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Always taking on the challenge of new technologies with a sincere attitude

Interview - January 20, 2022

For over 80 years, Yajima Industry has been engaged in the manufacture of automobile parts and cultivated metal processing technology, and has grown along with the development of this industry. We sat down with president Atsushi Yokoyama, who talks about their new business in aerospace with carbon fibre, how the company’s adapting to the materials revolution in the industry, and their unique technologies, such as the ultrasonic flaw detector measurement system.

ATSUSHI YOKOYAMA, PRESIDENT & CEO OF YAJIMA INDUSTRY CO., LTD
ATSUSHI YOKOYAMA | PRESIDENT & CEO OF YAJIMA INDUSTRY CO., LTD

Could you please give us an introduction to yourself and Yajima Kogyo?

I’m the third generation of presidents; my grandfather started this business, who was succeeded by my father, and now I’ve taken over. I studied at university in England, where I worked for a racing company, working with engines, which is where I first encountered carbon fibre. I came back to Japan soon after and started to slowly take over the Yajima business over the course of time. Now we have operations in Vietnam and Thailand. We also started working with Subaru, who began producing products for airplanes, and we supply many of our parts to them.

We have five business divisions: automotive metal sheet; metal sheet moulding; our aftermarket SYMS products; our new business in aerospace with carbon fibre, supplying to commercial jet engines; and our final business segment being medical. We also conduct our own research and development for areas like automotive and aerospace.

 

Many Japanese tier two and three automotive suppliers are part of the keiretsu structure – closely aligned with larger manufacturers like Toyota or Nissan, for example. Is that the case with your company?

We supply metal parts and difficult materials with high tension to Subaru. The process is that we buy the metal sheets and then press them, before moving those sheets onto the assembly line. We don’t do plating. For our forklift business, we work with Komatsu.

For our new aerospace business, we supply a lot of motor engine parts and glass fibre materials, but we’ll soon be introducing carbon fibre parts.


World Rally Championship Award (SUBARU IMPREZA Group N) in 2004


It’s very important that when you mould, you get the measurements correct to ensure that the pressed part is accurate and free of defects. Can you tell us more about your measurement technologies you implement in your processing?

Our measurement system is an ultrasonic flaw detector, which inspects the ‘non-destructiveness’ of the material. Our measurement system is designed for metal parts, and it doesn’t physically touch the metal at all. We need high accuracy measurement for aerospace, which is where we’re investing equipment to. We’ve worked for seven years to enter the aerospace market.

 

We’ve spoken to many companies who are also diversifying into the Aerospace sector, and they are looking for partners in markets like America and Europe. Are you also looking for overseas partners to help you gain a foothold in the Aerospace field?

We’re in talks with an engine company based in the UK. We’re also looking for parts suppliers for Aerospace, in addition to working with universities. We’ve purchased parts and designs from Mugen too. My father used to work with them, and we still have maintained a good relationship to this day.

 

Can you tell us more about the synergies that you are able to create from the motorsport business that you have? How are you able to adapt it to your aftermarket part business?

We work with Subaru and we help them shorten their development time by working with their parts development and their modifications needs. We used to sell our aftermarket parts to Europe, but this took a lot of effort and money, so we stopped doing business overseas and now our aftermarket parts are only domestic, specialised for Subaru. We also work with Toyota, who gives us a better opportunity to sell general parts, as Subaru is all specialised. We usually get one or two orders a year for aftermarket parts, however our parts are specialised for racing cars.


Subaru ST. Development of Nürburgring Challenging vehicle


We have our own press that we designed, with a reduced manufacturing time but with high accuracy. It takes about ten minutes to make one part, while a normal press machine might take 100 minutes. This is much faster than conventional pressing, which takes six to eight hours to process the material, while our technology takes three minutes.

 

The automotive industry is undergoing a drastic change, with the transition to EVs requiring new materials such as titanium, magnesium and carbon fibre. How are you catering to this new material demand?

I believe this is important for us. While not an EV, airplanes require carbon fibre to remain light whilst still maintaining its body shape. At the moment, we’re using epoxy resin to reduce heat and it’s easier to make parts as a result, as they are lighter and stronger.

Our flame retardant magnesium alloy is very difficult to burn, while also being lighter. We can also weld it easily, simplifying the development of parts. In the motor industry, the cost is key for our magnesium alloy, which is still too expensive, as no one is producing this material. Once there is more demand and production increases, the price will lower. The applications for this magnesium alloy will be in the automotive industry, I don’t think it will be used in the Aerospace industry.

 

You’ve diversified your business, such as entering the medical field. Can you explain how you plan on expanding in this sector?

We developed hard to make magnesium and carbon fibre. The costs for this were high, so we looked for other approaches in different markets, which is how we entered the medical field, as it is more viable for us cost-wise. We use our materials to give medical devices transparency, and we’ve been working with Gunma University to achieve this. In saying that, it was still difficult for us to get into the medical market because it is very closely regulated.

We’ve been using the 3D modelling system for simulations, working with Subaru. Using this system, we can design materials and reduce the production time, while also increasing the accuracy of the product. We’ve just started working with welding simulations too and in the next year or two we will be able to analyse material behaviour after finish welding. Welding changes the shape slightly, so we can simulate the welding effect on the materials and change the design beforehand to counter this and maintain the accuracy.

We use the same metal press, which has time stages on the die, and we can produce the same shape most of the time. We took the basic design of these dies and created a digital version of it for our simulation. Depending on the material, we can use this simulation to reduce production time by almost 25%. We can also simulate the scrap material and parts that we’ll not need in the manufacturing process.

 

You have a research base in Indiana, USA, for carbon materials. Why did you choose that location and what is your plan for the American market?

Indiana is where Subaru is based, but we also have a strong relationship with another company located there. Furthermore, there is a famous university that is well-known for their carbon fibre development in that area, and we work with them too. I have a good relationship with one of the professors there.

 

Are you looking for co-creation partners that can help you with new materials in the US?

In Japan, restrictions are quite high and if you want to make a new car, its highly regulated. The US is much easier, especially for drones and other products in the aerospace field. In Japan, there are too many limitations.

We used to work with BMW but communicating with them was difficult. It’s much easier for Japanese companies to work with each other because our manufacturing is different, and the supply chain is highly interconnected; no one wants to break that.

In terms of finding other companies, with metal parts, the supply chain is already there so it’s difficult to integrate a new one with another company. Metal parts are limited in cost with a low quantity. As a result, already existing and even previous suppliers have an advantage. We must invest more into acquiring bigger machinery to supply those parts.

 

As a company that almost has 100 years of history, what are your competitive advantages? What added value do you bring to your customers?

The digital development system that we have is very important. For the production of carbon fibre, or even magnesium, we’ve been using a metal press system. Designing the correct die is crucial for this, as they need to be more robust. We’ve used our digital simulation system to help with this process.

 

What strategies will you employ to further your aerospace business and expand your R&D in the US?

Finding a good partnership is quite difficult. If both parties are willing to give up some control, then the relationship will go smoothly. If we enter a partnership, we’d be looking for one with good foundations. There are many opportunities for us.

 

Imagine we come back in five years and have this interview again. What would you like to tell us? What dreams would you like to accomplish in that time?

Working with foreign companies is one target, starting with the US. In the future, cars won’t be on the road, but will fly instead. We want to be a part of that.

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