By the time Caroline Akino joined her family’s filtration solutions business, Pantech Kenya Limited 10 years ago as part of the sales team, the company still largely manufactured vehicle filters.
The business was started by her family back in the 90s to supply car filters - the family’s patriarch, who was in the business of importing and supplying motor vehicle spare parts in Nairobi, observed a gap in provision of filters, a shortage that left many in the industry resorting to importing. And for 10 years, Pantech established itself largely as a manufacturer of filters for automobiles.
“Already involved in the supply of spare parts, he begun offering filtration solutions. Over the years, the business has developed from a highly manual venture to an automated one where we have machines to handle most of the work,” Caroline, now Pantech Kenya’s MD, says, adding that the business has invested in the production of industrial filters, generator filters, dust management filters for companies such as cement factories, filters for use by limestone manufacturers and filters to serve metal melting companies to ensure whatever they release in the air is clean. It’s brand trades as TopTek Filters
Filters are generally used to clean air, remove dust and control emissions from machines which may pollute the environment or damage engines.
The business also manufactures oil and fuel filters as well as air cleaners for vehicles, pocket and panel filters for ventilation purposes. They also produce filters for use in the pharmaceutical industry and dust masks used by factory workers. The sectors the business served include health, logistics companies, food, cement and detergent sectors.
Having invested heavily in a variety of machines, the business is able to manufacture orders within a day of a client placing the order, its production capacity having doubled over the past five years, reflecting its continued penetration into the market largely dominated by imports. No doubt, the company is cutting a niche for itself through offering specialised filtration solutions.
“Filtration is very broad, therefore we have been keen to offer different kinds of products, diversifying from the manufacture and supply of automobile and engine filters to industrial filters as well, such as the specialised kinds that are used in hospitals,” Caroline says.
While diversifying is a strategy to minimise risk, the company has gone further and invested in research and skills within the filtration solutions industry, building its muscle and brand in a sector few Kenyan businesses have given attention to.
As clients come with new needs, the company has been venturing into new product lines, customer needs having led to introduction of products such as dust masks at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We wanted to create a product the company could produce to complement masks during the pandemic when there was a need. From the materials we had, the best we could produce was a mask that best suited industries, and that was how we started producing industrial dust masks,” she explains.
As the business marches into its clearly defined future of becoming the specialised filtration solutions provider in the country, its MD observes that the sector still has existing demand and space for many more SMEs providing similar services.
“As it is, we are growing into the demand. There are few companies that manufacture filters in Kenya, most of the time people import these specialised products. The fact is that Kenyan companies can produce products that Kenyans can use and we are proof of that,” says Caroline.