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SMT & Inspection | October 27, 2006

OKi celebrates 60 years

This year marks the 60th anniversary of OK International. OKi has come a very long way since 1946, when it first opened its doors for business, but the company's direction and success today owe a great deal to its early years, and the vision of its founders.

At its inauguration, OK Machine & Tool Corporation was a specialist in the precision machining of metal parts, primarily for the defence industry. Over the following years, its focus evolved to the point that by the 1970s, it had moved into the manufacture and distribution of wire wrapping products for telephone switching systems. Drawing on its expertise and knowledge of the telecommunications industry, it was then just a short step for OKi to make its processes available to the broader electronics industry. Later, in 1989, OK International made the strategic decision that was to initiate the formation of the company we know today: it resolved to dedicate its resources to the development, manufacture and marketing of its own products, primarily for solder/desolder and rework. Over the next few years, in alignment with that strategy, it acquired Metcal, Techcon and Impell. Together with its own acquisition in 2000 by Dover Corporation, these acquisitions strengthened OK International's competencies in the manufacture and development of soldering, dispensing and fume filtration systems, and broadened its product line with patented technologies and products. They also helped it to expand its customer base, markets, and geographic presence. Today, thanks to these developments, OK International employs 300 people in 8 sites worldwide. Its tools and systems are supplied to the global market through various channels including over 100 leading local distributors, and it counts the world's top OEMs and blue chip companies among its clients. If getting to the top is no mean feat, staying there is even more of a challenge. With this in mind, the company determined in 2005 that the time was right to strengthen its position by rebranding all its products under a single name. The New OKi brand was launched at Productronica in the same year; a move that, for Paul Weaver, OK International's Vice President of European Sales, was faultless. A year on, he notes: “The principal benefit for our customers, our distributors and OK International itself, is clarity. Before, with our multiple brands, it was sometimes difficult to deliver the message that we supplied equipment for every player and every part of the assembly workbench. Now, our message is unequivocal, we offer the full range of soldering, rework, fume extraction and dispensing products, at all levels, from entry level to high-end tools and systems. Now our clients are clear that they can source all of their equipment from us, whatever their application, whatever their technical requirements, whatever their budget". Of course, the message is important, but the messenger is even more important, and for OK International, its distributors are partners, to be supported locally, with a local sales message. Again, where this was prohibitive as a multi-brand strategy, the single brand has facilitated its introduction. Weaver: “With our new localised marketing resources, we can concentrate on the specific needs of our local markets. This is particularly important for our European distributors and customers, who receive local support and a local, rather than a global message". OK International has also opened up new sales channels, such as catalogue sales of its more mainstream products; a move that has proven highly successful in bringing in new clients. The new message, new energy, new sales support and distribution channels, and new products mean significant growth in sales volumes. This, in turn means more base materials handling, and more products coming off the manufacturing lines and moving through to the final customer. It is clear that this must all be managed properly, as Weaver emphasises: “The differentiator between us and our competitors is in our management of our total supply chain – from our vendors to after sales customer care". To this end, the company has been busy setting up new systems such as e-Kanban to streamline materials and production handling, and improving its consignment inventory management systems. The result is lower cost manufacture and improved lead-times, all to the benefit of OK International, its distributors and its clients. In driving these recent changes, OK International continues to demonstrate the determination and vision that have been the hallmark of its management since its inception 60 years ago, and there is no doubt that these qualities will continue to benefit the electronics industry well into the 21st Century.
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