Before Filter Supplies will represent a brand of filters in our market we want to see where and how they are made and speak to the people involved in producing the filters.
It’s this rationale that led me to be standing out the front of the disturbingly clean VIC filter factory in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan on an extremely cold winter’s day earlier this year.
VIC had come to my attention some months earlier with its cutting edge application of dual flow/combination full flow bypass oil filtration to applications that only used full flow filtration from the factory. This sort of out of the box thinking and the extremely well-made elements encouraged a factory visit and discussion with the VIC Staff.
VIC has some filter manufacturing history. It started producing automotive filters in early 1969 and has grown exponentially over time, expanding its production facilities 4 times since the early 70s. Interestingly, it also produces cutting edge deep fryers and ashtrays.
Omaezaki is not the sort of place a tourist will generally go in the dead of winter. The area is predominantly known for its green tea cultivation and water sports. Oh, and the now mothballed Hamaoka Nuclear Power plant. Hamaoka is considered to be the most dangerous nuclear power plant in Japan as it sits on top of the intersection of two tectonic plates. But, on the plus side as a result of the nuclear plant, the roads around Omaezaki are extremely well made – even by lofty Japanese standards.
I learn so much from visiting a filter factory. Every company is different in the way they produce items that are generally quite similar. The way companies produce the cans and endplates for a spin on filter is almost identical. The differences start coming in construction of the element that goes inside the can. ...What are the end caps made from, how is the bypass valve constructed, how well are the pleats spaced, is there a spring to keep the element flush against the endplate? The questions are many and varied, and that’s before you even start thinking about how it is all put together. In countries with comparatively low labour costs often the level of automation is substantially lower than in countries where the wages are higher. Having said that, some processes are still done by humans the world over, and I don’t think the entire filter production process will be ever fully automated.
The production line at VIC was a combination of the European largely automated model and the Asian manual human facilitated model. The facility was sparkling clean and set over a number of sub-buildings. The grounds were spotless. All extremely good signs.
One of the primary benefits of touring a factory is seeing all the different manufacturers that are being produced in that facility. Needless to say, there were numerous predominantly Japanese Domestic Market brands which I was familiar with. Again a really good sign.
Everything is looking good. Spotless factory. Innovative, well-made product. What’s the other thing that we look for? Nice people.
Plenty of times in our business as filtration procurement specialists we need to deal with suppliers that aren’t on the same page as us in terms of customer service, vision for the market, stocking levels etc. As important as the quality is, it’s actually not the only consideration. It's all very well having a quality product, but if I can’t buy it at the right money, if you don’t have stock, if you want to keep the market for yourself then it’s going to limit the amount of business we can do with you.
Our first shipment of VIC Filters is already on the water from Japan. Stay tuned for more information on VIC when they arrive.