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January 26, 2017 | Tom Ballard

Nanomechanics traces its growing success to work on three continents

Nanomechanics Inc.-teknoBy Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

One of the top executives at Nanomechanics Inc. says the Oak Ridge-based technology company’s competitive advantage is its ability to be active and successful on three continents.

Kermit Parks, the company’s Vice President overseeing software development, applications, and customer support, describes the strategy as a way to take full advantage of its high-end, nanoindentation testing equipment for materials.

“It’s important to be diversified,” he said, adding that understanding the uniqueness of each market and “differentiating ourselves” have helped propel the company’s recent growth.

“About a third of our business is in Asia, another third in Europe, and the balance in the U.S.,” Chief Executive Officer (CEO) John Swindeman said, adding that “no year is similar to another.” By not focusing on just one market, Nanomechanics can better handle fluctuations in sales from one region to another.

We sat down recently with the two executives to better understand the factors that caused Nanomechanics to win one of the recent international business awards given by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. More commonly known as GATE, the official name is the “Governor’s Award for Trade Excellence.”

Swindeman gives considerable credit to on-going advice and assistance the company has received from Robert Leach, Director of the Knoxville Export Assistance Center, a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“It would have taken us a lot longer without his help,” Swindeman says. Today, exports account for between 60 and 70 percent of the company’s business.

Another factor the CEO cites was Nanomechanics’ decision to stop contract manufacturing and consulting and focus on its own products that range from the iNano nanoindenter to the InSEM product line.

The company has seen annual growth rates of 51 percent between 2013 and 2014, 35 percent the next year, and 38 percent through late 2016 when we talked with Swindeman and Parks.

“Our biggest problem has been managing this growth,” Swindeman said, a challenge that resulted in our executives having a more hands on approach with the distributors that handle the various products. In fact, Parks had just returned from two weeks in Japan when we met.

Much of the Asia focus has been on China and Japan, but Nanomechanics clearly has India in its sights.

“We’re making big strides in the country,” Parks says, with Swindeman adding, “We don’t know how big the market is, so our efforts right now are opportunistic.”

Describing Nanomechanics as a “small company in East Tennessee competing with major players around the world,” Swindeman says the company is clearly a Tennessee success story.

“We have had a leg up,” he says in terms of being a viable candidate for the GATE Award. “Our second or third nanoindenter was sold overseas.”

Parks adds that Nanomechanics is competing in a global industry, but its experience doing business internationally and the team’s understanding of the very different cultures it finds in Asia versus Europe are clear advantages.