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Driving innovation and sustainability in fastening solutions

Interview - May 23, 2023

Taiyo Fastener, founded in 1972, has been manufacturing high-quality fasteners for over 35 years in Japan. President Kenji Mabuchi shares how the company practices monozukuri, which has evolved into a modern manufacturing philosophy focused on quality, cost, and delivery (QCD) and grew from the craftsmen brought in at the beginning.

KENJI MABUCHI, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF TAIYO FASTENER CO., LTD.
KENJI MABUCHI | PRESIDENT AND CEO OF TAIYO FASTENER CO., LTD.

Monozukuri is the famous Japanese manufacturing philosophy, which is all about quality and detailed workmanship. This kaizen philosophy has become famous worldwide, but in modern times, it has evolved into much more than that as it is now also about quality, cost, and delivery (QCD). To compete on an international scale, companies in Japan strongly adhere to these criteria. Could you tell us more about your monozukuri? How do you ensure that QCD, and what advantages do you hold as you operate internationally?

We were founded in 1972 as a trading company, but we started manufacturing 35 years ago. I am the second-generation president, and my father, who is the founder of this company, began the factory in Tokushima, where our monozukuri made a start. In the beginning, we invited three engineers from other fastener companies to do the manufacturing. Through them, we learned about the technology for manufacturing fasteners from scratch, which we expanded up to this point. These engineers were the craftsmen who trained others like being on the job training at the gemba of manufacturing. They have already grown old, and the oldest one who is now 76 years old is still working with us.

I believe that monozukuri is hitozukuri, making things is making people. Since we want to pass down these technologies that were brought by these engineers, we tried to put them into a written format, which is Taiyo Fastener's philosophy. We recently made a booklet for our staff. It is mentioned how we work on not just instruction manuals.

 

Japan is famous worldwide as the most aged society in the world with an average life expectancy of 81, and 29% of the population is over 65, creating a number of issues. How is your company reacting to these population changes?

The first thing we are working on is the automation of our production line, which will enable us to do the production process with fewer people. Our oldest employee is 76 years old, but he is still healthy and working so actively. Although our official retirement age is 60, we have a system that allows our employees to continue working even after 60 years old. Traditionally, we had only several male operators in the fastener manufacturing industry. However, we have recently been actively hiring young women as operators for the production line, so that they will be able to use the machines.

 

Over the last few years, the Coronavirus has had huge impacts on supply chains. For example, procuring raw materials like steel has been much more difficult, which has been lately compounded by the raising of the Japanese yen to the dollar. How did the Coronavirus impact your business over the past two to three years?

Overall, we did not suffer a significant impact from COVID, though our revenue declined slightly. It has been a very important time for us during the COVID pandemic. For example, we were able to educate employees through educational training to nurture the next generation of leaders, and management strategy training to deepen the thinking of executive candidates. In addition, we launched a new product development project, fostered awareness of taking on new challenges, and created a foundation for cultivating a spirit of challenge. We are still not at a satisfactory stage, but I think this time has created a new flow for our company. It's little by little, but I realize that it's taking shape. I hope that we can continue this and build a strong corporate entity as a company.

 

Fasteners are very small components that are generally part of a much larger product but yet remain very critical. For example, they are a safety component, and in many cases, the whole product could break if they fail. You are producing more than 100 million units per month; how do you ensure quality control in your production?

As I said, monozukuri is hitozukuri. We give the instructions for production to our operators, but I believe that their health is very important to fulfill their jobs. Their mental and physical health is vital. Without them, they will not be able to do a good job. We, therefore, made Taiyo Fastener's philosophy, which talks about how to maintain physical and mental health during work. We are working hard to permeate this philosophy to our people.

Manufacturers in China and Taiwan pick out and get rid of defective products after mass production. In our case, we try not to send defective products to the next step during the production process. We only take the good ones to the next step to avoid producing defective products, which controls the quality during the production process.



As a steel fastener manufacturer, following your end users is very important, as well as keeping pace with industry developments and new demands for your products. You launched a new product called the Kapal Bolt which saves on labor, is SDG friendly, and has other advantages. Can you tell us more about this product? Why did you decide to launch it, and what are its main advantages?

We try to approach and listen to the needs or problems of companies that could be our potential customers so that we can deliver their needs to the production line. We focused on the labor cost compared to the cost of the fasteners themselves. Even though the labor cost in China or Southeast Asia is still low, it has recently risen. The cost of fasteners may be surpassed by the cost of fastening the fasteners that are done by the laborers. We thought that we should concentrate on how to shorten the labor time for the workforce and the Kapal Bolt does that.

 

Are business alliances very important in the development phase or other aspects of your business?

In the domestic market, we have a lot of friends or partners around this area. With regard to the overseas market, I would say that our joint venture in Thailand is a good partner. We are trying to produce products through that company and export them to Europe and the US. Listening to the customers in that market also plays a role in the expansion of our products in Japan and Thailand. We also have some friends in Indonesia whom we can collaborate with for development. We would like to continue this kind of relationship. Internationally, we are looking at Asian countries, especially Indonesia and Vietnam. 

 

With regard to the automotive industry, Japan’s most famous exporting industry, the world is transitioning to EVs. Mr. Suga, Japan’s former prime minister, said that 2035 is the date by which all cars must be either electric or hybrid-based vehicles. Considering that fasteners have lots of applications in the automotive industry, what opportunities or challenges does the transition to EV present to your company?

We do not have many fasteners for the automotive sector. The shift to EVs in the automobile industry is also environmentally friendly. In terms of consideration for the environment, our company also pays attention to SDGs and is working on product development with sustainable longevity and environmentally friendly materials. For example, we manufacture titanium screws. Titanium is a material that can achieve corrosion resistance, strength, and weight reduction. The screws manufactured by our company are also used in JAXA's unmanned lunar probe "OMOTENASHI". We also manufacture special stainless steel, which is about twice as strong as normal stainless steel. This is a product for longevity.

 

Your fasteners were used for microsatellites that went to the moon, which you did in collaboration with JAXA and NASA. Could you tell us more about how that collaboration happened? Why did they choose your fasteners for that?

It is because we were recognized by JAXA. When we were assigned to supply the fasteners, we were asked to clarify the production process as well as the materials and machines that we planned to use. I think the reason they chose us was because we were able to clarify the process steps of the production and they empathize with Taiyo Fastener's philosophy

 

Imagine we come back on the very last day of your presidency, when you are about to pass the company to the next generation, to interview you all over again. What dreams and goals would you like to have achieved by then that you would like to tell us about in that new interview?  

Our management philosophy is as follows.

1. Promote happiness both economically and emotionally for our employees.

2. Contribute to the prosperity of our business partners

3. Contribute to the development and happiness of human society.

On my last day as president, I would like to say that I have achieved these three management philosophies.

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