Pump business weathers downturn

Pump business weathers downturn

By Linda Baker

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The Ozawa pump delivers fertilizer and other chemicals into water systems. Pumps with multiple heads can pump up to four different materials.
//Photo courtesy Scott West

In the 20 years since Max Ozawa founded Ozawa R&D, a business that assembles precision metering pumps used in agriculture and food processing, the company has reduced its workforce and experienced a decline in manufacturing capacity. It survives by selling a premium product: relatively lightweight and long-lasting pumps that deliver precise amounts of fertilizer and other chemicals into water systems.

Most pumps on the market, which are made of steel or cast iron, don’t last more than two to three years because of chemical corrosion, says Ozawa. Deterioration also causes “issues of reliability.” To resolve these problems, Ozawa designed a “hybrid-type” pump with corrosive-resistant plastics and a “diaphragm” that separates the chemical from the piston. The resulting pump lasts up to 20 years and weighs only 30 pounds.

Although Ozawa declined to reveal company revenues, the bulk of his business comes from the agriculture industry, he says. He is also expanding into new markets, including industrial customers such as Ontario-based Heinz Frozen Food, where the pumps deliver additives for French fry processing. Other opportunities for diversification include golf courses, nurseries and seed treatment, Ozawa says.

About those challenges. Due to high labor costs, most of the parts are now made in Portland instead of onsite and a company that employed 15 in 2001 is now down to Ozawa, his brother and Ozawa’s wife. Price is another hurdle. The typical industrial pump costs about $400; Ozawa’s is about $1,500. Says Ozawa: “We’re faced with the attitude in any industry: ‘If it goes bad, just scrap it.’”

Ontario is a “nice rural community,” adds the former Portland denizen, who nevertheless expressed a bit of wistfulness about the area’s Mountain Time Zone and discontinued The Oregonian newspaper service. “Sometimes,” he says. “We’re treated like we’re not part of Oregon.”