Making it in manufacturing
The late Apple Inc founder Steve Jobs was known for his obsession with design perfection.
His obsession went as far as insisting no screws were to be visible on a laptop, causing an original design manufacturer (ODM) to invent a new tooling process for the job.
Locally, since its incorporation in 2004, Itrimech Technology (M) Sdn Bhd has been producing over 30 products as an ODM and original equipment manufacturer (OEM), ranging from an electronic personal evacuation aid kit to the switch panels used in a ship’s bridge systems.
The company’s co-founder and director Michael Tan said designing a new product is always in their blood.
“Even now, we get excited and feel a sense of satisfaction when we see all our projects successfully launched or completed, no matter how big or small the project is,” he tells Metrobiz.
Beginning with RM30,000 in start-up capital from each of the three partners, Tan, with the other two founders, Paul Chong and Allen Tong (who has since left the company) started their business even though their family members were concerned that they did not have enough financial backing and experience as entrepreneurs.
“Nevertheless, we decided to take the challenge as we saw an opportunity in designing and manufacturing industrial products,” Tan said.
Tan said the trio brought together their experience from the private sector in electronics sourcing, design and communications, and relied on previous contacts who knew about their credibility.
Some of their early products involved designing and manufacturing air filter casings for a local company.
In 2008, a Norwegian investor came on board as a minority shareholder.
Tan said although they had healthy reserves, the investor’s entrance also paved the way for more contracts from Scandinavian countries.
Subsequently, they were contracted to work on multiple niche and high-value projects such as the Evacuaid, a strap-on torchlight with alarm and red LED for people working in hazardous locations such as mines and underground construction sites.
The job involved the design and development of mechanical, electrical hardware and firmware prototyping and the product is now being mass produced in Norway.
The company now also designs and manufactures touch panels for the maritime and communications industry in that region.
Apart from that, it also produces the Highway Addressable Remote Transducer (HART) modem, a device that is used to monitor the flow of oil and gas.
Featuring very low power consumption, Tan said they delivered the system to a Japan-based oil and gas firm in Malaysia.
Charity begins at home
Locally, the company is known for producing a prepaid air conditoning card system.
The system allows a hotel operator to control and monitor the power usage of guests.
The system features a smart card that needs to be inserted to have the air conditioning turned on.
It is also used as a prepaid card that the guest has to top up with credit. This eliminates wastage in terms of guests leaving the air conditioning on when they are not in their rooms.
This system is currently being utilised in budget hotels and also hostels in educational institutions.
Apart from these innovations, the company continues to receive requests from various SMEs to bring “their ideas to life”.
“One SME contracted us to create an egg boiler that keeps half-boiled eggs in the same state for a full day. This reduces the manpower and time needed to prepare eggs.
“It also reduces waiting time. It is now being used in many food and beverage outlets,” he said.
Another project involved creating a hostel room key dispenser for a government agency connected with training various public service departments.
“They came to us with a problem — trainees from all over Malaysia would arrive at the centre at different times, which meant the front desk officer had to wait for them,” he said.
With the key dispenser, a card with a password is mailed to trainees who just slot it into the machine upon arrival and key in the password to have the key dispensed.
“As a security measure, the administrator can reset all the passwords as and when needed,” he said.
The one-off project valued at RM30,000 is not their only project which has the potential to be used by government departments.
They also created a weapons storage system, which was contracted by an SME for a foreign military to keep track of the movements of the weapons. It also uses a thumbprint reader to ensure only authorised persons have access to it, doing away with conventional recording using logbooks.
Now a provider of design, development and manufacturing in low-volume, high-mix (LVHM) electronic industrial products, Tan said the company is looking at mass produced items.
One of the projects they are working on is the supply of LED turn signals for Tier-1 Proton vendor and for Toyota Indonesia.
Supplying close to 25,000 sets of turn signals a month, it is vital to ensure that defects are kept to a minimum.
In order to do this, Tan said the company cannot leave it to the eyes of the operators alone so they created a test jig that lets out an audible alert when it finds a faulty unit.
With most of their work ranging in value from RM30,000 for prototyping development to RM1mil for contract manufacturing, the company achieved RM6mil in turnover last year, and Tan says the company is aiming for a double digit growth this year.
He says an IPO five years from now would be a great way to reward team members with equity and also to strengthen their brand name, giving their clients confidence in their capability.
With a team of 30 employees, the company is currently renting a 5,000 sq ft industrial lot in Puchong, and is looking forward to moving into their own 13,000 sq ft semi-d factory in Shah Alam next year.