Successful businessman and founder of McDonald’s Ray Croc once said, “The two most important requirements for success are: first, being in the right place at the right time, and second, doing something about it.” Although it’s unlikely that his words were heard half a world away, it’s the path Japanese-based Koyo Electronics has followed for 60 years.
During the 1950s, as Japan struggled to emerge from World War II, Ikeda Yoshilchiro used his personal funds to establish a small company called Koyo Electric to manufacture and sell portable radios. At the time of its founding, Koyo employed six people. A mere two years later, Koyo and another start-up company (now known as SONY) were the leaders in the industry producing portable radios for a post-war market.
Looking to further capitalize on consumer interest in portable radios and record players, Koyo Electric changed its name to Koyo Electronics Industries in 1959 and sent representatives to the United States to conduct market research. Their discovery led to Koyo increasing its production of radios to 10,000 units per month and record players to 500 units per month. By joining forces with U.S. consumer electronics maker Philco as its OEM (original equipment manufacturer) supplier in 1962, Koyo’s most popular radio product sold more than 100 million units.
Since then, Koyo, as well as the nation of Japan, has been a recognized leader in producing quality consumer electronic products as well as industrial components for worldwide distribution.
Branching Out into New Products and Markets
In the early ‘60s, Koyo was once again exploring new markets with research into the fields of semiconductor function and proximity sensors. This enabled Koyo to add new products and moved the company in the direction of factory components, including the manufacturing of proximity switches, decatron counters, electronic counters, electronic timers, industrial TV cameras, and photoelectric sensors. Then in 1962, Koyo began producing a non-contact relay called the KOYO-O-MATIC series which became the predecessor to the PLC (programmable logic controller). These non-contact relays were not easy to work with and required individual hardware systems to be installed as well as the need to manage a difficult change of control content known as remodeling.
Koyo continued to work through these issues and in 1971 had developed a step-progression type PLC. After this model of PLC, the company continued to produce improved offerings including:
- Stage Type PLC (SA-128) in 1978
- Ladder Type PLC (SR-256) in 1979
- Stage/Ladder Type PLC (SA-64/SR-64) in 1980
- Stage/Ladder Type PLC (SA-50/SR-50) in 1981
- The world’s first modular SR21 (now the DirectLogic 305) PLC and SA-400/SR-400 PLC started selling in 1982
By 1983, Koyo’s stature in the PLC manufacturing industry became recognized worldwide. The company’s SR21 PLC caught the attention of General Electric which decided to use Koyo as the OEM supplier for their own Series One offering. The product sold so well that GE nicknamed it “America’s Most Popular PLC.” It is estimated that more than one million of these units were installed worldwide. Over the years, more accolades poured in for Koyo’s PLC. Texas Instruments also began to private label the Koyo product with enhancements and called it their “Best Value PLC.” Siemens Industrial Automation also decided to private label the PLC and, once again, the product line with additional enhancements was named a “Best Value PLC” by Siemens.
To date, more than three million modules of the SR21 by Koyo Electronics have been sold, making it one of the most widely marketed PLCs in history proving that it is extremely reliable and well-suited for many applications.
The Right Place and the Right Time for the Right Product
By the 1990s, Koyo Electronics decided to follow its own path of producing and marketing its widely successful PLC products. However, without a distributor in the U.S. it was nearly impossible for Koyo to develop the North American market. The Koyo 50th Anniversary magazine explains: “Koyo had such high hopes for this new business venture but was very disappointed. We had conceived of this idea but had no local entity to take responsibility for the business.”
As Koyo continued to search for answers, a company representative heard about a business concept for a mail order system devised by Tim Hohmann. With a possible solution to their problems, Koyo Electronics Senior Managing Director, Mr. Koyama, visited the U.S. and met with Hohmann to listen to his initiative. Koyo’s magazine describes what happened, “Mr. Koyama thought Mr. Hohmann had a clear vision and could be trusted. However, there was opposition to this back in Japan since, at the time, Hohmann seemed young (mid-30s) to have the experience to implement the new idea successfully. Mr. Koyama managed to persuade the other executives at Koyo to move ahead with the proposal and of course we have been very satisfied with the relationship.”
In 1994, PLCDirect by Koyo was established as a privately held company based in the U.S. as a subsidiary of Koyo Electronics with Hohmann named as the founder and company captain. This was the first entity within the Koyo group to concentrate solely on the micro PLC market. Updated versions of the Koyo PLC were introduced – the DL205, DL305 and DL405 – including more enhancements with Windows-based programming software DirectSOFT and became instant successes. The DL305 product is still called a “PLC Classic.”
For the first few years, PLCDirect by Koyo sold products primarily with a printed catalog and toll-free phone number. The first catalog featured about 200 products. Just before the turn of the new millennium, the company changed its name to AutomationDirect.com and launched its e-commerce site.
Manufacturing Quality Products Brings Honor to Japan and the World
In addition to its work with AutomationDirect.com, Koyo Electronics Industries continues its production of quality products in other industries, including electronic control devices, imaging devices, automotive devices, and FA control systems. In 2006, Koyo joined the multi-billion dollar JTEKT group of companies which is a major supplier of OEM components to the automotive industry. The name JTEKT represents the “desire to be an epoch making [sic] force for industries, the era, and customer’s heart.” In the name JTEKT, the ‘J’ stands for joint, joy and Japan. The ‘TEKT’ comes from the ancient Greek word meaning ‘one possessing superior technical skill.’
Through all the changes and introductions of new products, Koyo Electronics has maintained its commitment to provide products customers need, manufactured in a quality-centered manner, that is sensitive to environmental standards. From a small company struggling to make its customers and country proud, the Koyo vision has always been “based on human respect, making good use of wisdom and imagination to provide good value and to contribute to the development of a safe and fulfilling society.” (Translation from Koyo Electronics website.)
Originally Published: December 2015