More than 15 years ago, when Zhang Jing was a researcher at a metal chemistry lab of Jinchuan Group, she realized self-developed core technologies are what underpins a business' sustainable development.
"We will be involved in endless price wars if manufacturing just conventional products. Only unique technologies and distinctive products can make us stand out in the industry," said Zhang, who is the current deputy general manager of the Lanzhou Jinchuan Technology Park, a subsidiary of Jinchuan Group.
Zhang then resolved to focus on products that can substitute imported ones.
In 2008, the Switzerland-headquartered Metalor had almost monopolized the domestic market of palladium plating solution, which is generally used in electroplating connectors of electronic products.
With the price of imports escalating, connector manufacturers expressed an urgent need for homegrown counterparts.
Zhang therefore pitched into extensive research and experiments to achieve technological breakthroughs.
"We made progress in improving purification techniques after repeated attempts and managed to make palladium content as high as that of imported goods," Zhang said.
One year later, their self-developed solutions started mass production and entered the market.
Zhang added that except for the research and development, the hardest part was to earn recognition and trust from customers who became accustomed to the imported products.
"Our strategy was to show an evaluation report which was published by a third-party agency and suggested that our products were comparable to imports," she said. "Based on that, we provided them with samples for further assessment and fi eld tests."
As a result, Jinchuan broke the monopoly of foreign suppliers in palladium plating solutions. It became one of China's largest manufacturers in the early 2010s, capturing roughly 30 percent of the domestic market.
In addition to the solution, Zhang and her team have developed a batch of products that are on a par with imported counterparts applied in industries such as electronics, autos and medicine.
Last year, Jinchuan Precious Metal Material, an enterprise whose predecessor is the metal chemistry lab, registered an annual revenue of 1.3 billion yuan ($188 million). This marked a sharp jump from about 14.8 million yuan in 2013 when the company was founded, according to data from Jinchuan.
Meanwhile, the company has established a close partnership with industry giants from home and abroad including Huawei, Apple and Samsung.
Zhang attributed most of the remarkable achievements to technological innovation.
Not just for the company, innovation is the major driver behind the rapid growth of the group and even the whole industry, she said.
So far, the technology park has cultivated four major industries of battery materials, precious metals, semiconductors and silver-related materials.
Zhang and her team have also received many honors for their contributions to the industry.
Committed to innovation, her team is now working on a special silver powder that is used in solar cells. Currently, the industry is heavily reliant on imports, Zhang said.
"We have made great advances in research and development and aim to become one of China's leading suppliers in the near future," she said.