Driven by a knack for auto inventions

By K. S. Usha Devi

LIKE most children, inventor-cum-businessman Darran Aster Gunasekera loved to play with toys. Unlike most, however, his idea of playing was to dismantle every toy he had, learn how they functioned, and then to fix them again. Such was his fascination at discovering how things worked it isn't surprising that he is now an award-winning inventor of electronic components for the automotive sector.  

When he was a teenager, his attention became focused on audio and acoustic units, and it wasn't long before he was capable of building up sound systems for bands and entertainment venues.  

“I was dabbling with these items so much that after Form 5, it was natural to do it as a part-time job to earn some money,'' says Darran, now 39. 

“I used to build up and supply speakers, amplifiers, loudspeakers and lighting systems for deejays and bands.''  

That was during the 1980s when the market for sound systems was thriving, and he was so successful at it that, he says, he was able to own three cars by the time he was 18. 

He spent three years running this small but lucrative business and then took a break to continue his studies.  

“My parents were making noise,'' he explains. “So to please them I went to university and completed a degree in Science. I also completed an MBA in Hawaii before coming back here.” 

Being a voracious reader especially of science books, Darran found it easy to get back to his studies. 

“Studying has always come easy to me especially if I liked the subject. I would either be top of the class or bottom depending on the subject at hand,'' says Darran who cites the famous inventor Thomas Edison as one of his role models during his younger days. 

Coming back to Malaysia in 1992, he was employed by a public-listed company and worked there for four years. In 1996, he resigned from his job to plan for the eventual establishment of his own company. This was to happen in 1998 with the setting up of DAG Electrophonic Sdn Bhd, which initially dealt with research and development in audio and acoustic systems.  

The company has since progressed into noise and vibration dampening systems and electronic components for the automotive sector.  

“I was quite confident of the company because I strongly believe that if you have a passion for what you do, then success will come,’’ says Darran, its chief executive officer and chief research officer. 

This confidence was boosted in 2000 when EON Trading Sdn Bhd signed a contract to use one of DAG Electrophonic’s products, the Vibramat, a semi synthetic elastomer-based sheet used for heat/cold insulation in cars. 

“This is used by most national cars today and has drawn positive response from other automakers and international distributors,’’ says Darran. 

Sold under the name Acoustic Shield, Vibramat was developed by Darren under the company’s research and development project. During the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment’s (MOSTE) Invention and Innovation Competition in 2001, Vibramat caught the attention of the judges who awarded it a bronze medal.  

The company’s start-up capital was RM1mil, part of which was financed by Darren himself. He has a staff base of 28 people, of which 10 are involved in the creative side of the products and include a mechanical engineer and a physicist. 

“My overhead is about RM20,000 a month and the profits I make are invested back into the product to keep it rolling,’’ says Darren who reveals that the company was set up so that he could have a proper corporate structure. 

As for ideas on developing intelligent electronics solutions, they are always there, he says. 

“I am the sort of person who is constantly thinking about new inventions. Ideas also come when people approach me with a problem to solve. I also love experimenting with things and ideas usually develop through spin-offs.”  

One such spin-off is the e-cool, an electronic solution to significantly reduce heat and humidity in a parked vehicle, which was developed in 2001. Darran says the e-cool will be launched in Malaysia this year. 

Other products that have been developed by Darren are the e-light (an automatic light controller that will upgrade a vehicle’s lighting system) and acoustic tiles (a multi-layer sound and vibration reducing overlay for use in motor vehicles). 

These products have won awards in local and international competitions for inventors. The acoustic tiles, virtual speaker and e-cool were awarded the Bronze Medal at the 30th International Exhibition of Inventions, New Techniques and Products held in Geneva in 2001. 

“Personally, I consider myself to be an inventor or researcher foremost before a businessman,’’ says Darren who admits to being a perfectionist. 

“Now, of course, with a business to run, I have to look into the commercial aspect of things as well.”  

Doing the MBA has helped, he adds: “It nurtured my business sense, especially in the financial aspects of the company.” 

Darran does a fair bit of travelling to promote and exhibit his products in the United States, Europe and Asia, which form 60% of the company’s target market. The remaining 40% is the local market. 

The company is now looking at making its presence felt globally, says Darran.  

“We have the products such as e-cool that is a first in the world, and together with a strong customer base and strategic market build-up, expanding into the international arena would be the next step.’’ 

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