Solving the Impossible

2 years ago . 5 min read
Solving the Impossible

Arfian Fuadi’s Dtech Engineering emerges as a world-class firm after winning two global design contests.


Arfian Fuadi, 31, has built from scratch Dtech Engineering, a design engineering firm with clients in more than 30 countries. He did so with only a vocational high school education (graduating in 2005), and basing his company in his hometown of Salatiga—“in the middle of nowhere”—as he puts it (located about 500 km from Jakarta).

Started in late 2009, Dtech Engineering creates 3D designs of various products, from ballpoint pens to small aircraft, for its clients. With an initial investment of just Rp 1.5 million, Arfian started the company in his father’s house. He got his first clients from Upwork, a crowdsourcing platform. “We created products that were basically nonexistent in the market. As long as we got the opportunity, we were willing to learn,” says Arfian, now working out of a two-story house in a quiet residential neighborhood.

His claim to fame came when he won first place—twice—in a global design challenge sponsored by U.S. firm General Electric. The first time was in 2013, when his brother M Arie Kurniawan, 26, led a Dtech team that designed a lightweight jet engine bracket that was 84% lighter than the original bracket at just 327 grams, yet had the same strength and performance of the original bracket. It could also be made using 3D printing and a titanium material. The Dtech team had to beat 700 other bracket designs submitted from 56 countries. It also had to withstand axial loads of up to 9,500 pounds and torsional loads of 5,000 inch-pounds.

The second challenge, held last year, was the On Wing Jet Engine Inspection Design Challenge. At the competition, Arfian and his team designed an on-wing jet engine inspection device to increase the safety and efficiency of commercial aircraft. His inspection device combined smart automation, big data and artificial intelligence. “In both competitions, we had to compete with seasoned engineers and we used computers that were maybe 10 times slower [than bigger rivals]. However, we won both challenges,” says Arfian, with pride. Dtech Engineering received around $15,000 in combined prize money from the two contests.

Yet more valuable than the money was the global attention that being the first place winner of two contests brought—an accomplishment made the more remarkable given their lack of advanced education in engineering (Arfian’s brother M Arie is also a vocational school graduate). “We are driven by mistakes. We are not afraid of making one and learn from it,” Arfian says.

Currently, Dtech Engineering employs 17 people in total, including the team for its agri-tech startup subsidiary Nyayur. The name Dtech itself comes from Arfian’s nickname from his grandma, Dayun. “Dayun was a servant of Javanese kings in the 16th century. When I was small, I wondered why my grandmother gave me such an ugly nickname. However, I now realize that my job is to serve others, and Dtech Engineering is where I can serve other people’s needs,” says Arfian.

Around 98% of Dtech Engineering’s clients are from abroad—with about 40% coming from the U.S. alone. Many clients, especially from the U.S., get the time difference advantage since they can send an order in the U.S. evening and get the result by next morning. To keep good talent, Arfian says Dtech pays senior engineers around Rp 400,000 per hour. However, some big projects can last up to nine months.

From Farm to Kitchen Table

Beside Dtech Engineering, Arfian also created a digital startup Nyayur last year. With the Nyayur application, users can order groceries and vegetables from traditional tukang sayur sellers and the product will be delivered directly to the buyer. The main goal of Nyayur, says Arfian, is to capture consumption data to help farmers be more productive, as they often miscalculate the supply and demand in agricultural goods.

The other memorable achievement was designing a lightweight aircraft for an undisclosed client in Wichita, Kansas (the home to Beechcraft and many other aviation firms). The company wanted a small lightweight aircraft with an equally ultralight engine. Dtech Engineering designed an aircraft using just 33 horsepower—close to the horsepower of a large lawnmower. It can also do loops and carry two people (up to 250 kg in total weight). Arfian created three models, one for sport flying, one for agricultural work and a third for researchers. “We designed an aircraft certified to fly in the U.S.,” says Arfian. In Indonesia, Dtech is working on several government projects that Arfian must keep confidential, but offers they are for transportation agencies.

To develop talent, the company has opened the Dtech Innovation Center, which has activities such as a free two-week class to teach computer assisted-design (CAD)—the CAD classes are already fully booked a year in advance. “We would like to show that the global economy is not as scary as it seems. Instead, it’s fun and one can find a lot of opportunity, especially if you’re young,” says Arfian. One project he’s given to the alumni of the Dtech Innovation Center is to design a drone that can fly without stopping for one week. They must develop their own design from scratch. It will be difficult to do, he admits—but then laughs and says: “Difficult is our mid- dle name.”

Arfian has many goals on his bucket list. He would love someday to go back to school to earn a proper university degree, which would allow him to become a lecturer at a university. Another ambition is to move Dtech from being just a design firm to also manufacturing the products it designs. In 2013, Dtech did design and assemble a pen product, but hasn’t manufactured anything else after that. The team is now assembling a 3D printing device, which they can use to make products they have designed in-house.

Arfian also plans to convert the legal status of the Dtech Innovation Center into a foundation, which would allow it to focus on social activities separate from the business of Dtech Engineering, because he wants to expand the center’s offerings of free classes and other knowledge-sharing. Yet to afford to do that, he knows he must keep growing Dtech Engineering as a business. “We want to prove that in the middle of nowhere, we can help the world. My vision is to invent and solve as many problems in the world as possible, even the impossible ones,” Arfian concludes.

Written By
Shintya Felicitas