Interview: Sense of purpose

Interview: Sense of purpose

Optex has celebrated a number of technological firsts in its 40 year history, including the world’s first automatic door sensor using far infrared technology and one of the first wireless security sensors. SME speaks to Masaya Kida, managing director for Optex EMEA about whats behind the company’s success

How was Optex founded?

It was 40 years ago, in a coffee house in Kyoto, that the idea of Optex was born. Toru Kobayashi, an electronics engineer, and three like-minded colleagues shared a vision for a new business, a business that had sensing technology at its heart, precision technology that could detect the ‘status’ and ‘changes’ of people and things. Their vision became reality on May 25, 1979. Fast-forward to 2019, and this vision is still as important today as it always was, and Optex has established a deserved reputation for excellence. The Optex Group now comprises 1,963 employees across 35 companies. The global network comprises 76 offices, delivering products and services worldwide. It turns over approximately $366 million.

Can you tell us something about the culture of the business?

Its people are at the centre of the business. Optex uses a locomotive analogy to explain its culture, but rather than the management driving the team, they actively encourage the team to drive the engine forward. It is a collaborative and entrepreneurial culture, and one that empowers every employee to have the same dreams as the original founders. The founders’ vision is about developing employees as individuals, to build their own skills and talents, and to make a positive contribution to the wider society.

What are the biggest technological developments in the last 40 years that have impacted the market?

Over the last 40 years, there have been two significant technological developments that have shaped and driven how the security industry has evolved. The first is the evolution of video cameras and dedicated devices to monitor and analyse events; the second is the transition of technology from analogue to digital, and the dominance of IP. These developments have in turn led to the evolution of ‘connected’ devices and the true integration of sensors with video surveillance and video monitoring solutions. Interoperability is very important.

In terms of our own contribution to the industry, in 1980, Optex developed the world’s first automatic door sensor using far infrared technology, a technology now adopted as standard. Prior to this development, doors used a matt-triggered mechanism. In 1983, Optex developed one of the first, wireless security sensors – a significant innovation in its time – and more recently (in 2009) its engineers developed the Laser sensor LiDARs which has created a new market for sensor detection.

New access technologies are also important?

We are increasingly seeing a demand in automatic door and turnstile installations to detect and prevent tailgating, and this is again where our dedicated sensing technologies can play a critical role. Access control is becoming increasingly software-based, and more and more commercial premises are looking at new ways of allowing free access to authorised staff, while keeping unauthorised intruders out.

What gives Optex its competitive edge?

Optex competitive advantage has always been around its sensing algorithm know-how. The know-how built up through many years of field-based technological development is our most valuable asset, and central to the evolution of its Far-Infrared, Near-Infrared and Laser sensor technologies.

The stability of our sensors is what has gained the company its reputation. Some of our sensors installed ten or even fifteen years ago are still working as well as the day they were installed, even in some of the harshest environments. The quality of components used in the manufacture of our products contribute to their reliability, as well as the rigorous testing that all of our products are subjected to. Our sensing algorithm is, of course, critical to achieving reliable detection. The ability to analyse multiple environmental factors (sun, wind, rain, vegetation swat etc) and automatically adjust the sensitivity to adapt to ever-changing environmental conditions is perhaps our greatest contribution to sensor and detection technology development. Our competitive edge is also evident through the range of solutions we can bring to market, some as a result of acquisition, some through partnerships, and some through in-house development.

How important is the Middle East market to OPTEX?

The market is critical to us. We have been active in the region for more than 25 years (we sold our first Fibre Optics perimeter protection system in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1993) and our systems are widely used across the region to protect palaces, utilities, and other sites of critical infrastructure, often in remote locations. In 2011, we opened the Optex Dubai branch and most recently, we announced that Optex Europe Limited and Fiber SenSys Inc, which we acquired in 2010, would be joining forces in the region to operate under a single entity to further strengthen their combined presence in the region and offer an even broader range of product solutions, with local representation in Saudi Arabia and in UAE.

What technologies do you provide in the region?

We provide the full range of sensing solutions for a diverse range of applications to protect large external and smaller internal perimeters, offering a ‘multi-layered’ approach to site protection. Fibre optic fence intrusion detection, surveillance RADAR, long range LiDARs, PIRs and beam towers are all proving popular. The Optex LiDAR has been extensively tested in the region for 18 months in the harsh desert environment in Saudi Arabia and has recently received approval to be used on oil and gas sites in the country.

What next for OPTEX?

Optex is now taking its knowledge and ‘know how’ to new levels, using machine-learning and artificial intelligence software to enhance its detection algorithms and introduce greater automation and create the sensor detection technology for the next generation of security professional. Working with our technology partners we are developing more customised solutions to solve specific security or safety problems. And in a project-driven market like here in Middle East, this approach is key to developing our activities in the region.