OKAY Industries Inc.

With OKAY Industries opening a new manufacturing facility, preparing to open another facility this summer and investing in new quality processes and technological capabilities, one would think that the economy was on a major upswing and not the slow gradual ascension that it’s actually on.

OKAY Industries is one of the few companies – across all industries, not just manufacturing – that has continued to record annual double-digit growth. The century-old company’s success and longevity is centered on a customer-centric strategy.

“We listen to our customers and we listen to our employees to help guide our decisions,” Vice President Donna Lasher states. “That keeps us focused on market needs and the best ways to use our skills to meet those needs.”

The needs that OKAY focuses on include those of the medical, automotive, defense and firearms industries. For the auto industry, that means parts for valve trains, air and fuel management systems, timing chain systems, diesel systems and fuel pumps, fuel injection systems and anti-lock braking systems. It also manufactures ordnance and aircraft components for the defense and aerospace industries as well as magazines, receivers, trigger bars and pistol and rifle components for firearms producers.

It also serves  various industrial markets such as energy, micro-turbine and power generation, electronics, fire protection, computers and office equipment, commercial and industrial hardware and power equipment and marine.

OKAY is a leading manufacturer of complex metal stampings, automated mechanical and welded assemblies and surgical blades and scissors, and possesses specialty capabilities in titanium and nitinol stamping services. Its in-house skills in computer numerical controlled (CNC) machining, laser welding, automated assembly, design engineering and supply chain management, as well as its proprietary manufacturing processes all translate into high-quality, efficiently made products.

expansion underway

OKAY is complementing its 100,000-square-foot New Britain Conn. facility with two additional spaces to better serve its customers. In December 2011, the company, a successor to B. Jahn Manufacturing Co., celebrated its 100th anniversary by announcing the expansion, stating that  these new facilities respond “to continued business growth and the need for increased capacity and additional capabilities.”

It will open a new 63,000-square-foot facility this June in Berlin, Conn. The facility will be used primarily to further strengthen its medical engineering and manufacturing footprint. “Our location in Berlin is really going to be our medical product manufacturing building,” President Jason Howey explains. “We will still do some medical manufacturing in our New Britain facility and we will do some non-medical manufacturing in Berlin, but Berlin will be focused primarily on medical devices. Our work in New Britain will be focused more on R&D, engineering, tool room, stamping and some machining. The Berlin facility will do mostly CNC machining and automated assemblies.”

In Alajuela, Costa Rica, OKAY’s new 14,000-square-foot facility will focus on the medical and automotive markets. The facility opened in April to provide improved service to OKAY’s Latin American customer base and offer greater opportunities to win new clients in the region.

“Working closely with customers so that we understand both their manufacturing needs and their business needs is one of the keys to OKAY’s superior output,” stresses Mario Chaves, a Costa Rican manufacturing veteran and general manager of the new facility in Alajuela. “Our Costa Rica operation will keep OKAY engineering and expertise close to our customers who are growing here.”

A Mind for Medicine

OKAY’s expansion will benefit its entire customer base, but it will especially expand its expertise and volume in medical devices, a core focus of the company. “The medical market’s reliance on innovation and its absolute need for repeatable quality make it a great match for the engineers and manufacturing professionals at OKAY,” Howey states. “By adding a standalone medical facility to our capabilities, we’ll have the focus and resources to develop applications that help our medical customers redefine how they treat patients.”

OKAY, however, has already developed several solutions for this particular market. As a leading medical manufacturer, the company’s expertise in stamping and machining of a wide range of metals – including stainless steels, implantable titanium and nitinol – has made it an invaluable supplier in the industry. OKAY has even developed a trademarked process just for medical customers to produce laparoscopic shears and other cutting devices.

“OKAY’s customers’ specifications for flawless cutting edges with precise location on the components at a reasonable cost were beyond the capabilities of typical blade suppliers,” the company explains. “As a result, OKAY has utilized in-house expertise to develop proprietary equipment and processes that meet the requirements of the most demanding customers. OKAY’s process produces consistent cutting edges in high volume that require significantly less cutting force than its competitors, and less than customers’ requirements.”

The process is called the Accu-Blade and it uses OKAY’s proprietary CNC machinery to ensure high-volume output while maintaining critical edge tolerances. The process can be used to produce a variety of cutting edge shapes, including straight, curved, pointed and multi-edge.

Howey says the innovative technology is a great synergy with the needs of the medical industry. “This industry, more than others, is rapidly innovative,” he says. “They need partners with strong engineering and quality benchmarking to help develop processes and understand their products. That is a core competency for OKAY Industries.”

Another strategic move will solidify OKAY’s commitment to the medical industry even more. The company is redefining its quality management system to be ISO 13485 compliant by the end of this year. “[This certification] is specific to the medical device industry,” Howey says. “Continuing to upgrade our process benefits our medical customers and all the customers we serve.”

Renaissance Skills

Even as OKAY continues to expand its medical device manufacturing capabilities, the company maintains its reputation as a reliable supplier to the other key industries it serves. In addition to Accu-Blade, OKAY has other proprietary processes that benefit its entire customer network.

Its Production Proven Prototyping, for instance, is another registered trademark process. By applying the same tooling concepts, sequence of operations and grain direction it used during the prototype stage to production, OKAY can assure its customers that the prototype they approved is the exact same product they will receive at delivery.

“It’s a guarantee that it will be the same product because we are using the same methodology,” Howey explains. “It really gives the customer the peace of mind.”

Another accuracy and cost-saving technique is OKAY’s 80% Stamping. OKAY’s engineers use 4-axis CNC machining and wire EDM equipment to create products in an unconventional way. “The 80% stamping takes fully machined parts and stamps as many of the features in that one part as possible, which is a lower-cost, higher-volume process,” Howey says. “And then we machine the more complex features.”

The company complements these patented processes with sophisticated automation technologies, such as its CNC-controlled rotary press systems. The company needed a way to pierce holes through a series of formed channels made from 0.75-inch-thick material with the inside channel’s width being only 0.200 of an inch. To produce the holes to a true position tolerance of 0.001, the company would normally go through an expensive machining operation. Instead, OKAY developed a machine that lifts the rotary table two inches, rotates sixty degrees and then moves down two inches to its piercing height.

Another automation technology provides 100 percent inspection of knife edges. The Automatic Vision Inspection System takes magazine stacks of products, strips one product from the stack and accurately positions it in front of three video cameras. The cameras each snap a picture and instantly analyze the data, and the system accepts or rejects the product based on pixel reflection. The products are sorted back into magazine stacks based on acceptance or rejection. “The speed of the system was designed to inspect 200 percent more parts per shift than current production needs so that increased volume requirements could be met as this business continues to grow,” the company says.

OKAY has also pioneered automation assembly processes. Its engineers have developed an electro-pneumatic, fully automatic machine that mates stamped components to pins. The machine loads and locates each component and stakes the pins to the component to complete the assembly. The machine then unloads the finished part directly to the packaging system. The company says the computer-controlled process has eliminated dimensional and damage problems that can evolve from the manual process while creating several quality check points, maximum flexibility and optimum speeds.

Another assembly automation process is a laser-welding solution that combines four components into a subassembly and welds them together in eight places. A video monitor records and controls the weld quality.

Partners Are Preferred

Howey explains that OKAY’s  assembly capabilities are a key offering that more of its clients are seeking. “A lot of our customers are looking to reduce their supplier base,” he says. “Some are looking for a lot of opportunities of consolidation. We are making components, but we are also putting many of them together and buying from other suppliers to perform the whole assembly for them and give the customer a full package so they can have one or two SKUs rather than 20.”

Its customers’ movement to consolidation is one of the reasons the manufacturer has wanted to form long-term partnerships with its customers. Many companies no longer see price as the No. 1 reason to choose one supplier versus another. Instead, the world is learning that real efficiencies come from high-quality products that do exactly what they are expected to do.

Though it might cost more upfront, the return on investment is greater with products that get the job done right. To make sure these products are made correctly, OKAY’s customers want to work with suppliers who can do the bulk of the work in-house, from design and development to manufacturing and quality testing.

“Customers know what they want and they know the quality they want,” Howey says. “But about half of the components we are working on, the customer has no idea of how they manufacture it. We are very engineering-focused. We have a large number of engineers for a company of our size. We co-develop products for our customers and also do the manufacturing process in-house. This is something we see as an important strength, as well. We invest heavily in research and development.”