KML ENGINEERING was up against some stiff competition when it bid for the contract to provide the automatic fair collection (AFC) system for the MTR Disneyland Resort Line. The company had never developed such a system before and it was bidding against well-known overseas names. 'We were competing with large overseas equipment or systems providers when we bid for the AFC system for the MTR Disney Resort Line,' managing director Luk Kam-ming said. 'We managed to win this contract even though it was our first time to provide an AFC system.' KML Engineering was incorporated in 1977 as KM Luk & Engineers. It has developed into one of the leading engineering service providers and system integrators in the region. It provides systems infrastructure and application solution services. Its clients include the Airport Authority, Alcatel, City Bus, the Hong Kong Jockey Club, Hongkong Post, the KCRC, Mitsubishi Electric, Siemens and the Transport Department. It has more than 200 employees. 'We started as a very small team, working in the railway industry. Our business is mainly electrical and mechanical engineering services, and contracting, mainly involving infrastructure development in Hong Kong,' Mr Luk said. The company is highly experienced in areas such as signalling systems, power distribution systems and telecommunications, but had not worked on a project such as the AFC system before. So how was it able to convince MTR Corporation to give it a chance? 'We explained to MTR Corp that, as a local company, we could work like a partner with the MTR. We have had a long working relationship with them and they understood our capability and dedication. We offered a very competitive price as well. So, finally they awarded the contract to us.' The result was MetroStile, an intelligent fare gate that raises the bar in several key areas. It provides faster throughput, allowing 70 patrons to pass through a gate per minute, nearly double the previous capacity. It is also safer, quieter and more user-friendly. In addition to the Disneyland Resort Line, it will be used on the Airport Express Line Extension leading to Asia World-Expo near the Hong Kong International Airport, and the new KCRC Tsim Sha Tsui East station. 'The design of MetroStile is quite trendy. It uses a retractable bi-parting gate, the latest design being widely used throughout the world. It was introduced in Europe. This is the first time it has been used in Greater China.' KML introduced a series of enhancements in its design. There is a Patron Access and Counting System that debits an Octopus card and also counts the number of passengers using infrared sensors. A Passenger Presence Detection System ensures that baby carriages and parcels are not mistaken for fare-paying patrons. Another feature is the Multimedia Personalised Patron Guidance System, which detects if a passenger is vision-impaired. In this case, it can enlarge the liquid-crystal display readout by 50 per cent and also broadcast the amount paid and how much money is left on a card in either English or Cantonese. It does not broadcast this information for other passengers to keep noise levels low. 'This helps in Hong Kong, which is a multilingual society. The technology is there to add other languages such as Putonghua or Japanese when the need arises. 'This feature can be extended to include other features - to make it more user-friendly, for example, for tourists.' The system took 18 months to develop. A team of four electronic engineers, four mechanical engineers, and five software engineers worked on the $15 million project. 'This was record-breaking speed. Everyone was pleasantly surprised that we could finish this in such a short time, slightly ahead of schedule. We did much more for less money. We actually developed the product from zero,' Mr Luk said. There is a lesson in all of this for the Hong Kong government and large companies. Given the opportunity, Hong Kong's small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can compete with the world's best - and win. 'The way we won the contract demonstrates that there is a niche which many people here have been overlooking when they talk about improving the local economy. 'This throws some limelight on how big corporations can work together with SMEs like us. In the past, contracts for all these high-profile projects were always handed to overseas companies.' Taking part in the Hong Kong Awards for Industry has been like icing on the cake. Deputy managing director Li Man-fai said: 'It has given us a lot of exposure and will send a message to industry there is a high standing for Hong Kong products. 'This is why we volunteered to participate in the competition. We wanted to tell the world that there is this range of products that Hong Kong can produce - not just toys, but things that are what we call 'mission critical'.'