As a specialized manufacturer of machine tools and other related automation machinery, what is monozukuri mean to you? What do you think are the strengths or competitive advantages of Japanese companies that allow them to maintain their competitiveness despite an increasingly rigid and stiff regional manufacturing environment?
Monozukuri corresponds to the characteristics of the Japanese people. Compared to Southeast Asian manufacturing sites, Japanese manufacturing ensures high quality and precision. however, many of these countries are now able to mass-produce similar products at a much lower cost. Prior to joining this company and working in machine tool manufacturing, Mr. Sugiyama, our general manager, gained significant experience in the automotive industry for 10 years. Over the years, he learned that many companies in Japan have high expectations for quality and precision. We believe that machining tool manufacturers can grow and improve by meeting the needs of their customers.
High quality applies to most Japanese companies. We use the word “goshi” in the industry, which means five tries but is not literally limited to five tries. It refers to the many tests, at least three test phases, that we carry out before marketing a product. Whenever we discover a defect or weakness in a product, we make sure to address and correct it before moving on to the next tests. Therefore, the product we market is solid and reliable. We would like to transfer some of our production processes overseas, and I think we have been reasonably successful in doing so. Our Japanese staff support the strengthening of know-how at our established production sites in China and other Southeast Asian countries; however, we have not yet reached the level where we can shift our high-volume and low-volume production overseas. It is still limited and only established and easy-to-replicate production processes have been introduced to our overseas locations, high-volume and low-volume production remains domestic.
As an SME in a rural area of Japan, what impact has the country’s demographics had on your business? How will you overcome the challenges this poses for your business?
We are particularly interested in hiring graduates with a scientific background, but as an SME it is even more difficult to recruit them. That said, as a small company of 120 employees, we don’t need a massive number of new hires. When we decide to hire someone, the main characteristic we focus on is that person’s level of interest in monozukuri because we are a machining tool company that values that. The new generation of inexperienced and simply young graduates tends to look at the name, value and size of a company, so winning them over is not easy. We give tours and presentations that show what we do and our monozukuri process, but we only move forward with new graduates who show genuine interest after understanding who we are. Although it is a time-consuming process, we enable the hiring of three or four new graduates each year.
The common solution we see in Japan and overseas to a shrinking labor force has been the adoption of automated manufacturing. When we had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Shimizu of Makino Seiki, he talked about four key elements for modern automated machinery: advanced machinery, advanced software, maintained and controlled environments, and the best possible raw materials. As manufacturing becomes more and more automated and the environment becomes more and more controlled, what is the role of the engineer?
Our situation may be slightly different from other industries as we still need people involved in our assembly process. We can work to facilitate the automation of other processes in our production, such as the use of computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM). An interesting initiative that we have implemented this year and that we are trying to automate using cloud computing is our after-sales service. Many machine tool manufacturers are amazing at creating tools, but IoT is not their forte. We want to move forward in this regard by putting a lot of effort into IoT. We enter machine data into the system to provide remote support to our customers.
As a manufacturer of machining tools specializing in the industrial and automotive sectors, how are the transformations in the automotive sector impacting you? What are the challenges and opportunities of these transformations for your company?
I think the processes in the automotive sector are mostly automated, but it still has a lot of potential to progress further. An important part of the assembly in our production is done manually because it requires great precision. The type of products we will produce in the future will be power supply robots instead of manuals, which I believe is a trend that will flourish in the future. Due to the changing demographics of Japan, it is assumed that more international people will contribute to Japan’s growth. monozukuri. The ratio of Japanese workers to international workers could change with perhaps more international workers at the sites. Process automation will help fill the gaps with the decrease in manpower. In the electrification of cars, combustion engines will be replaced, which will lead to the reduction or even the elimination of the machines that we will supply to car manufacturers in the future. We used to work with aluminum steel for our conventional machining, but we will have to switch to light materials. We will work more towards this kind of products.
Your PCH-400 is specially designed to minimize chip buildup and shorten the warm-up operation. Can you tell us more about the strengths and advantages of this model?
There are approximately five product lines. To automate the feeder process used to feed materials from top to bottom, we use a die and program with standardized feed patterns. PCH-400 is a horizontal machine, which makes it easy to remove chips.
To shorten the duration of the warm-up operation, we prepare seven temperature sensors connected to our computer system to monitor and adjust minor machine misalignments.
Due to the shrinking domestic market in Japan, SMEs are increasingly looking to overseas markets. However, since this can be too big of a challenge for a single company to tackle successfully, it often has to collaborate and co-create with international partners. What role does collaboration play for your business? Are you currently looking for new partners in Japan or especially in overseas markets?
The proportion of our domestic and international customers is fifty-fifty, but I think that will change in the future. We expect our domestic customers to decrease but our international customers to increase knowing that 90% of our customers are automotive related. Our business philosophy is to provide products and services that satisfy and meet the needs of our customers, and our corporate culture is to sincerely cooperate with our customers. I think we are cherished by our customers for this. We also meet their needs when they go abroad to develop their business. They tend to continue to buy from us because they are satisfied with the products and services we provide. Other than that, we have service delivery locations in China, Thailand, Indonesia and the United States to provide maintenance and business for Japanese customers operating internationally. Kira Corporation is unwavering in upholding the “Made in Japan” standard. We are fully committed to promoting this key point and explaining to our customers that it is about delivering quality products. Although the products we produce in Japan are of high quality, shipping expenses increase the cost, which affects our price competitiveness. We want to keep the “Made in Japan” approach for our basic machines, but we aim to find partner companies in the countries where we are already present who can customize our product according to the needs of our customers.
Do you also provide your new after-sales service using cloud computing and digital technologies in China, Thailand, Indonesia and the United States?
Yes, this applies to all of our products. This is a service we provide with all machines in different countries. We needed support from an outside company, but not through an OEM. It is entirely developed internally because we wanted to make it one of our flagship services and products. In fact, since we wanted to personalize it more, we programmed all our operations using operational codes.
How do you plan to further develop your business abroad? Are you looking to establish high-volume and low-volume production in overseas markets or find new sales offices and distributors? Or are there new markets outside of China, Thailand, Indonesia and the United States that you consider essential for expanding your business internationally?
Ninety percent of our customers are in the automotive sector, and when we look at this sector globally, India and Mexico are fast growing markets. If the number of our customers and orders from these countries increases, then I think that we will have to seriously think about setting up local sites in the field. In addition to the automotive sector, we are also interested in the fragile materials sector which deals with glass and ceramics, particularly targeting the field of semiconductors.
If we were to come back and interview you again on your last day as president of Kira Corporation, what would you like to tell us? What dreams or goals would you like to have achieved at this point?
I want to foster a cheerful, bright and energetic environment, spirit and culture for the company and our employees because we are not a big company. We don’t want to be too commercial. As a company based in a rural area, it would be great to build a reputation among the locals, Kira Town or Nishio Town, as a company they would like to work for. I hope the employees like and are proud of this company. I hope when you come back I can tell you that Kira Corporation is a bright and happy company and everyone in town wants to work with us.