Over the course of 94 years, Okawara has grown from producing drying systems for local tea producers into a global leader for high-performance drying technology across a wide range of industries, including the pharmaceutical, food, chemical, and environmental sectors. We sat down with president, Yukio Okawara, to learn more about the company and some of its popular machinery, such as the EVAPOR Spinning Cone Centrifugal Thin-film Vacuum Evaporator and the RIBOCONE Connical Ribbon Mixer Dryer
Can you please give us a brief introduction of your company?
We are focused on drying machinery and technology. We have a wide variety of industries that we could serve: chemical, food, pharmaceutical and environmental. Having said that we have a wide range of products that are catered to the different industries that have been mentioned.
In recent years there has been a preference for rotary dryers because of their ability to be effective and to work faster. Many changes are driven by regulations imposed on manufacturers specifically on chemicals or food and these have created new requirements to be met by companies such as yours. Furthermore, there is also a demand for drying machines that can sustain very high temperatures. Please tell us how your company is addressing these issues?
We work closely with our clients to understand what exactly their needs are, and based on these we upgrade our specifications, do test trials, or create prototypes. We cater to the changing needs of the market and we are always fierce in taking up new challenges. We use the various equipment that we have for the satisfaction of our customers from different industries that we cater to. We have developed RIBOCONE, which can be heated at 350°C is the equipment, to fulfill their needs. We receive many inquiries of RIBOCONE from the battery industry, which requires high-temperature drying.
Your company has a long history. Could you tell us more about the key milestones and technological developments that you have achieved through the years?
Key milestones: We have two subsidiary companies in Japan and China respectively. In China, we started a business in 2003 and established a subsidiary company as an overseas production base. But in 2019 we set up a joint venture between our subsidiary company and Chinese state owned company. We aim to expand our business into a growing environment market with our dryers.
In Japan, our subsidiary is designing and manufacturing equipment related to pharmaceutical industry. The aim of the Kyusyu plant is to expand our market share in the pharmaceutical industry and increase our production capacity. We plan to use these two locations strategically. Our main factory is here in Shizuoka.
Technological developments: Okawara is an engineering company with over 90 years of history in drying solutions. In the early years of its foundation, Okawara started out supplying drying systems for the local tea manufacturing industry, and then then we expanded our business by designing and manufacturing a wide range of drying systems for other industries. Based on customer’s requirements we design and provide technologies and services. We aim to enhance the business value of our customer and also contribute to our society. With our experiences, techniques, and knowledge acquired over the long history, we have been able to build up a lot of business and we are now at a leading position in the industrial drying field in Japan.
Let us talk about your product Ribocone (Conical Ribbon Mixer Dryer). This year you have made changes to this, you have increased the process temperature from three hundred to three hundred and fifty centigrade. Why did you decide to do this and what are the advantages it brought to your clients?
Since we have been receiving many requests for heating materials above three hundred degrees especially battery material manufacturers, we have developed this product in response to those requests. By heating the material at high temperature under high vacuum, the customer can remove the solvent in the material at a high level. Currently, we are receiving inquiries about RIBOCONE not only from Japan but also from South Korea and China.
Your company is categorized as a small-medium enterprise (SME), how are you able to compete with much larger companies in the market? What are your strategies?
We do thorough discussions to prevent any mechanical problem. Whenever we get an order, the sales team discusses details of specifications with the engineering team and carries out a comprehensive risk assessment for each project. Our engineers carefully review mechanical strength, collision interference between each part and machine design from customer’s operation point of view before starting detailed design. Our sales members work very closely with our engineers for each project. With our experiences and expertise over 90 years, we are committed to making the best product for each client.
You have international activities such as in Italy and China. Tell us about your international strategies and what global markets are you looking to penetrate into?
China is a big market for us, and we initially focused on industrial machinery which includes food and chemicals, soon we realized that China has a lot of environmental issues. This is too big of a market for us to tackle since our company is only an SME, so we decided to partake in a joint-venture with a Chinese government-owned company and we are now actively seeking our promotion for both industrial and environmental fields. The environmental business that we have with China is not solely to generate money, it is for us to establish a network, and with this we would receive purchase orders for our machinery from our clients. And also, we have sales partners in North America and Europe. At present we are considering the possibility to manufacture some of our equipment outside Japan besides China with the help from our local partners.
This year, we will introduce a testing machine for our partner in the United States and Europe, and build a system for conducting tests at site. Through such activities, we would like to increase the number of inquiries.
You have established partnerships in Italy and in the US. Please tell us the importance of these two markets in your future strategy?
Both markets are very important. What they have in common is that they both require high-value products and quality. We believe the technology that we’ve built up in Japan is also demanded in these two markets. Our RIBOCONE and EVAPOR are our flagship products in the US and European markets. In fact, we have received many inquiries. We also receive a lot of requests for our sterilization machinery especially from Asian countries. We would like to increase our sales channels and expand our product line up.
What particular product in your company that you are most proud of?
Imagine we will come back to interview you again in five years, what would you like to tell us? What are your dreams for the company and what legacy would you like to leave to the next generation?
Our company has more than 96 of existence. My grandfather was the founder and I am the fifth generation. Usually for Japanese small and medium firms the same president goes on for a very long time, but the founder created this rule that the president needs to resign at the age of sixty-eight. For every new president of this company comes new ideas and technological advancements. Now our company is financially stable, and I hope that this will continue for a very long time. To ensure this continuity of financial growth this company has to evolve and progress in terms of their technology and human resources.
When you come back five years from now, I will most likely be working on the garden outside as a way of spending my retirement. Please let me know when you come.