NanoMech is a dream come true for Dr. Ajay Malshe said he shared his dreams for what would become NanoMech 12 years ago with his wife. They packed their bags, left India, and came to the U.S. where seemingly all things are possible.
The Springdale-based nanotechnology manufacturer celebrated the opening of its global headquarters on Friday (Nov. 21). Attending was Gov. Mike Beebe, an early supporter of the technology that can’t be seen by the naked eye. A U.S. Department of Energy assistant secretary as well as investors, customers and advocates of NanoMech also were on hand for the celebration.
Nanotechnology is a research field that manipulates matter in a microscopic way allowing for applications. The scale of nanotechnology is so small — a billionth of a meter — or the equivalent of one ten-thousandth the size of a human hair. Applications may include hardening of tools so they last much longer, suspension in lubricants that improve performance up to 40%, and use in sprays to enhance protection from bacteria and other microorganisms.
“NanoMech in one sense is a gigantic experiment. It’s not about getting to a destination it’s about the discoveries along the journey. For me ‘Made in America’ is not about the likes of Google and Facebook, it’s about making high quality products, applying ingenuity and creating economies of scale with high quality jobs,” Malshe, the company founder said. “Today is an important milestone for NanoMech, proof that what you can dream, can also become reality.”
The company recently completed a 29,000-square-foot addition to its facility that triples the capacity for the high tech manufacturer. The company will employ 37 engineers by year-end, nearly all who are University of Arkansas graduates.
“The world runs on machines and machines run on lubricants. Now, many of the world's machines will depend on NanoMech’s inventions and products well into the future,” CEO Jim Phillips said.
Beebe, who served as the keynote speaker, expressed a sense of urgency about what NanoMech is doing.
“This is tomorrow and we have a headstart. Make no mistake, China is on our heels spending more money than Washington can print,” he joked.
Beebe said with new technologies changing at warp speed, he said NanoMech engineers may not yet envision discoveries and work will complete in the next three months. He urged the investors in the room to continue their support of NanoMech, which is just starting to scratch the surface of its potential. Beebe said the products coming from NanoMech are starting to revolutionize the world of manufacturing. Like the nano lubricant that reduces friction and wear with industrial equipment as well as creating better fuel efficiencies in light and heavy duty vehicles.
“NanoMech is an Arkansas economic development success story,” said Beebe, who is winding down his eight years as governor. “Four years ago I cut the ribbon on what was mostly an empty building filled with promise. Today, the promise has been fulfilled and NanoMech has grown to be a leader worldwide in material science with incredible nanoscale innovations.”
The state announced Friday an investment of $600,000 in NanoMech. Grant Tennille, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, told the crowd that together with the Arkansas Development Finance Authority (ADFA) the public/private partnership between the state and NanoMech has been a success.
“This has been some of the most fun stuff to work on. We have never had a whole lot of tools aimed at startups, particularly startups like NanoMech, that went from launch to scale almost immediately,” Tennille said. “There was demand for the product before any of the equipment was purchased to make the product so we felt like if NanoMech could get up and running then it could be able to take care of itself and it has.”
NanoMech has raised almost $15 million, with a little bit of help from the state. Tennille said the $600,000 in new grant funding brings the state’s equity investment in NanoMech to $1.1 million in addition to other incentives made early several years ago. Through ADFA, Tennille said they structured the new $600,000 grant and the former $500,000 made two years ago as equity purchases.
“These two deals give us an equity stake of 5% in NanoMech’s last capital fundraising round,” Tennille said. “We think there is potential for the state to exit with capital recapture at some point and still have equity growing in this business longer term.”
He said it’s the AEDC and ADFA goal to use the equity investments to help establish a revolving capital pool that can provide startup funds to other businesses.
Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse said NanoMech’s reputation is growing within and outside the city.
“I continue to be blown away by the potential this growing company holds. It’s likely the best kept secret in the Springdale, but I am here to tell you that’s going to change,” Sprouse said.
John Bartos, vice president of technology and development at Houston-based Cameron International, said he stumbled across Dr. Malshe a decade ago when he worked at a folding table just outside the restroom in the engineering lab at the University of Arkansas. Cameron International is a $12 billion oil and gas equipment supply company. NanoMech’s nanoglide lubricant is now packaged as a private label product in Springdale for Cameron International.
“I came to the University to see someone else, but I was introduced to Ajay and his new theories and practical applications for nanotechnology. Cameron International began funding his research that very day because we were impressed with his work and could see the practical application. We funded him for six months of more research, which he used up in about four months. But over the years we have continued to work in tandem with NanoMech using their lubricants in our global operations,” Bartos said during the Friday event.
Phillips said Cameron is an important flagship customer of NanoMech and is taking their product to customers across the world they would never have access to otherwise. He said the client base is growing to include Fortune 100 companies like multinational General Electric and others who work under a “do not disclose” contract.
Beebe said there is no shortage of applications for nanotechnology which is why he has worked to set up the Nanoscience and Engineering at the University of Arkansas and the Integrative Nanotechnology institute at the UALR which focuses on bio-med applications. Phillips commended Beebe for his foresight to establish the two institutes. Since that time Georgia Tech, Texas A&M and Cal Poly Tech have each established nanotechnology institutes.
Deborah Wince-Smith, CEO of the American Council on Competitiveness and a member of NanoMech’s board of directors, praised NanoMech for its innovative work.
“In a world of turbulence, transition and transformation, nothing matters more to the competitiveness of companies and countries than innovation and manufacturing prowess. The ability to develop and deploy the most cutting-edge tools and products to bolster U.S. advanced manufacturing will deliver outsized benefits to the U.S. industrial base. NanoMech is at the leading edge of a resurgent U.S. manufacturing capability – one that is not dumb, dirty, dangerous and disappearing; but is smart, safe, sustainable and surging.”