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How Katayama is making manufacturing riveting

Interview - June 19, 2023

From energy and medical to automotive, Katayama Rivet is providing only the best fittings and fasteners

SHUJI KATAYAMA PRESIDENT OF KATAYAMA RIVET & SCREW CO.,LTD.
SHUJI KATAYAMA | PRESIDENT OF KATAYAMA RIVET & SCREW CO.,LTD.

Can you please give us a brief introduction to your company? What are the key industries your products support and what are the core strengths that set you apart from your regional competition?

Technical capabilities are something that underlines everything that we do in our company. We maintain an excellent level of quality and responsiveness toward customer requests. By combining our mutual efforts towards reaching great quality standards we can satisfy the quality expectations of our customers. Quality assurance (QA) principles allow us to be precise in that manner. Pretty much when you combine all of these aspects you can reach a point of understanding the company’s greatest advantages, especially when you compare Katayama with any other company in the industry.

We cover a wide range of industries, so needless to say that the quality standards and expectations are top-notch. We try to implement our best efforts towards satisfying those specifications in fasteners and rivets.



In Japan today we are seeing a rapidly decreasing demographic line and an aging population which is hitting the manufacturing sector particularly hard. A lot of young people don’t have the same level of enthusiasm for craftsmanship and monozukuri as perhaps older generations did. Can you talk to us a little bit about the impact of Japan’s aging population on your own activities, both in terms of being able to supply a shrinking domestic market and in terms of your own recruitment?

We are adopting different strategies to relay the technologies and techniques that have been accumulated by senior management to younger personnel. We want a smooth transition so that nothing is lost and thus we are conducting full-scale on-the-job (OTJ) training for that personnel. Ideally, newcomers will then be able to fully understand the scope of the work and how much devotion they need to dedicate to their craft as well as the level of techniques they will acquire. The educational process is obviously very important to mention here when we talk about the accumulated knowledge and experience of our devoted personnel. This is how we run things here in our company to eliminate the gap between engineers and lower management in our company.

Additionally, as I am the president of the company it is important to talk about the work environment also. My goal is to attract more people to the company and fight the social problems that are rising here in Japan. We have to come up with new and attractive points for our company and enable our new employees to strike a balance between work and personal life in the best way possible. All things combined, these are the tools we use to adapt and pass on to the next generation while also creating a work environment that is fair and attractive to young graduates looking for a place to work.

 

How would you say your manufacturing techniques are evolving to respond to Japan’s demographic changes? Usually, companies in Japan are taking one or two approaches, recruitment of overseas talent and/or automation or new digital technologies to help offset the deficit in human resources and automate certain tasks. Are these activities you are pursuing? How is your monozukuri evolving to respond to this socioeconomic challenge?   

First of all, to answer your question about recruitment overseas, we do adopt these activities and we have successfully recruited from four countries. We have a local presence in Thailand and we were able to recruit locally and bring expats from Thailand and have them work for our company here. That was actually two individuals from Thailand that came here to Japan. In Vietnam, we interviewed 10 people but ended up recruiting five, with two working for an affiliate company and three working for Katayama at our Koshigaya plant. The next countries are Nepal and Sri Lanka, and we have one recruit per country there. Overall, we ended up interviewing over 50 people in these two locations and ended up with two very experienced and knowledgeable people. They are extremely dedicated and in some ways, they are already exceeding expectations. These people coming from foreign countries have a hunger to learn and enthusiasm to work here in Japan. Their motivation is to create a better working environment overall.

To answer the second part of your question that referenced factory automation (FA). We are adapting several tools here and it is inevitable to utilize these new techniques such as automated inspection tools. We have a 3D scanner used to inspect the quality of the products being released, which has gone some way to simplifying the whole inspection process. The company has also tried to adopt more simple tools that help move things around such as heavy-duty machinery. Here we are talking about equipment to help carry things that are too heavy for humans, so by replacing them with robotics we can help alleviate the burden.

In the future, we definitely see that the adoption of these tools to compensate for human labor will continue to become more necessary. We are going to be employing more as and when the time requires.

 

A key sector for you and many other fastener manufacturers is the automotive sector, which is having a very transformative time right now. We’ve heard interesting points on both sides of the debate, and with the switch to EVs we are going to see a significant decrease in the number of fasteners in each vehicle, but with an emphasis on quality over quantity, Can you talk to us about how the shift in the automotive sector is affecting your business?

The products that we supply our components to traditionally are not actually for the automotive industry. We have been historically supplying hard disk manufacturers, and it is a bit of a known fact now that world production of traditional hard disks is decreasing. As a tendency, we do see a drop in our sales for hard disk applications and this is the mainstream product we supply to.

Now the automotive industry was something we looked to start supplying and we successfully started supplying the automotive industry with our products around 7-8 years ago. Most of the products we are supplying for this industry are engine-related parts and needless to say the engine transformation is causing a lot of changes in the industry as a whole. We are seeing the next generation of cars emerge and that itself is not drawing an optimistic picture for ourselves. However, despite this, I still truly believe that the engine as a structure at the heart of the car will still persevere. We have observed some slight drop in sales in engine parts manufacturing but nevertheless, that part will never fully be eliminated from automotive manufacturing.

We are trying to challenge ourselves because we do live in an environment that is evolving pretty much every day. New opportunities are constantly presenting themselves and we don’t need to just rely on conventional products and means. Emerging industries themselves are presenting good business opportunities and often those are situations we could have never dreamed about before. Unfortunately, I cannot give any specific names right now, but needless to say, we are trying to perform our best efforts in R&D activities and our company is trying out new solutions for our customers beyond the conventional product lineup we have. The thought is that we can potentially expand into these markets and use these new cutting-edge materials to diversify our product portfolio, thus capturing a wider range of industries.

 

What are some of these new emerging industries you’ve identified as potential areas for growth?

Of course, things I’ve discussed are prospective steps unless directly stated otherwise, and a lot of the applications we’ve looked into have not reached the stage of full implementation. The first would be car parts, as I’m sure you are aware, making vehicles lightweight has become of paramount importance to many automotive makers, and it is rapidly becoming a key trend in the industries as batteries slowly take over. Dealing with lightweight material is something quite obvious to our firm and something we are seriously thinking about right now. Medical is another as well as energy-related industry. With energy, we are not sure what kind of applications we can offer right now but this equipment is becoming very key as the world pushes toward carbon neutrality. Katayama would be very excited to produce screws and rivets for these industries in the near future.

 

Can you talk to us about the role that collaboration or co-creation plays in your company?

First off, we are not seeking any potential cooperation with foreign companies that may have greater technology in their possession. In fact, we are planning to purchase foreign-made equipment and make parts with new materials. Currently, we are in the stage of trial and error, and we are eager to see what outcomes can come from this move. The idea is to get hold of the equipment ourselves and learn how to produce new material without having to partner up. Obviously, this is going to take a long time and currently, the plan is around 1-2 years. The results will follow once we fully understand how this piece of equipment operates.

Thailand might be a faster way to adopt new technologies and we do have a plant there overseas. In many ways, R&D enhancements are faster there than here in Japan. We may see some kind of cooperation with our Thailand facility and the adoption of new technologies from abroad to Thailand production lines rather than Japan.

 

You talked about the importance of your R&D, and you have a 1-2 year timetable in place in order to be able to cater to new needs you are seeing from clients. At this stage it might be difficult to share details with us because of confidentiality, but is there a particular technology or product in development that is either going to be released soon or is at a stage where you are able to speak about it?

One of the new materials, resin, is something that is definitely on our minds, however, there isn’t too much we can reveal right now, but it will definitely have to be applicable to some of the industries we’ve talked about today. It has to be strong enough and fit into some of the expectations of our clients. If we reach that level of resin manufacturing then we can talk specifically about what industries or companies we will be supplying.

 

Internationally you are centered around your Thailand location, so we are curious to know more about your global expansion strategy. Is it more about expanding your presence in Thailand or Southeast Asia or are there any new markets in which you’re looking to enter into and find new customers?

We don’t have any strategic points internationally other than one. Currently, we have three facilities in Thailand, so it would be a natural step forward to think about further expansion to Southeast Asian countries that are nearby; Laos could be a possibility. People in Laos use roughly the same language as Thailand so that could be something that we could do. A pleasant outcome could be that we take some of our personnel from Thailand and dispatch them to Laos so that they can teach locals how things are done on the production side.

The automotive sector is also somewhat of an answer to that question because you know that obviously, that sector is growing at an incredible rate right now. Those changes are being experienced in many countries, especially in South America. There is a tremendous increase in the cost of production and we think South America might be an answer to that problem. Again, however, there are no concrete steps in place right now and these are merely thoughts and ideas that we are bringing to the table.

 

Imagine that we come back 6 years from now and have this interview all over again. What goals or dreams do you hope to achieve by the time we come back for that new interview?

There are a great many things on my mind right now and the foremost is to create a good working environment for all the employees that work for our company. That leads to a level of happiness which in my opinion is an important foundation for any business. Basically, my goals come down to using every occasion and every opportunity. We’ve mentioned different industries and approaches today and they are all opportunities to expand our business and spread the name of our company out there.

Another aspect that is important to mention here is processes, and here at Katayama, we use conventional heating and cutting processes which establish the core of our production of screws and rivets. Acquiring a new technology that could take us to a new field is also forecasted for our company. I would like to see more of this happening in the near future.

 

To find out more information, visit https://www.katayama-screw.co.jp/en/


Interview conducted by Paul Mannion & Sasha Lauture

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