and development (R&D).

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Nanofilm has grown into a multinational technology and manufacturing group with over 1,400 employees and provides unique solutions to many world-renowned industrial partners in various industry sectors, ranging from mobile phone, automobile, camera, photocopy and biomedical industry.

"And most importantly, in many areas, we are the sole provider of the service in the world," adds Dr Shi.

Nanofilm recorded a turnover of S$38.64 million in 2014, which more than doubled the following year. This year the company is hoping to hit the S$100 million mark.

Automation has been upgraded and extended to improve product yield and profitability. Information system upgrade ensures improved management, which is needed to meet the rapid growth of the industry. The company says that it is well on its way to being a "smart factory and corporation".

"I feel greatly honoured to win the EY EOY Advanced Manufacturing award this year. I thank the independent panel for the kind recognition given to me and our company. I also thank my wife, my children and the rest of my family for their love and consistent support when I was going through peaks and troughs (sometimes really stormy) during the whole journey of entrepreneurship," Dr Shi tells The Business Times.

"I also thank my partners, management team and staff both in Singapore and abroad. Without their support, contribution and innovation it would not have been possible for me to win this award. Winning is a new start even though it is a recognition of my past achievements. More importantly it is an inspiration to my future work. Technology, adaptiveness, perseverance and teamwork are keys to winning the race in the face of the ever-faster changing world."

THINKING ABOUT WHAT'S NEXT

Dr Shi says that entrepreneurship is important as in his view an entrepreneur "always thinks about what's next? What's out there? What is the new technology that will bring changes to our life? It is most important to the ever-faster changing world around us.

"For example, today, we stride towards revolutionary AI (artificial intelligence), INDUSTRY 4.0, Big Data utilisation, new materials, etc. The primary role played in the changes is the disruption created by technology breakthroughs. In the next 20 years, the key to surviving and even to succeed as a business lies in the power of new technology."

For promoting entrepreneurship in Singapore, he says "the plan should be to continue the nation's effort to form a gracefully tolerating, free-thinking and dare-endeavouring society to nurture our youngsters' curiosities, boost their imagination and encourage them to fulfil their wildest dreams".

Going forward, Nanofilm will always be looking to expand and seek new partnerships and client bases in fields such as automotive, renewable energy, electrical components, precision components, medical devices and consumable electronics.

"Scientific research and its applications remain our top focus and with our business model being set around the basis of innovation and creativity, continuous refinements to QA (quality assurance), engineering, R&D and technology will drive Nanofilm to apply such philosophies to our products and services, which will benefit all those involved in the Nanofilm ecology," notes Dr Shi.

The overall capability, future development and new business opportunities of Nanofilm can be categorised into three segments: Technical Originality (R&D), Product Engineering Capacity (Engineering) and Large Scale Production Capability (Mass Production Management). "We aim to work towards becoming an innovative full-fledged company with maximum QA, R&D, automation, engineering, mass production, assembly and testing capacity and competencies."

Dr Shi adds: "Based on our expertise and experience in the vacuum coating industry and using our core technology as the catalyst, we will further our efforts to vertically integrate the supply chain, expand our product coverage and increase our market share. Nanofilm will continue to promote a sustained innovative spirit, which will ensure that the company gains new frontiers and remains a pioneer in the vacuum coating industry."

AWARDS AND HONOURS

Following various R&D breakthroughs by Nanofilm, the company has been internationally recognised for its achievements. Nanofilm bagged the Singapore National Technology Award in 2000 and the 2001 Singapore Innovation Award. In 2002, it was awarded the Deloitte & Touche Asia FAST 250 for its innovation and growth. In 2003, ISO 9001-2000 was certified and in 2008, Nanofilm was awarded two SME Growth Excellence Recognition Awards in Net Profit and Credit Rating.

Apart from its technology trademarks such as FCVA, TAC-ON™ and MiCC™, Nanofilm has a total of 64 internationally recognised patents spanning China, Singapore, Japan, the United States, the UK and Europe.