Since its foundation in 1931, Nippon Tungsten Co., Ltd. has been supporting the advanced industries in all ages by offering rare metal products and fine ceramic products mainly composed of tungsten based on powder metallurgical technology. President Mr. Shinji Goto discusses Japanese monozukuri and the company’s global expansion plans
The President of Japanese multinational Maxell has said that “While Japanese Monozukuri has always excelled in terms of know-how and technical reliability domestically, it has recently struggled at commercializing its smart ideas”. Continental peers such as China and Korea have slowly caught up on market share by competing with lower-priced products. What does Monozukuri mean to you? What does Japanese Monozukuri have that its competitors like China and Korea do not?
Japan’s manufacturing style and innovations are not only based on the technology itself but the way each individual person in production thinks. In some other countries when the 5pm bell rings on the production line, employees finish work for that day immediately. In Japan, traditionally, even after the bell rings, many employees work until they reach their good point to leave off and to spend their time productively preparing for the next day.
Such national mentality of the Japanese people is reflected in a positive way in devotion to ones’ job. However, this is also the reason why Japanese people are said to be not very good at producing outstanding innovation. Working as a member of an organization in cooperating with each other workers results in strengthening the productivity, but innovations arise mainly from personal creative activities. The national character and the way of thinking of Japanese citizens still remain as they were in the past. When the power of innovation is added to them, I believe that Japanese people can make significant and more contributions in manufacturing.
We produce Al2O3-TiC (alumina-titanium carbide) ceramic products that are widely used all around the world as the thin-film magnetic head substrate for hard disc drives, where we have the world’s top market share. The usage of hard discs is gradually decreasing but nevertheless we have two factories to produce this product, therefore giving us the flexibility to make more if demand requires. Furthermore, as an island Japan is particularly prone to natural disasters and resulting devastation could impact factory production, we are putting our efforts into the risk management; by having our factories not working to full capacity, if one is unable to produce for any reason – the others can increase production and still supply the material on time. I believe this system/attitude to fulfill our responsibilities is also one of the reasons why our products enjoy a favorable reputation.
What are your plans for future expansion and what relevance has the US in your future overseas sales?
We do not have a specific plan to expand and produce a special product in the US, however, we have products such as the Tungsten wires and ribbons for medical use, which are specifically orientated towards the US market. The US medical market is expanding and offers great opportunities for us. We also indirectly supply the US automobile sector. We produce parts of electric vehicles used for EV (Electric Vehicle) relays and with the world-wide increased demand for EV's especially in America, further opportunities are presented.
For that reason, we need to continually analyze its market and trends. We recognize the need to expand and increase the sales to overseas in order to secure the future of our company. To date, we have sales offices of the NT Die Cutter in the US, Italy, Thailand and China and we aim to expand and increase our sales not only in those countries but also on a global level. We are positively looking towards outside markets and aim to be an open innovative company, working on a global level.
Mr. Goto-san, you have been in the company since 1982 and your company won the Monozukuri award of excellence in 1986. How do you do to maintain such a high quality and high level of standard in the company?
Firstly, it is important to consciously make best quality of products. It is a matter of company pride to implement our technologies and introduce them in the production of high quality products. To produce a high-quality product - high quality technologies are required. Although not so many manufactures use the technology of powder metallurgy, we still face a lot of competition which we compete with them by our new technologies. The difference of our company from them is those technologies, techniques and the quality. We need to ensure all employees understand this fact and this is what we do. In Japan, it is almost like a proverb - "Quality starts from Gemba; the manufacturing place". Our company was established through Gemba, the starting point for creating and producing something.
Ever since the collapse of the bubble economy of Japan in 1991, the power of Monozukuri is losing its former momentum and the budget applied to the development of new products has been reduced. Our company has spent efforts to improve Gemba, following the proverb that I already told. I believe this improvement resulted in keeping a good quality of our products. This fundamental power of Gemba itself is the basis of creating something new. Material makers of powder metallurgy still have a lot of potential. We can see that a lot of combinations of different types of raw materials can create new products that match the needs and applications of our customers. One thing that I explain to the employees of Nippon TUNGSTEN is that we cannot survive without continuing to produce new materials and keeping good communication with our customers.