Meet Japanese Companies with Quality
A critical inspection inspec Inc.
Website: inspec Inc.
Category: Japanese Machinery
Electronic devices keep getting smaller and more complex thanks to the remarkable progress made in semiconductor technology. But semiconductors must undergo a rigorous quality control process to ensure their circuits are free of defects. Experts at the aptly named inspec Inc. play a critical role: they create specialized inspection equipment using their expertise in image processing, optical sensors and mechatronics.
Business at inspec has been, in the words of President and CEO Masashi Sugawara, "like a rollercoaster." Originally founded as Taiyo Manufacturing in 1984, the company mainly produced magnetic heads for VCRs. Yet when its main client transitioned to in-house manufacturing, inspec needed a new business model to survive. Sugawara recounts how a process of deliberation and consultation led to the company changing its business model in 1995 and later rebranding itself as inspec Inc. in 2001. Its aim was to manufacture equipment for semiconductor R&D.
Ups and downs
Success in the new field came quickly. In the first year, several units were sold of the company's first high-end product, a lead-frame inspection system. But a domestic financial crisis soon put a stop to equipment orders. In 2002, inspec entered a new booming industry. The engineers developed inspection equipment for flexible electronic circuits in LCD TVs. They quickly achieved success, with their machine used in the production of 60 percent of sets sold worldwide. Based on this success, inspec was even listed on a section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2006, but the economy grew worse in 2009 and the firm faced plummeting orders.
Now, business has recovered and is growing once again. At the heart of it is inspec's equipment for the fast and precise inspection of printed circuit boards, using a high-speed camera and lens. While the company relies on external partners for machine assembly and aspects of software production, all its technology is proprietary. "We do all planning and development in-house," Sugawara says.
Inspec has achieved its goal of being the best in its new industry. Sugawara has compared his own with competitors' products and is confident inspec is "the world leader for performance in this industry." As for quality, Sugawara notes that customers who bought their equipment 15 years ago are still using it today. Inspec's staff help maintain that trend by offering customers upgrades to their machines' core-processing engines.
Sugawara is considering fresh changes to his business model, though this time, "little by little." He's hoping to develop a service-operations sector and to increase his customer base by offering lower cost equipment.
Website: inspec Inc.