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Thin Film Devices

by Eric Peterson on April 4, 2019, 07:27 am MDT

www.tfdinc.com

Anaheim, California

Founded: 1984

Privately owned

Employees: 20

Industry: Electronics & Aerospace

Products: Coatings for displays, microelectronics, and other applications

Founder and President Saleem Shaikh leads the way in coatings for touchscreens on smartphones and other devices.

Originally from Pakistan, Shaikh was working for a subsidiary of Sharp in the early 1980s when he saw an opportunity to start a business.

He poured about $15,000 in savings to piecemeal a clean room together to make high-tech coatings and started in a small space with four employees. The company quickly earned a reputation for high-quality indium tin oxide (I.T.O.).

In 1987, Thin Film Devices moved to its current 18,500-square-foot facility in Anaheim. The company filled out the space with equipment to drastically expand capacity and launched I.M.ITO (Index Matched Indium Tin Oxide), a reflection-reducing coating for LCD touchscreens and other applications.

Shaikh says it remains his biggest innovation. "I.M.ITO is not a household name, but used widely," he notes." That includes "every touchscreen manufactured by Apple, Samsung, LG, Google, and many others Not to mention every smartphone user: That's more than 3 billion people."

Between the Anaheim and a sister facility in Taiwan, annual production capacity is 3 million square feet. Joy Shaikh, CFO (and Saleem's wife), describes the company's ULVAC machines as its "bread and butter" since the late 1980s.

Thin Film Devices' coatings are used everywhere from consumer electronics and ATMs to aircraft cockpits and OLEDs. Beyond I.T.O. and I.M.ITO, Joy also highlights the company's black chrome for photolithography patterning as "a significant coating."

The company's workforce of 20 employees is down from 35 in 1998. "Now we're growing again," says Joy, forecasting five to 10 hires in 2019. "We're starting off the year with some terrific orders."

She credits her and Saleem's son, VP of Production Torin Shaikh, for his help boosting the company, as well as her husband's continued commitment to quality.

"The quality of products manufactured in California still far exceed outsourcing internationally," says Saleem. "TFD's I.T.O. is the smoothest in the world. So if we decided to move our operation elsewhere, or outsource globally, we would be sacrificing that status, just to put a few extra dollars in our pocket."

Challenges: Protecting the company's IP. Saleem stopped pursuing patents for his innovations because it proved fruitless. "Once it's out there, it's a free-for-all," says Joy.

Training new hires is another issue, she adds. "With our business, it take a good six months to get up to speed. That's the biggest cost and the biggest challenge we have."

Saleem says local laws and regulations present another challenge, noting, "Over 30 years, California has gone from hospitable to hostile against the employer. It has become very unfair to do business with huge dollar amounts of taxes, overly regulated and unnecessary new laws imposed by our government agencies to be followed."

Opportunities: The ubiquity of touchscreens. Saleem points to "new displays, and touchscreens yet to come, biomedical devices, and EMI/EMP devices resistant to nuclear blast."

Joy points to small startups with big ideas. "These businesses are discovering new avenues to use these new materials as coatings," she says. "Everything is touchscreen. We're in the right spot for that."

Needs: "It's always finding qualified workers," says Joy. Skilled engineers with relevant experience in coatings are hard to come by, so the goal is "getting people who are willing to learn," she says.

Adds Joy. "We have outgrown our space. We're looking for a new space." The target: 50,000 square feet. The location: "We're not sure yet."

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