by Chris Bahn
Posted 8/19/2013 12:00 am
Updated 11 months ago
NanoMech Inc. wants its employees to think small.
At first glance that might seem like an odd directive for an operation that has its sights set on revolutionizing global industries like machining, manufacturing and energy. But at the heart of the innovations taking place inside the company’s Springdale headquarters, employees are making a big impact by focusing their energy on a nanoscale.
So at NanoMech, the smaller an employee’s focus, the better. That’s why there is a sign hanging in one of the labs that reads, “NanoMech Think Small.”
Focusing on the atomic and molecular levels is allowing the company to be involved in work that it believes could bring massive changes to billion-dollar industries. Within a three-week span this summer the company was awarded three patents for nGlide, a product that aids machine lubrication, and also recognized as an R&D 100 winner for TuffTek, a coating used on cutting tools.
These are milestones for a company founded in 2002 based on the research and writings of a University of Arkansas professor, Ajay Malshe. NanoMech has since found the investment capital to turn those ideas into patented, marketable products.
“We didn’t have a factory here two years ago,” Chairman and CEO Jim Phillips said. “We didn’t have a way to produce. We had a great science fair. Look at us today.”
On the day the portfolio of nGlide patents was awarded, Phillips said, NanoMech took one single order from a customer for 8,000 pounds of the additive. Mix the product with standard grease in an engine and, Phillips said, performance can improve up to “1,000 percent” in some cases.
Phillips is quick to note that these sound like bold claims, but he pointed out that there was a time when the concepts of instant messaging, PDAs and cable modems also seemed far-fetched. Those are technologies that Phillips was instrumental in growing during his time as an executive at companies like Motorola and SkyTel. Phillips was co-founder of SkyTel, a pioneer in two-way messaging.
It’s Phillips’ background in emerging technologies that has been key to helping NanoMech grow beyond that “great science fair.” He’s helped secure investments to grow the company, guided the patent process and made sure that the company was ready for production once those patents were granted.
NanoMech was aggressive in marketing its products even before the patents were secured. It was all part of a plan to move, as Phillips described it, “from ideation to invention to innovation and full execution.”
Ideation and invention began with Malshe, NanoMech’s founder, executive vice president and chief technology officer. Malshe might also be the state of Arkansas’ top cheerleader. Malshe, who remains on the UA faculty, believes very strongly that global innovation can happen locally.
“People always talk to me about Silicon Valley or about MIT and Berkeley. They’re fine, but I don’t care what people are doing outside the state,” Malshe said. “I care about what is happening here. There are resources. There are good people. There is support from the state in the political and business communities.
“All we need to succeed is right here.”
Patents in hand, Malshe believes this is just the beginning for NanoMech’s success.
“Companies might tell you they have 400 patents, but only four are worthy of any economy,” Malshe said. “I can tell you today that all of our patents are revenue generators.”
Phillips, who won’t discuss specific figures but said NanoMech revenue is “in the millions,” isn’t shy about promoting the company either. He believes that the innovations in lubrication, greases and oils could have a profound impact on sustainability and energy efficiency.
“What we have today could literally obsolete entire industries,” Phillips said. “I don’t think anyone saw this coming. These are multi-, multi-, multibillion-dollar industries. It’s no different than your analog companies who did not see digital coming.”
It’s big talk. But the folks at NanoMech believe they are thinking small enough to make it a reality.