Saturday, May 25, 2019
Industry & Trade | Asia-Pacific | Japan

Shibata, Japan

State-of-the art rubber products for safety and disaster mitigation


5 months ago

Mr. Atsuki Shibata, President and CEO of Shibata Industrial Co. Ltd.
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Mr. Atsuki Shibata

President and CEO of Shibata Industrial Co. Ltd.

Established in 1923, Shibata Industrial is a manufacturer of specialized rubber materials that started out as a shoemaker. Today the company stills makes a range of safety boots with high-quality rubber for several industries, but it is also a leading manufacturer of rubber-based marine, civil engineering and disaster mitigation products. The Worldfolio sat down with Atsuki Shibata to learn more about Shibata and what it offers its customers.

 

With the rise of China and South Korea, who've replicated monozukuri at a lower cost, what are the competitive advantages of Japanese monozukuri. In other words, why should the average consumer pay that extra dollar to buy a Japanese product?

In my opinion, there is not much difference between Japan, China and South Korea. Historically, after World War II, Japan's economy rapidly grew because we tried duplicating the methods of other countries and we aimed at developing products with high quality at lower costs. That's how we grew economically as a country and I think China and South Korea are doing the same now.

The advantage of Japanese monozukuri is the heart of omotenashi as was found in the slogan on the invitation for the Tokyo Olympics. When people take an active part in the manufacturing of the product, it creates a level of quality that can only exist when people participate in the process.

In those terms, I think in a way Japan is still No. 1 when it comes to putting careful, kind thoughts into the manufacturing process. However, when it comes to machine-based production, I think China, Vietnam, South Korea and other countries are now above a certain level. That said, in the future, I think in a way Japan will specialise in hand-made manufacturing. As an example, Switzerland is famous for their hand-made watches and we have this impression that Switzerland is really good at making watches. I think Japan should have a similar reputation in various fields for various products.

 

Japan is full of niche manufacturers that are leaders in their respective fields. What do you think is the role of chuken kigyo, which are often in the shadows of larger corporations, in the manufacturing chain of Japan? Furthermore, how did your company stay in the shadows to help make other big companies shine?

It is true that chuken kigyo make parts that are applied in the products of big corporations so they are experts in their niche fields. Therefore, they are not recognised publicly and tend to stay in the shadows of major corporations. But I think we consider ourselves to have voluntarily taken on that role so we don't mind if we're not major like Toyota Corporations. Maintaining and enhancing the relationship with large corporations or large markets with our unique know-how and knowledge, and by doing so, preserving a good relationship makes our job more interesting and fun.

 

Could you briefly highlight the key milestones of your company and elaborate more on your corporate philosophy that has evolved during those years?

Looking back on the history of our company, I'd like to talk about the biggest transition we experienced. Our company started in 1923 as a shoe manufacturer but after World War 2, this business experienced a great breakdown because major overseas players expanded their markets in Japan and our shoes sales decreased gradually. I looked back on our history and wondered what we were lacking that these companies had, and I think what we lacked was a definite philosophy.

Subsequently my father had expanded our fields to the construction industries in marine and civil engineering. After I took over the business from him, I focused on offering value added products with the philosophy to contribute to “Safety, Disaster Mitigation and Environment Awareness” and developing the business in overseas markets.

 

As you mentioned before you invest greatly in your R&D capabilities. Can you tell us more about your commitment that you have to R&D and the advantages that it gives your company?

In the construction industry including ports and harbors or debris dams, most products are made from concrete or steel metal. They are all hard materials and would need cushioning materials between them. We aspire to make our rubber shock-absorbing products as the third key component to the construction field.

Experiments mean a lot in the construction industry. Miniature experiments are not sufficient for the purposes. Then, we need to conduct experiments with actual products. That's why we are cooperating with big universities in Japan and government research institutions to do these experiments.

 

Your company is involved in fields such as marine civil engineering, construction engineering, chemical products etc. Could you give us an overview of how your products are used? What is your biggest segment and looking towards the future are there any particular segments you'd like to develop more or new segments you're looking into for diversification?

Firstly, we'd like to focus on the marine/civil engineering field because we do not have the top share in the field yet. Therefore, we want to have a strong hold in this field first. Secondly, we want to look more into developing the market of the construction field including bridges, dams and buildings to provide more of our rubber products to the market.

As you know, this past month, we've had heavy rains and flooding throughout Japan especially in Okayama Prefecture and Hiroshima Prefecture. There was also a big earthquake in Hokkaido that caused the electricity supply to stop. We are now making proposals to ensure water supply to these areas as well as other products for their safety and disaster mitigation.We actively work for contributing to society domestically. There are still natural disasters all over the world, such as in the Philippines, so we would like to provide comprehensive solutions to these areas affected by the disasters

 

Japan is a country that is very prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes and heavy rains. For a company that specialises in the prevention of natural disasters, what do you think Japan has to teach to the world about dealing with natural disasters?

I am not sure if it's something we could teach to the world, but we do have this accumulation of knowledge from our experiences. We can probably tell people about what to be careful about and that we cannot beat nature, and we can't do anything about it. Although, we have knowledge about what to do when a disaster happens.

For instance, after the Great Hanshin Earthquake Disaster in 1995, we’ve not only experienced an improvement in speed of both safety confirmation and the supply food and other commodities to our employees all over Japan, but also strived to provide the best solutions to our customers. After the disaster, there have been various earthquakes and disasters such as the one in Kyushu, another one in Niigata and the great tsunami in the Tohoku area.

Every time a natural disaster occurred, we sent out a team on-site to confirm the conditions to study what was necessary. From this information, we developed products that could be useful and helpful for the affected areas and we've repeated this process many times since 1995.

 

Last year, your sales were about 13.4 billion yen. Looking towards the future, what is your strategy for further growth?

Firstly, our marine related products have great potential in developing countries such as Africa and India. There is also great potential in the Middle East. This is because countries that are starting to develop economically need to set up their infrastructure. There is also a great deal of potential for our products in developed countries like in Europe, the United States and Singapore. This is due to container ships and the logistic environments surrounding them, as well as the tendency for cruise ships increasing in size. In order to respond to these large ships, improving port environments is one of their assignments. Consequently, there is great potential for our marine-related products in both developed and developing countries.

Secondly, we are looking into expanding the market for our disaster mitigation products and safety boots overseas. We see each country goes through different disasters such as earthquakes, flooding and typhoons and the necessity to focus on local needs and make an appropriate proposal suitable for each environmental situation. So, it is important to make different products in response to different types of disasters. To start things off, we are expanding our safety boots to a global market. Last year, we had participated in A+A international exhibition in Dusseldorf, and we are looking into expanding the market of our safety boots to not only different work environments, but also different countries.

Talking about your hometown, Marseilles, they use only small cushion materials for the ports even though they have calls of large ships. So we are trying to bring our proposals to them. Ports in Marseilles have history and I see the tradition to use their facilities for prolonged time with care. As the trend of incoming ships changes, these ports would be also expected to be upgraded suitable for the latest usage conditions.

 

You recently acquired a German-based company which you renamed SHIBATA FENDER TEAM. Could you tell us a bit more about your strategy with that, are you looking for more M&As or looking to join more ventures?

Right now for our marine engineering products, the business is going well including the trends of M&A. Based on this experience we are interested in finding partners that fit well with our other products.

 

If I was to come back here in 10 years and have this interview all over again, what would you like to tell me, and what do you hope to have accomplished in 10 years?

My first goal is to double the amount of sales we have now. I started managing this company when I was 28 years old. At that time the net sales were 7.5 billion yen, and now it's doubled. I want to do the same in 10 years. I'd also like achieve similar success to what we are doing in the marine industry now, and find another field where we can succeed globally.

 


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