Interview with Antti Keränen

TactoTek® technology integrates electronic functions directly within 3D injection molded plastics. For over 100 years electronics have been designed and built as wiring and components in a box. In the beginning, the boxes were massive, now the boxes are smaller (like phones, computers, and electronics in the car). That structure limits the shape of electronics and where they can be located; it also requires many separate pieces that must be assembled.

With TactoTek injection molded structural electronics (IMSE™) technology, the 3D plastic itself can be electronics. Hence, yes, the mission is to change the way how electronics are made, how they look, how they feel and where they can be used. IMSE is horizontal technology that is valuable for many use cases across markets as diverse as automotive, appliances, industrial, consumer electronics and more.

From a business perspective, TactoTek is a manufacturing technology company:  to reach the global market in a capital-efficient way, our primary model is to license IMSE technology to manufacturers. We do some mass production in our own factory to ensure our processes support high volume serial manufacturing, and when we do to make certain that we are not competing with our licensees. We are on the way to penetrate all the industries where plastics and electronics are used.

There are a lot of companies that are delivering electronic pieces to the market, but we are working in a totally new way. With their existing capital equipment, we can help them to adopt a new way of production for IMSE parts. We are very busy in the automotive market and have recently grown enough to open other markets including appliances, smart home, industrial and others.

Our technology is very versatile—IMSE can implement touchpads, sensors, lighting, antennas, circuits, and many other electronic features. While there are other companies in-molding printed electronics, TactoTek is unique in that we can put electronics components into plastic structures, even control units, in a manner that is efficiently mass produced, so IMSE can support more sophisticated features at a better price.

In addition to new degrees of design freedom, key benefits of IMSE include dramatically reducing the thickness, weight, and number of parts that must be assembled. If you look inside your car, you find the unit which has a couple of lamps and buttons. It weighs almost a kilogram and the assembly is 30-50mm thick.Meanwhile, an IMSE part typically has a wall thickness of 2-3mm, can be shaped to fit a complex structure, reduces weight by 50-75% and eliminates the vast majority of the assembly.

Today TactoTek is an aggressive growth company with all core business capabilities, including sales, marketing, engineering, R&D, manufacturing and all that is needed. Rapid growth in the last several years means that we have to adapt to different work situations quickly and that each of us needs to adapt to changing responsibilities. In many cases, growth creates opportunities for employees to take on new responsibilities or to specialize: as a founding member of the team my role has changed a lot over time.

Meanwhile, we have the constant challenge of adapting to new technology. While this is especially important when it comes to engineering and design, it flows through to everyone at the company. For instance, Sales is representing our technology, not a specific part that we manufacture, so they must keep learning. The new technology that disrupts thinking, hence, we must lead the discussion within our team and with our clients and partners. The better we do this, the faster we succeed. Within the company, we have very capable people who can talk to the outside world. I am extremely confident to leave my team members to do their work.

We have come a very long way from our beginnings. It took us 5 years before we even started marketing our technology and the company. One thing we for sure did, we went out and had real conversations with real prospects and experts in many industries to make certain that our technology matched a great market opportunity. That helped us create the real picture of the business and our positioning in the market—something that we will never stop doing.

Even with lots of interest, with customers first, we had to prove the technology. Less than 2 years ago prospect conversations started from “Ok. let’s evaluate the technology.” Nowadays discussions start at a completely different level, many starts from “When can we begin production?”

Now is the most interesting time for our business side as we’re seeing customers move faster in more markets than ever. On a personal level, it motivates me a lot. And making sure that the idea we had back in the days that we nurtured with all that time-consuming work, moments of success and failure, and trying over and over again now is turning into an actual company. Well, this is exciting!

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