Now it’s time to take a close look at a small but competitive business making a difference for the Korean economy. With the fourth industrial revolution looming close, the manufacturing innovation system, which combines the manufacturing industry and information technology, is on the rise. Germany already rolled out its ‘Industry 4.0’ strategy in 2011, and the United States operates the ‘Advanced Manufacturing Partnership’, a national effort to support the growth of the manufacturing industry with emerging technologies. As the paradigm of the manufacturing industry is shifting all around the world, a Korean company is drawing attention with its efforts to merge IT and manufacturing. ‘ATNS Group’ is making a mark for itself in the small air purifier market. The company’s CEO Lee Woo-hyun (이우현) tells us more.
ATNS Group was founded in 2002, and the company’s name is an acronym of “Advance Technology and Solutions.” It means that we are an expert company that looks for solutions using advanced technology. Although we started out as an IT firm, today we are a company that presents the convergence technology of manufacturing and IT. In the past, I’ve worked for a system integration company now known as LG CNS. I also worked at the Korean branch of the American company, “Sun Microsystems”. But I wanted to run my own company, so I founded the current company and have been running it for about 15 years now.
ATNS Group is led by an IT expert. At the beginning, it focused mostly on IT consulting with its advanced technology. But while consulting an automobiles group, ATNS CEO Lee Woo-hyun began to see the charms of manufacturing. Unlike IT consulting which provides intangible services, there was something like a deeper presence about making tangible things and turning ideas into products. And that’s when he began to search for the intersection between IT and manufacturing.
When I first jumped into manufacturing simple goods, I wanted to convey the message that in time, we’ll be able to fuse the goods with our IT expertise and in the end become an expert group that bonds together IT and manufacturing. The first thing that I thought of was that we had to make something that didn’t have too big of an entry barrier, but something that could become a daily necessity in the future. It had to be a home appliance that many people would choose. I believed that was the only way for our product to have a large impact when additional technologies or convergence technologies were put in place. I spent a long time deliberating on the item that would become a daily necessity in a few years time. Air purifiers were deemed the most apt choice.
ATNS Group CEO Lee Woo-hyun chose air purifier as the item that could make good use of the innovative potential of IT. Once making the choice, Lee started from scratch. He began by developing the filter, which is the heart of an air purifier. Convergence was on his mind even when developing filters. He came up with the “MAF,” or Magnetic Air Filtration” filter, which utilizes the natural static to collect minute dust particles. Patented in 27 countries around the world, the filter even collects the ultrafine particles under 0.3 micrometers in size, which often goes through the conventional Hepa Filter. It’s not coated with chemicals or chemically sterilized, so it doesn’t create any secondary pollutants. Now that the basics had been covered, it was time to add new ideas to the product.
Conventional air purifiers were usually placed only in the living room, so the first idea that I had was to start developing smaller and quieter air purifiers that could be placed in each room without ruining the interior design. Also, there was demand for quieter machines that do not disturb sleep. So in response, we developed an air purifier that uses white noise, like the sound of the rain, or the wind or waves, that help people sleep better. As a late comer, it would be impossible for us to do well in the air purifier market by doing what all other large companies have already done. So, we’re trying to bridge the gap by adding fresh new ideas instead.
ATNS Group decided to create smaller air purifiers, keeping up with the times of the increasing number of one-person households. From easy-to-use air purifiers fit for living rooms or bedrooms, to portable air purifiers the size of a tumbler, and air purifiers with sound therapy functions to help people sleep with more ease, ATNS Group introduced a number of new-concept air purifiers. In addition, the price is low enough for people to install one purifier in every room. It’s also cost-effective. Using it 24 hours a day for 365 days a year would only add about 2,000 won ($1.74) a year to the electric bill in Korea. ATNS Group’s air purifier is equipped with everything a daily home appliance needs - the small size, minimalist design, and portability. The products are currently on sale in Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, the United States and in Europe. It’s particularly popular in the Chinese-speaking regions. The air purifier dubbed “Clair” was sold through home shopping in Taiwan last year, and the exports reached 1-million dollars in just 3 months. China’s largest online shopping mall, JD.com also introduces Clair on a special brand page. But ATNS Group will not settle for its current success.
We want to add content to our products. In a nutshell, out latest product ‘Clair S’ is just an air purifier with a built-in Bluetooth speaker. But that’s not attractive enough. So that’s why we added the mobile app into the picture, allowing users to play different sounds like the sound of the rain, wind or waves, using the app. We try to soften the rigidness that comes with the technology in the hardware. We also moved a bit forward and thought of an air purifier that lets babies listen to their mothers’ lullaby. Mothers can record a lullaby using our mobile app, and play it through the air purifier in the baby’s room. The lullaby will be repeated until the baby falls asleep.
ATNS Group introduced their latest product ‘Clair S’ at this year’s CES. It’s an air purifier with a Bluetooth speaker function. The combination of IT and emotional contents shows that air purifiers can also benefit from the IoT, or Internet of Things. Thanks to its competence, ATNS Group was able to sign supply deals with a French company among others. The company is also eyeing convergences with other fields as well.
What we must consider is whether a convergence could result in better value. At the moment, we’re thinking of combining air purifiers with furniture. For example, it could be a bed with a built-in air purifier, which would mean you wouldn’t have to buy a separate air purifier for the bedroom. Chairs with air purifiers built-in could help students breathe in cleaner air while they study. Such are some of the ways we’re thinking of combining air purifiers with daily necessities.
ATNS Group aims to add more necessary functions to its products one by one. The company is expanding the territory of air purifiers through IT convergence, and thereby opening up the next Renaissance for the Korean manufacturing industry.