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Breathing room: AK GlobalTech's Son uses his maritime past to land lucrative military pacts for breathalyzer tech

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Matthew Son, president of AK GlobalTech, talks about the savings for customers of his breathalyzers. They need only replace the unit's sensor, rather than buy a new unit, when the sensor has been used to its limit.
Matthew Son, president of AK GlobalTech, talks about the savings for customers of his breathalyzers. They need only replace the unit's sensor, rather than buy a new unit, when the sensor has been used to its limit. - ()

For someone who has spent a great deal of time on the high seas, Matthew Son uses surprising few metaphors of the nautical sort.

But the entrepreneurial Son — a Korean immigrant who long served as a captain onboard a shipping vessel, as well as a fleet maintenance officer — would agree that his background could be best described as a fortunate tailwind for him in growing his New Jersey company.

At the helm of AK GlobalTech, Son has transformed a small Palisades Park-based business into a market leader in breathalyzer products and breath-testing solutions throughout both North and South America.

What largely accounts for AK GlobalTech’s growth since its establishment in 2001 is that it has been named the sole supplier of products to the Navy and the Marine Corps.

It’s an ongoing and strong relationship reinforced by Son’s maritime background.

“My experience helped me to convince the Navy what supplies they may need when they started this plan,” he said. “(And it continues to) help a lot in my discussions with them.”

AK GlobalTech, which operates under the doctrine of “contributing to a network of safety procedures and protocols for the prevention of alcohol-related incidents both in and out of the workplace,” has fulfilled millions of dollars in purchases of various products to these institutions.

The reason the nation’s naval organizations stick with AK GlobalTech is that Son and his company helped them answer a question they long asked: Can we keep these breathalyzers working for long spans away from port?

“We found a solution as a result of trying to help them do that,” Son said. “It’s a (technology) that we’re the only ones in the world offering.”

As Son explained, breath alcohol testers have to regularly go through a costly, inconvenient process of recalibration — usually by mailing the devices back to the company for a weeks-long fix — to keep the products picking up on the alcohol in someone’s system accurately.

To eliminate the need for that, AK GlobalTech developed replaceable modules that can be swapped out directly — and instantly — by the device’s user. It’s a patented feature referred to as the PRISM technology.

The modules are a unique solution that Son’s team already is looking to improve on.

“We have people working to produce a better product with a model that allows users to have a self-calibrating system for the breathalyzer, so that they can calibrate it (without the module),” Son said. “It’s something we have a patent for; we’re trying to put it on our breathalyzer.

“If we can, it may change the whole industry and be adopted worldwide — it’s a model that could dominate the entire market.”

With the vast potential to make waves come equally towering challenges.

“We’re not sure at what point regulatory bodies will accept this type of technology,” he said. “We’ve proven the end-user can calibrate it accurately, but we’re not sure (if or when it will be) acceptable legally.”

The research and development on this product is going on in Korea, where the company also outsources its manufacturing. Son said efforts are underway to create an internal manufacturing plant by the end of 2018.

There’s not necessarily a strategic reason for Son to run his company out of New Jersey. But Son, who is involved with New Jersey’s Korean American Chamber of Commerce, still seems to think of the area as a sort of mainsail for AK GlobalTech on its journey to further growth.

“This is where I got the business started,” he said. “It has grown nicely here.”

Rum ration

There’s a long and (maybe) interesting history behind the Navy’s relationship with booze.

Making that potentially interesting long story short: More than 100 years ago, alcohol was totally barred aboard all Navy ships — a prohibition that came after a long tradition of sailors getting regular rations of liquor each day. That alcohol ban has lasted, although regulations of alcohol consumption have relaxed somewhat, with sailors being allowed certain “beer days.”

In more recent news, the Navy about a year ago announced it would be enforcing a ban of alcohol for American sailors in Japan anywhere, even off of the base, in the wake of several alcohol-related incidents, although the new rule was relaxed somewhat within a month of it being issued.

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