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Commanding the world's respect

By Cai Xiao | China Daily | Updated: 2017-04-10 09:48

Commanding the world's respect

A worker checks quality of alloy products at Dongguan Eontec Co Ltd in Guangdong province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Mention of "amorphous alloys" may not immediately ring a bell, but think frames of mobile phone hinge of Huawei or door-lock cases of Tesla cars, and you will get a sense of how widespread their applications are-something Dongguan Eontec Co Ltd is well aware of and keen to exploit on a global scale.

"I believe 2017 will mark the beginning of a golden era of the amorphous metals industry. Eontec aims to be a respected company in the world," said Li Yangde, chairman of the new materials company, which is based in Guangdong province and listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.

In November, Li led Eontec to a controlling 46 percent stake in California-based Liquidmetal Technologies Inc. This is expected to benefit both companies, according to a report by Essence Securities.

In March last year, Eontec initially bought an 18 percent stake in Liquidmetal. It spent $55 million for the additional 28 percent stake, which also saw Li becoming Liquidmetal's CEO in December.

From Eontec's perspective, the investment is worth every dollar spent as Liquidmetal specializes in the research, development and commercialization of amorphous metals-expertise that would complement Eontec's own strengths.

Eontoc is the only company in the world that can produce molding bulk metallic glasses (another name for amorphous alloys), which are used in consumer electronics, automotive and healthcare sectors.

The alloys combine a number of desirable material features, including high tensile strength, excellent corrosion resistance, very high coefficient of restitution and excellent anti-wearing characteristics. A typical alloy is almost 1.5 times harder than stainless steel and about 2.5 times stronger than titanium.

"We are now planning to enter the US market and become a leading player," said Li.

Such ambition stems from Liquidmetal's strong patent portfolio, high reputation and reasonable prices. Liquidmetal has 128 patents in the United States.

Abdi Mahamedi, former chairman of Liquidmetal, said the company has invested substantially in the development of new processes and technologies like injection molding, as well as in developing relationships with customers outside the conventional application areas.

So, Liquidmental has potential customers even in segments like consumer electronics, surgical and medical equipment and aerospace.

"Liquidmetal needed more capital and size to commercialize its efforts. It also needed a low-cost manufacturing partner, both of which Eontec brings to the table now," said Mahamedi.

So far, Liquidmetal's technology could produce only smaller precision parts weighing less than 100 grams each, Mahamedi said. Since Eontec is capable of manufacturing larger parts, their partnership will create a more diverse range of parts made of amorphous alloys as well as a large base of customers.

Eontec's mature technology and cost-effective materials could help turn the loss-making Liquidmental profitable. Although Liquidmetal's losses started in 2012, its patents, sales network and brand equity will likely make Eontec a global player.

"Eontec will step up the pace of integration with Liquidmetal. We'll bring Eontec's experience in manufacturing to Liquidmetal. We'll expand the application of amorphous alloys to areas like consumer electronics, automotive, medical equipment and sports goods," said Li.

Eontec is already eyeing potential opportunities in automotive, healthcare and aerospace. What's more, since 2015, US automaker Tesla has been using Eontech's amorphous metals in its car door-lock cases.

"Tesla's door-lock cases have a strong impact resistance. This helps them withstand opening and closing of car doors tens of thousands of times," said Li. "Although this business is still small, we have confidence the future will be brighter."

Some of Liquidmetals's business orders could come to Eontec. According to Liquidmetal, Apple Inc recently extended its 2015 deal to keep the rights to an innovative alloy that the tech giant needs for its production processes.

"We will continue to work with the 'fruit' company," said Li.

The Essence Securities report said amorphous metals will be widely used in the consumer electronics industry. Eontec has been a supplier of card slots and hinges to Chinese phone makers such as Oppo, Huawei, Lenovo and Coolpad.

Its next plan is to provide amorphous metal frames to more mobile phone makers at home and abroad. "This is a profitable market and our final goal in the consumer electronics industry," said Li, adding that many mobile phone makers showed interest in forging cooperation with Eontec.

Li said Eontec is aiming to set up an industry alliance for amorphous metal players. The planned association would co-invest, share orders and go overseas together to develop members' businesses.

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