By Madelaine B. Miraflor
Las Vegas, Nevada — Out of the thousand exhibitors at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) here, there is one startup company whose only main goal is to let the world know of its existence. It’s a Filipino firm and it’s the manufacturer of the world’s first digital desktop vacuum former.
“We want to tell the world that we exist,” John Truman Tan, chief executive officer and founder of Vaquform, Inc., said.
Vaquform was the only Filipino-led firm that braved CES 2018 — the world’s largest tech expo — held here throughout last week.
Owned and produced by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), CES 2018 ran through Friday with a record-breaking show floor that spans more than 2.75 million net square feet of exhibit space and featured more than 3,900 exhibitors, including some 900 startups.
And to be more specific, more than 20,000 products were launched during the four-day event, unveiling the next-generation technologies designed to improve the lives of the people and address global challenges.
Vaquform itself offers something new and different. After all, it sells the first digital desktop vacuum former, which forms plastic into permanent objects such as protective covers and shells, face masks and interior decorations.
According to the company’s website, it all started when Tan, an industrial designer and a professor at the University of the Philippines (UP), started working on a project where he has to build a very large vacuum former for their growing signage business. Rather than importing one, the company commissioned Tan to design and build this machine, which saved them thousands of dollars.
Tan eventually found a niche in designing and building custom thermoforming machines. While working on a project with the government for the same type of machine in 2015, Tan did a side project — a desktop thermoformer which he later on called Vaquform™.
In making Vaquform, Tan adapted a software-based controller with a graphical interface and a menu, from which users can simply select a material and all the process parameters would automatically be set.
Innovation after innovation, Tan was able to significantly reduce the physical size, weight, and cost of a traditionally huge vacuum former while maintaining a level of performance that is on par with machines that cost many times more.
It was just in 2016 when Tan completed the product design along with a fully functioning prototype, eventually setting up Vaquform, Inc.
To date, the company is seeking markets all over the world, Tan said in an interview with Manila Bulletin here.
“Right now, we are just getting ready for a global distribution so we’re rushing [the manufacturing of] a lot of machines from China, which will be shipped out to our distributors,” Tan said.
“That’s the business model we have. We are trying to partner with global distributors because they know the local market and what their needs are,” he added.
In terms of countries that he wants to penetrate, he wasn’t very specific at all. He said he can start distributing in Afghanistan and Belgium, to name a few.
For Belgium, he was referring to chocolate makers who have to use a lot of protective shells for their products.
“We initially design this for people like us who are making prototypes. That’s what we thought about. But it turns out there’s a larger market we haven’t even considered like for instance cosplayers who makes costumes parts. We also have interior decorators that would like to do certain stuff for their house. We have event organizers who’d like to make cheap table accents or whatever,” Tan said.
In February, 2017, Vaquform was formally launched through the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter, which turned out successful. Based on the sales of this funding activity, Vaquform’s largest market right now is the United States and Europe.
For instance, Tan said there’s a manufacturer in Germany who bought his product to make drown shells.
Vaquform is now on its full-scale production and is on the process of manufacturing its first 500 units. The target is to have them available before the Chinese New Year.
“We’re starting to ship it. We are doing our first hundred in the different parts of the world. These are kickstarter backers. We used the money [from our Kickstar sales] to start the manufacturing in China. So we are just starting to ship to those backers,” Tan said.
Moving forward, Tan said he hopes to secure a large market in the Philippines too. “I’m hoping it would be the same. We sold maybe 20 units from the kickstarter and that is mostly people that I know. But I hope to tap the market. Who wouldn’t want his own country [to buy its own product],” he stressed.
Vaquform is composed of Tan and his former students in UP. All of them were born and raised in the Philippines.