Andrey Vavilov, Founder and Chairman, Faraday Factory Group: Achieving What Others Deemed Impossible

Andrey Vavilov | Faraday Factory Group: Achieving What Deemed Impossible | The Enterprise World

In the 1980s, the Soviet Union was one of the only two superpowers. Despite being a force to be reckoned with on the global front, its economy was going through a bit of a rough patch. With a debt that kept increasing every year, the Soviet Union’s position as a world superpower was feeling more fragile than ever.

To rebound from these dire times, the Soviet Union needed an economic transformation. Andrey Vavilov, who later became Russia’s first Deputy Finance Minister, developed an extensive program to help Russia into a market system. In just a few years, Russia achieved success across multiple sectors and from the state of default, became a full-fledged participant in the global capital market.

After leaving the government in the late 1990s, he executed several successful businesses across an array of sectors, from energy to finance. His current endeavor, Faraday Factory Group, is an integral part of his entrepreneurial journey and shares similarities with his governmental work. The primary objective is to enhance people’s daily lives with the introduction of cutting-edge technologies.

But what is it that makes him The Most Iconic Business Leader To Watch Out For? Let’s find out.

The Super-Company

Faraday Factory is a success story in something that is often called ‘tough tech’. Andrey Vavilov founded this company when hardly anyone believed in the opportunity because the technology was not quite ready at the time.

High-temperature superconductors were discovered in the late 1980s and the initial interest in these materials was very large. In 1987, Superconductors even made it to be placed on the front cover of the TIME magazine.

However, the technology appeared to be a bottleneck because HTS materials are made of brittle ceramics, and there was no way to make flexible wires out of brittle ceramics existed by that time. Later, vacuum deposition processes, similar to those used in the semiconductor industry, were proven to be very useful for this purpose.

As promising technology paths were found, it appeared that they were all quite expensive, so the resulting product was prohibitively expensive too. That’s why about 20 years ago, this business was caught in a sort of ‘death valley’ scenario, where public and private money did not believe that there were ways to solve this puzzle.

Andrey Vavilov was attracted to the enormity of this task and the prospects that its resolution offered: commercial fusion power plants, smart grids, quantum computers, and space transport. High-temperature superconductors belonged to those unique enabling technologies that facilitated a qualitative leap in human advancement.

Over a decade and a half, the company not only managed to create an industrial production technology for HTS but also to build a successful, rapidly growing business. Today, the company is the undisputed global leader in this technology—surpassing all competitors in the US, Europe, Japan, and Korea combined. 

Its factory in Japan provides the product to the current project needs involving compact fusion reactors, power cables, healthcare equipment, and many more. It accounts for the future growth needs of these industries in its expansion plans.

Andrey Vavilov Scaling Through Challenges

The day Andrey Vavilov founded the Japanese company was the day of the infamous 2011 Great Japan Earthquake followed by a massive tsunami–the starting point of the Fukushima disaster.

This natural tragedy is an extremely memorable event for the whole of Japan. After this day, Japan dramatically changed its view of national energy policy for the next decades, shifting to renewables in its prospective energy mix.

What Andrey Vavilov anticipated by founding the Faraday Factory Japan, was to induce positive tectonic changes to the energy landscape, enabling various zero-carbon energy technologies in the next years and changing the world’s energy supply in favor of cleaner, cheaper, and more abundant energy sources. Technology can even be more powerful than nature, you know.

Industrial production of HTS tape has made many derivative technologies feasible and cost-effective, the power of these materials is indeed transformative. Challenges associated with creating commercial fusion power plants, affordable offshore wind turbines, and long-distance power transmission lines with low losses have shifted from purely theoretical to engineering realms. 

The company is witnessing this transformation unfolding right now, thanks to the relentless efforts of engineers and entrepreneurs globally. However, the primary key to all this progress is its technology—the innovative high-temperature superconducting tape that it keeps producing.

The main initial challenge the company faced was making its technology scalable—this was the key to making the product affordable. It should be explained how the technology was made before: research groups were building small and much-customized production equipment that was finally difficult to replicate.

Unlike many other industrial sectors, the transition from laboratory production of HTS to industrial scale wasn’t merely an engineering task—it demanded scientific efforts as substantial as the development of a new type of superconductor. 

Having the world’s foremost scientists in superconductivity, and collaborating closely with top-tier engineers, was a pivotal success factor for the team. Moreover, employing standard equipment wherever possible and proactively incorporating big data analysis, machine learning, and the Internet of Things into the manufacturing process (years before it became a global trend) helped it maintain quality control of a complex product starting from the very early stages of development.

All of this was a continuous 24/7 team effort: communicating with engineers, scientists, companies, universities and research centers all over the world, managing tricky logistics, and searching for a production space for the rapidly growing company. However, although the cooperation was very broad, the company always kept the center of knowledge and IP inside—Andrey Vavilov believes it is the foundation for the company’s continuing success in the next decades.

Finally, the company did it ahead of all competition—in 10 years it has ramped up its production by 300 times and reduced prices by 10 times.

Taking a Quantum Leap

This point in time took place about 5-7 years ago, when new large projects were challenging the world’s HTS production community with requests to produce unthinkable amounts of HTS tape at unthinkable prices. Some customers were asked to provide the volume of HTS, which was larger than all the worldwide production capacity at that time! This road was completely unknown – it was not clear how much cost, time, talent, and inventions it would take to get the job done.It was a serious risk without any guarantee to win! “It’s no wonder actually that none of our competitors accepted this challenge back then,” says Andrey Vavilov.

The company was all-in on the rapid growth of its business and welcomed these new demanding tasks! At that very moment, Andrey Andrey Vavilov made a bold decision to take on all the expenses and risks associated with fulfilling the necessary R&D, purchasing new production equipment, and transitioning the company to round-the-clock operations. 

Each team member accepted the risks on their part, bringing in time, talent, reputation, and whatever else that was needed to succeed. The company had great teamwork, de-risking single tasks systematically, commisioning equipment, ramping up production, improving product quality, getting new encouraging results, making night shifts, and so on. It was fighting an uncertain battle, but after all, it put together enough team effort to win it. These challenges helped them grow at the end of the line.

Faraday Factory team did all the heavy lifting without external assistance; the clients merely set forth a challenge that demanded a “quantum leap” in production. As the team exceeded the expectations, the company’s global customer base started to grow rapidly. Some recent startup projects have become feasible only due to the timely scaling of HTS production in the company. 

“Innovations are needed at the right time–we sensed this critical moment and managed to capitalize on the opportunities it presented to us.”

Andrey Vavilov

Progress Graphs throughout Years

Faraday Factory is a success story that has already proven its viability and went through all recent disasters like COVID-19, logistics chaos, and energy crisis—basically unaffected. Its sales are growing constantly, and it continues to drive down production costs to keep the pricing attractive for customers. Faraday Factory Japan is the only company in this industry that operates 24/7 and all the products that it will produce this year and next year are already ordered. The company sees a lot of potential for a further scale-up.

Exploring the Unknowns

According to Andrey Vavilov, it is a mixture of determination, a responsible attitude, and passion to explore the unknowns. Exploring the unknown is especially critical when you do not follow in others’ footsteps and make your own way. 

If anyone builds their technology by combining already known elements, the result will be the average, at most. One just cannot make any breakthrough result by combining standard LEGO bricks. The results with standard parts are pre-determined. They are not special. In contrast, the company has developed unique technology ingredients based on its own long-term expertise in HTS and tailored those ingredients from the beginning to be suitable for its ultimate goal—producing large volumes of HTS at a high rate and a low cost. That is why it works and that is why what Faraday Factory has done is truly unique. 

For Faraday Factory, it is vital to maintain this exploring mindset aimed at overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Its technology has a lot of further potential to discover and to take it to new heights. Although the company is an undisputed global leader today, it is already discussing a next-generation gigafactory for HTS production, set to be constructed within a few years. This will be a smart digital factory, operating with the application of all state-of-the-art technologies—from cutting-edge tools of material research to robots and artificial intelligence. This will be a completely new level of industrial perfection, a masterpiece of engineering!

Revolutionizing the Energy World

Faraday Factory focuses its efforts on the development of high-temperature superconductors in the form of coated tapes. These HTS tapes customized for applications are its main product. The company develops and sells HTS tape for powerful magnets that are used in fusion devices and accelerators, for coils of ultra-light machines, such as motors and generators, and for cables and bus bars to transport large amounts of electricity with low losses. 

All the products are customized versions of HTS tape that Faraday Factory has perfected and sold today by thousands of kilometers. The company makes it a priority to focus on the availability and affordability of these products because only quick product development can help create completely new HTS-based industries in power generation and transmission, transportation, and healthcare. 

Faraday Factory is here to provide its tape to start-ups and mature companies that revolutionize the world energy landscape, creating breakthrough technologies for a zero-carbon economy. This is the company’s primary competitive advantage—it fulfills the largest orders for HTS tape in history to make this happen. Moreover, the company  is the dominant market leader, already producing more HTS tape than all other manufacturers in the world combined.

Dozens of commercial projects have emerged globally. Humanity has finally gained a tangible opportunity to actualize the age-old dream of an inexhaustible, affordable, and clean energy source. Ambitious initiatives to create superconducting power transmission lines have transitioned into purely engineering challenges. Andrey Vavilov is confident that in the very near future, every individual in the world will witness the immense benefits of the implementation of these technologies.

How will it benefit the world?

Faraday Factory makes superconductors, which are far better than conventional conductors such as copper. As we live in an electrical world and wires are used  everywhere, the company’s impact is going to be truly global.

Taming the fusion power with high-power superconducting magnets would make carbon-free energy available to everyone. The mankind will finally stop ruining the planet by digging out fossils and poisoning the atmosphere with carbon emissions. Fusion energy will be the right tool to provide energy to underserved regions in Africa and Asia. Don’t forget, the availability of energy is also a key to sustainable food and water supply. With fusion, modern engineering makes it possible to create by far the cleanest, easy-to-scale, and replicable energy source for future generations. It could be created in just several years from now! 

Another huge breakthrough is coming with the use of ultra-high field superconducting magnets in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Leading experts say that this will help us soon to understand and correct formerly incurable diseases: Alzheimer’s, dementia, and alike. Millions will benefit from low-cost HTS-enabled accelerator facilities that will help treat certain forms of cancer effectively with ion therapy. Today, such healthcare accelerator facilities are very rare and expensive due to the use of old, ineffective technology, and many people who could benefit have no chance of being cured. HTS is going to change that too. 

Future energy systems will become less visible, yet much more reliable, with superconducting cables, transformers, and special devices called fault current limiters. Losses of power in the grid will be decreased due to the zero resistivity of HTS—this will make utility bills smaller for everyone. 

Last, but not least, with superconductors our society will make the greatest explorations ever—with advanced colliders, people will learn how our Universe came to being during the Big Bang, and electrical rocket engines will take people not only to planets but to every corner of the Milky Way. Stephen Hawking’s dream (and not his alone) that humanity’s future lies on other planets could very well become a reality.

Enlarging the Horizons

Faraday Factory is very attentive to its customers—and makes its products for them and wants to make them perfect. It’s simple: the better the HTS tape, the more transformative results will be obtained by engineers. Faraday Factory has made many truly leading inventions in this way and it plans to continue doing so. 

On its way, the company invests a lot of effort and resources in research and development, tracking every customer’s feedback. And its customers are hundreds of teams, thousands of people. It’s a joint effort after all and it needs openness and effective communication to create a brand new industry.

It takes a lot of physical and mental energy to run a company like Faraday Factory,” says Vavilov. He takes inspiration from his family, spending a lot of time with his growing-up kids. Recently, Andrey Vavilov has found a strong creative passion for singing. He loves to sing classical songs from the mid-20th century. Many of these songs are very inspiring and supportive. Singing helps him enlarge the horizon, trigger new feelings, and discover new worlds. Very similar to things Faraday Factory accomplishes with superconductivity.

Bold yet Decisive

The responsibilities of an entrepreneur, from Vavilov’s perspective, are multifaceted and deeply intertwined with visionary thinking and a profound understanding of people. This combination empowers him with the courage to make pivotal decisions and profoundly shapes his entrepreneurial philosophy. Andrey Vavilov holds a strong belief that the real strength of a company lies in its people, so a fundamental component of entrepreneurship is assembling and inspiring a capable team. Prioritizing their growth is not merely an investment but a catalyst for unparalleled achievements.

Entrepreneurship is synonymous with bold, decisive actions, coupled with a relentless focus on long-term visions, even when faced with immediate, transient challenges. The strategic choices it makes must be aligned with ambitious goals, propelling the business to new heights and breaking new ground.

Risk and success are two sides of the same coin in the entrepreneurial journey. However, every risk taken should be well-calculated, backed by solid analysis and a robust foundation, ensuring that the journey, though fraught with uncertainties, is grounded in prudence and insight.

Advice to budding entrepreneurs

“Value people, empower decisions, do not fear mistakes, and never stop chasing the horizon.”

Andrey Vavilov

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