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Thursday, Aug 11, 2022
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Developing the next generation of machine tools for the needs of a changing world

Interview - May 5, 2022

Kira Corporation’s knowledge, skills and capabilities have grown during its 80 years of history, with the company designing and building complete manufacturing systems using their CNC production centers. A company known for its devotion to the Japanese concept of monozukuri, Kira Corporation was established in 1944 and has been a leading light in the machining centers industry since the 1980s, having sold products to clients in more than 40 countries around the world.

YOSHIHIKO OTAKE, PRESIDENT OF KIRA CORPORATION
YOSHIHIKO OTAKE | PRESIDENT OF KIRA CORPORATION

As a specialized manufacturer of machine tools and other related automation machinery, what does monozukuri mean to you? What do you think are some strengths or competitive advantages of Japanese firms that allow them to maintain their competitiveness despite an increasingly rigid and stiff regional manufacturing environment?

Monozukuri correlates to the characteristics of the Japanese people. When compared to Southeast Asian manufacturing sites, Japan's manufacturing guarantees high quality and accuracy; however, many of these countries are now capable of mass-producing similar products at a much lower cost. Before coming to this company and working in machine tool manufacturing, Mr. Sugiyama,our Managing Director gained a lot of meaningful experience working in the automotive sector for 10 years. Over the years, he learned that many companies in Japan have high expectations regarding high quality and accuracy.  We think machining tool manufacturers can grow and improve by meeting the needs of their clients. 

 

High quality applies to most Japanese firms. We use the word "goshi" in the industry, which means five trials but is not literally limited to doing five trials. It denotes the many trials, at least three phases of trials, we conduct before commercializing a product. Every time we discover a defect or a weakness in a product, we make sure to address and fix that before proceeding to the next tests. Therefore, the product we commercialize is strong and reliable. We would like to take some of our production processes overseas, and I think we have been reasonably successful in carrying that out. Our Japanese staff supports the building of know-how at our established production sites in China and other Southeast Asian countries; however, we have not yet attained the level where we can transfer our high-mix low-volume production overseas. It is still limited and only the established production processes that are easy to replicate have been brought to our overseas sites, the high-mix-low-volume production remains domestic.

 

Being an SME in a rural area of Japan, how has the nation’s demographic situation impacted your company? How will you overcome the challenges that it is posing for your business?

We are especially interested in hiring graduates with a science background, but as an SME, it is even tougher to recruit them. Having said that, as a small company with 120 employees, we do not need a massive number of new recruits. When we decide to hire someone, the key characteristic that we focus on is the level of interest that person has in monozukuri because we are a machining tool company that values that. The new generation of graduates lacking experience and simply being young tend to look at a company's name, value and size, so appealing to them is not easy. We give tours and presentations that exhibit what we do and our monozukuri processes, but we only move forward with new graduates who show a genuine interest after understanding what we are all about. Though it is an approach that takes time, we make it possible to hire three or four new graduates each year. 

 

The common solution that we see in Japan and abroad towards a shrinking workforce has been the adoption of automated manufacturing. When we had the pleasure to speak with Mr. Shimizu from 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 increasingly automated and the environment becomes increasingly controlled, what is the role of the engineer?

Our situation may be slightly different from other sectors because we still need people involved in our assembling process. We can work towards facilitating the automation of the other processes in our production, like using Computer-aided design (CAD) and Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM). An interesting initiative that we have put in place just this year that we are trying to automate using cloud computing is our after-sales service. A lot of machine tool manufacturers are incredible at creating tools, but IoT is not their strength. We want to get ahead in this regard by putting a lot of effort into IoT. We input the machines' data into the system in order to provide support to our customers remotely. 


As a specialized machining tool manufacturer catering to the industrial field and the automotive field, how are the transformations in the automotive sector impacting you? What are the challenges and opportunities of these transformations for your business?

I think the processes in the automotive sector are mostly automated, but it still has a lot of potential to advance further. A significant part of the assembly in our production is done manually because it requires high accuracy. The type of products we will be producing in the future will be power feed robots instead of manual, which I believe is a trend that will thrive in the future. Due to the change in Japan's demographic situation, an assumption is that more international people will be contributing to Japan's monozukuri. The ratio of Japanese to international workers may shift with perhaps more international workers at the sites. Automation of the processes will help fill the gaps with the decreased workforce. In the electrification of cars, combustion engines will be replaced, resulting in the decrease or possibly elimination of the machines we provide to automotive manufacturers in the future. We used to work with aluminum steel for our conventional machining, but we will need to switch to lightweight materials. We will be working more towards these kinds of products. 



Your PCH-400 is specially designed to minimize the accumulation of chips and shorten the warming-up operation. Can you tell us more about the strengths and advantages of this model?

There are about five product lineups. To automate the process of the loader used to feed materials from top to bottom, we use a matrix and a program with standardized feeding patterns. PCH-400 is a horizontal machine, making the chips easily cleared away. 

To shorten the time for the warming-up operation, we prepare seven temperature sensors connected to our computer system for monitoring and adjusting minor machine misalignment. 

 

Due to the shrinking domestic market in Japan, SMEs are increasingly looking to overseas markets. However, because it can be too big of a challenge for any single company to undertake successfully, they often need to collaborate and co-create with international partners. What role does collaboration play for your company?  Are you currently looking for any new partners in Japan or especially in overseas markets?

The proportion of our domestic and international clients is fifty-fifty, but I think it will change in the future. We are expecting our domestic clients to decrease but our international customers to increase, considering that 90% of our clients are automobile-related. Our corporate philosophy is to provide products and services that satisfy and meet the needs of our clients, and our corporate culture is to sincerely cooperate with our customers. I think we are cherished by our customers for these. We also accommodate their needs when they go overseas to expand the business. They tend to continue purchasing from us because they are pleased with the products and services we provide. Apart from that, we have service-providing sites in China, Thailand, Indonesia and the US geared towards providing maintenance and activity to Japanese clients operating internationally. Kira Corporation is unwavering in maintaining the “Made in Japan” standard. We are fully committed to promoting this key point and explaining to our customers that it means delivering high-quality products. Although the products we make in Japan are of high quality, the shipping expenditures increase the cost, which affects our price competitiveness. We would like to keep the “Made in Japan” approach for our basic machines, but we are aiming to find partner companies in countries where we are already operating that can customize our product depending on our clients’ needs. 

 

Are you also providing your newly launched after-sales service using cloud computing and digital technologies in China, Thailand, Indonesia and the US?

Yes, it applies to all of our products. It is a service we provide with all the machines in different countries. We did require some support from an external company, but not through an OEM. It is completely internally developed because we wanted to make it one of our core services and products. In fact, as we wanted to customize it more, we programmed all our operations using operational codes. 

 

How do you plan to further develop your overseas business? Are you looking to establish on the ground high-mix low-volume production in overseas markets or find new sales offices and distributors? Or are there any new markets outside of China, Thailand, Indonesia and the United States that you consider key as part of developing your international business?

Ninety percent of our clients are in the automotive sector, and when we look at this sector globally, India and Mexico are rapidly growing markets. If the number of our clients and orders from these countries increases, I think we will then have to seriously consider setting up local on-ground sites. Other than the automotive sector, we are also interested in the fragile material sector that deals with glass and ceramics, particularly targeting the semiconductor field.

 

If we were to come back and interview you again on your last day as President of Kira Corporation, what would you like to say to us? What dreams or goals would you like to have achieved by that 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 major company. We do not want to be too business-like. As a company based in a rural area, it would be great to build a reputation among the locals, from Kira town or Nishio city, as a company that they would want to work for. I hope employees love and take pride in this company. I hope that when you come back, I can tell you that Kira Corporation is a bright and happy company and everyone in the city wants to work with us. 


 

COMPANY DATABASESee all Database >

SHIRAI TECH LIMITED

Manufacturing, Japan

KAWASAKI KIKO CO., LTD.

Manufacturing, Japan
LEADER DATABASESee all Database >

Yosuke Kawasaki

President
KAWASAKI KIKO CO., LTD.

Yasuhiro Tochimoto

President and CEO
Kawasaki Geological Engineering Co., Ltd.

NAOTO KOMATSU

President
KOMATSU KAIHATSU Corp.

Toshikazu YAGUCHI

President
ATOX Co., Ltd.

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