There are some South African electronics companies that have become synonymous with vehicle security systems but one that continues to hide from publicity is PFK Electronics (PFK) from Durban.
PFK, which now has subsidiaries in both the UK and Australia, was established in 1985 by a group of three engineers with a strong grounding in the design and manufacture of electronic systems for the defence industry. Today, the company employs some 400 people internationally - it typically exports about 30 000 devices per month to the USA alone - ranks itself as one of the two largest automotive electronics companies in South Africa, and has a more than 70% share of the local vehicle security aftermarket. All this arising from initial private seed funding from one of the founders of a mere R250 000!
Exporting to more than 30 countries (the website indicates that 70% of production is exported), PFK attributes its success to its strong engineering background and its focus on innovative designs together with personal service and relationship building.
Although not a listed company, an article in Business Day (April 2005) indicated that expected sales for 2006 would be in the region of R125 million, and the average growth in turnover per annum has been 30% since 1996. While the strength of the rand has affected margins on its large export business, changes in production processes mean that PFK can continue to be competitive even if the rand remains close to the R6 to the dollar level.
PFK is certified to ISO 9001:2000, co-annotated to ISO TS 16949 in respect of the design and manufacture of vehicle security systems. ISO TS 16949 incorporates the automotive industry standards QS 9000 and VDA6.
In terms of its local development and manufacturing facilities, PFK recently moved into its own 9500 m² premises in Durban where a total of 350 people are employed. There are three SMD lines and the company's military background has enabled it to meet the standards set by safety authorities in many countries. These include the relevant European standards (EEC95/54, ETS 300-320 etc) and those of the UK (Thatcham), Holland (TNO/NMI), the USA (FCC), Australia (c-Tick) and South Africa (VESA). PFK is an approved supplier to both Volkswagen and Ford SA, this OEM business accounting for around 10% of turnover.
The core business of PFK is the design and manufacture of vehicle security systems. Its product portfolio includes a range of alarms and immobilisers with a variety of options for detecting intrusion. Included in the range offered are upgrades for OEM installations, for example providing a remote control if the vehicle does not have a keyless entry mechanism. A wide range of plug-and-play harnesses and devices have been developed and typical applications include the Peugeot market in Israel and upgrading the security system of the Ford Transit vehicles in the United Kingdom.
In total, PFK manufactures over 200 different vehicle security products (with new products being constantly developed) for various markets and customers and they can justifiably claim to be the leading supplier of vehicle security solutions to the crime capitals of the world. Besides vehicles, PFK's products also cover alarm and immobiliser systems for motorcycles. PFK offers marketing through engineering rather than producing a limited product brochure that says 'Buy what we have got'.
PFK also has a range of security products for tracking companies and has considerable design expertise in the use of GPS and GSM technology for this application. PFK offers its own novel system called AutoCate which is used by Autowatch Tracking based in the UK. AutoCate can be installed in virtually any vehicle that has a 12 or 24 V battery, and can be used in conjunction with an existing security system or can operate as a remote alarm and immobiliser. Once a SIM card is inserted into the system it is continuously linked to the relevant GSM network making use of a dual-band antenna located within the vehicle. Once activated AutoCate will monitor up to four zones (eg, boot, interior, engine compartment, loading area etc) within the vehicle and if intrusion is detected it will alert the user via SMS indicating which zone was triggered. The system can also be programmed to make voice calls instead of using the SMS service. When intrusion notification is received the owner or others, (up to six people can be notified) can then send an SMS to immobilise the vehicle and/or fill the car with smoke if a smoke release device is installed. In addition to the antitheft features, if the user is registered with Autowatch Tracking (currently operating only in the UK) he can locate where his vehicle is within seconds, using the Internet and the Autowatch website. A further clever feature is that if you lock your keys within the vehicle, a simple text message will unlock it, while if you remember in the theatre that you may have not locked your car, a 'lock' text message will ensure that this is done.
PFK operates subsidiaries in the UK (Knightwatch) and Australia (Autowatch) and its top five markets are South Africa, the UK, Israel, Australia and the USA. Knightwatch supplies the Autowatch product range and has more than 600 distributors and fitment stations. Although currently unlisted, African Merchant Bank now holds 24% of the equity with the other major shareholders being the founders, Michael Parnaby, David Keightley and Ivor Ferreira.
While PFK's initial focus (following its defence industry involvement) was automotive, it now invites enquiries about designs for other applications. For example, the company has been involved in the development of custom-made GSM-based systems that are used for security, monitoring and control applications at remote sites.
Another product recently designed is a GSM-based accounting and stock control system for the monitoring of soft drink vending machines.
One of the founders of PFK, and current CEO, Mike Parnaby claims that the group is successful because its engineering background has allowed it to come up with its own product designs and it is not dependent on vehicle manufacturers and component makers to outsource work to it. Developing its own products gives PFK the edge as it designs products to its customers needs, competing on innovation rather than price. While the company has its own registered brand name, namely Autowatch, it also sells individually-branded products to countries which include France, Russia and Israel.
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