When it comes to factory machinery and automation solutions, Japan still rules the roost thanks to small, agile and innovative companies like Matsumoto Machine, which supplies chucking solutions, rotating solutions, holding solutions, special parts, element parts, and system integration to its manufacturing clients.
What are some of the key milestones in your company’s history that enable you to stand apart from your competition?
Matsumoto Machine was established in 1948. The founder of the company was my father. At the beginning of the company, they worked with manufacturing components of textile machines and roller chains. They used lathe, milling machine, gear cutting machines, press machines etc. to manufacture them. In the process of lathes, one of the lathes had remarkable productivity. After researching why it was different from others, they realized the lathe itself had high rigidity and also the scroll chuck was excellent quality, too. The scroll chuck was an original product made by the lathe manufacturer. Furthermore, it was equipped with a function of improving performance of the machine itself. The founder of Matsumoto Machine tried to negotiate to purchase the chucks with the lathe manufacturer to be equipped with them for other lathes; however, the manufacturer refused the request. For that reason, the founder decided to develop and manufacture the high rigidity-precision scroll chuck by themselves. This was the beginning of the company being a chuck manufacturer.
Thus, we recognize that our mission is to provide peripheral equipment that enhances the performance of machine tools and helps improve the productivity of our customers, so we have taken the path of a peripheral equipment manufacturer.
After that, the number of NC lathes increased in the market, so we decided to develop a hydraulic chuck. What we needed was a chuck with a double-key, high rigidity, and big bore that overcame the existing weak points. It sold a lot of units in Houston, TX.
Also, a customer in Huston who was engaged in digging oil wells or used a bit for drilling, was looking for a rotary table with a large through hole but at that time rotary table manufacturers did not manufacture this kind of machinery. To achieve the customer’s wish, we decided to invent a new rotary table with a big bore specification. This was the starting point for us becoming a rotary table manufacturer.
To invent the new project for the rotary table, there were no bearings to realize the idea. Therefore, we decided to manufacture the bearings by ourselves. Also, we adopted worm and wheel, the internal decelerated component of high rigidity, high precision, and zero backlash, made by OTT in Germany. As a result of seeking and approaching customers and cooperating with companies around the world, it became an opportunity to expand our business globally and obtain new ideas.
We find joy and satisfaction in solving our customer’s problems. In this way, it has led us to make efforts to invent dedicated peripheral equipment for a wide variety of workpieces. In response to a request to develop a dedicated finger chuck for machining aluminum wheels for automobiles, we improved the mechanical structure of the chuck itself for the accuracy of the workpiece. At that time, a chuck manufacturer in the United States was developing a finger chuck which focused on weight reduction. We cooperated in R&D and then invented a reduced set up finger chuck. In this way, we have contributed to technology by cooperating with overseas manufacturers.
Nowadays, taking a step forward from the reduction of setup, we are working on automatic setup. After we developed a quick change mechanism for the top jaw, by using this mechanism, we successfully invented automatic exchange by a robot.
As for the rotary table, we are working on the development of equipment that meets the application and purpose such as a 2-axis table, a high-speed spin table, an underwater operation table, and vacuum operation table etc. From such efforts, it has evolved into our products that can contribute to improving customer value through mechanical products, servo control, and sequence control.
Advanced machinery, advanced CAD software, controlled production environments, and the best raw materials are leading to a decreasing need for workers in a modern IoT machining center. In such an automated and controlled environment, what is the role of a modern-day engineer?
Even though the time has changed and technology has advanced, hardware-human cooperation has coexisted. Most of our clients are related to machining manufacturing or precise tools. These are the kinds of companies that already have the engineering capabilities and the required workers for their companies. By researching and talking face-to-face with our client’s engineers, we can communicate with each other better and are able to come up with the best solution.
The products that you offer can be divided into six divisions: chucking solutions, rotating solutions, holding solutions, special parts, element parts, and system integration. Which of these divisions is your current focus and which do you believe has the most potential for future growth?
System integration is currently the most discussed industry in many ways because it is a combination of different types of existing technologies. Basically, our focus is any manufactures where have not progressed with factory automation. Production line efficiency and robot utilization are the main business for us right now. This can function as launching new ideas and new peripheral businesses. By analyzing the functions of automation in manufacturing new ideas can spring forth. Matsumoto Machine already has a proven track record for system integration for customers’ existing production lines. In the future, I see an escalation in this segment and we are looking positively at system integration and factory automation.
One product you have is the ROBO-QJC, an automatic chuck jaw replacement system. Can you tell us more about your ROBO-QJC and some of its competitive advantages?
As you can guess from the name part of the product, it is based on robotic technology, however, before we came up with this conventional solution our product called as quick jaw changes (QJC) had already been developed and sold in the market. Basically, we just took that technology and combined it with automated solutions such as the automated jaw replacement.
Many machine tool manufacturers wondered that the system integration adopting QJC would be difficult to handle so their reputations for the QJC were a little bit low.
In this way, we managed to manufacture “the package product” which is an automated small quantity-high variety production. The representative package product is the one that combines an automated robot and QJC.
Japan is the world’s oldest society and has a rapidly shrinking population which presents challenges such as a labor crisis and a shrinking domestic market. Can you tell us what are some of the challenges and opportunities this demographic shift is presenting for Matsumoto Machinery?
We believe that it is time for us to contribute to the existence of these social problems. This is of course because a lack of human personnel leads to an increased need for automation and robotics. There is a need nationwide to automate production lines in order to mitigate the lack of human labor. This is not something new and these social problems have surfaced as forecasted by many socio-economic experts. Many engineers predicted that Japan would have these issues, too. Being a system integrator and provider of automated systems, we are now in a good position to produce more solutions to the needs coming from the market.
We are looking into more advanced technology, but it is a tricky path to walk. Matsumoto Machine is however willing to walk the riskier path to invent and introduce automated set-up manufactures that have never existed in the market before.
Sales decreased due to Covid-19. In my perspective, the crisis would have encouraged us to develop new products.
I am a conductor and suggested an idea of coming up with something like our self-developed new automated products. When I initially suggested the project to several managers, most of them were against it. The reason was the amount of time it was going to take and the amount of R&D investment it was going to need. In the other words, each customer’s system integration takes an enormous amount of time for research and R&D investment.
As a result of the final discussion, it was decided to develop “a packaged product” with a fixed basic style to reduce the time required for inquiries, and then finally the smart terrace AIO was commercialized, which was a fruitful result. It is a one-stop solution that makes use of our extensive experience and is suitable for many customers.
If I could shift the subject back to the population issue briefly, this demographic change has been a long time coming and it really is not anything new to a lot of Japanese firms. Honestly speaking, it is not just limited to Japan, countries all across the globe are having the same shortage of labor issues. I feel that recognition of the spirit of craftsmanship and values as manufactures are not sufficient to transmit to young people. In order to take back the excitement of manufacturing, I would like to automate simple tasks and encourage humans to engage in more creative tasks. We need to apply new approaches in order to attract more people to production sites. Basically, we want to make people excited about a career in a monozukuri, which means a machine craft company.
The Kanazawa municipal office has taken some initiative in rectifying this by implementing educational programs for elementary school students in Kanazawa city. They have been introducing manufacturing methods to children in an exciting way while those children are still young. The idea is that perhaps further down the line those children will grow to want a career in monozukuri. With our firm being a manufacturing company, we are also interested in changing the perception of manufacturing and working together to do so.
What are some of the main industries you see for applications of your Smart Terrace AIO product? Are you looking to bring this system integration to overseas markets as well?
It is the metal machine processing industry, however, I would say that we are looking to diversify that and the equipment can be applied to a number of different applications.
Currently, the product is not going to be introduced to foreign markets, and that is due to it still being in the early stages of development. We are testing to see how the product works in the domestic market first, and here in Japan we can accumulate data and results on the introduction of the system. It might result in the introduction of the system overseas, only time will tell.
Are you looking for partnerships in overseas markets currently?
The answer is yes. I would like to accept it if the chance to cooperate with foreign companies comes. The initial costs of setting up production facilities overseas are quite high, and honestly, we are not the kind of company that localizes production overseas. Our strategy is to provide solutions to other companies that wish to do so. Everything we do can be done in Japan, and we can communicate remotely with customers outside of the domestic market. This strategy will continue for the company and we will open our eyes to feasible partnerships outside of Japan.
Your company has had a presence in the United States since 2005. Over the years, what lessons have you learned from your experience in the US and what potential do you see for your company in that market going forward?
During the early stages in America, gradually we were able to capture local customers from the region and that has enabled us to increase our presence. It has worked out over time, but it has been a gradual process.
Imagine that we come back on the last day of your presidency and have this interview all over again. What goals and dreams do you hope to achieve by then?
Basically, our founder's mission was to increase productivity and improve the enterprise value of our customer’s manufacturing companies. I would like to keep up the same ideas of the founding fathers of the company. The path has been set, so we just need to keep putting our best foot forward and follow the basic principles set for us. That is the message I would like to deliver to anyone that inherits the company from me.