From water and sewage treatment plants, to mining, oil & gas, chemical and food processing facilities, Ishigaki’s highly efficient filter presses, separators and water pumps are tried and trusted by customers the world over, including major international companies. In this interview, president, Makoto Ishigaki, discusses the company’s rich history, highlights some of its most popular products, such as the Filter Press ISD/ISF LASTA Press, and explains how Ishigaki has built its success by adhering to its long-standing development philosophy:
“combining innovative and unique technologies, improving existing products”.
Can you run us through the history of Ishigaki?
Ishigaki was established more than 60 years ago and was founded by my father, making me the second generation of management. As a company originally located on the island of Shikoku, we were surrounded by the sea and accustomed to water-related businesses. Neighboring firms utilized water to extract magnesium and other key elements. To do so, they had developed the required machinery, such as separators and pumps, since decades. To a large extent, Ishigaki’s beginning did not spawn from the creation of a “new” product. On the contrary, the initial success of Ishigaki came from its ability to ameliorate existing technology by inhaling a new life into it, renovating it and bringing it to new levels of quality, reliability and usability.
As fighting pollution became a priority for the world at large, we started producing environmental machinery that processed and purified sea water. The first such item we introduced was an automatic vacuum filter. While similar products already existed, former machinery was not automatized. Impurities would block the drum of the machine and stop the spring filter from rotating. Therefore, users had to stop the machine in action, clean it, and start it again; a timely process. To resolve that problem, we automatized the machine and created an item that was efficient and convenient.
Our first and largest customer was Daishowa Seishi, a pump manufacturer also located in Shikoku. Back in those days, international businesses were not concerned by their environmental impact and Japan was no exception. The waste water utilized through our client’s manufacturing process was being thrown directly into the sea. To lessen their environmental impact, we introduced a multifunctional machine that filtered their waste water. The success of this product allowed us to gain great attention from other manufacturers.
What have been your best selling products and why?
As I previously explained it, the success of Ishigaki is to enhance existing technologies. In the filtration business, the filter cloth is the essence of any item. No matter how ingenious your machine is, if its filter cloth is damaged its performance will drop. We identified that issue decades ago and our engineers asked themselves: “What can we do differently?” As a solution, they designed an automatic cloth washing-system installed directly within the machine. This is yet another example of Ishigaki’s product development philosophy: to add innovative and unique technology to existing products.
Along the years, our best-selling product became the Filter Press ISD/ISF LASTA Press. With its traveling filter cloth system, this fully automatic operation machine provides both effective and efficient cake washing. As it does not require any human intervention, it can work for 24 hours in a row.
Ishigaki’s Filter Press ISD/ISF LASTA PRESS
While we ameliorated it throughout the years, the Filter Press was initially launched decades ago and was received as a major improvement. As previous machines were semi-automatic, users had to hand scrap impurities from the machine’s system; a truly inefficient process both in terms of cost and time efficiency. Soon enough, this machine proved useful to a variety of industries beyond water treatment, such as chemical manufacturers, miners and food makers.
In recent years, it is widely accepted that Japanese manufacturers have lost market share due to an intense price competition dominated by other Asian countries. How does Ishigaki remain competitive in spite of this intense price competition?
Today, all companies require cost-performance and optimization. While other Asian countries have benefited from cheap manpower, the advance of automation across industrial sectors has lessened the dependency on manual labor. While the initial investment required to buy an automated machine is costly, it proves to be more cost-efficient on the long term. In line with that trend, Ishigaki’s success has been to provide our customers with optimized and tailored solutions.
Ishigaki recently won a bid to provide our machines to Bukan, a region in China. The initiative was led by the Chinese Government and although regional companies offered similar machines at a cheaper cost, Chinese decision makers endorsed Ishigaki’s product. With a performance that was rated as 60% better than that of its competitors by the evaluation committee, our product was chosen and provides yet another example that price is no longer the most important criteria.
Beyond water treatment technologies, what other sectors employ Ishigaki’s products?
The mining industry, which revolves around the extraction of rare materials and minerals such as gold and zinc, widely utilizes our machinery. All regions that have mining activities, especially in South American countries, along with Canada, Australia, China, Turkey and Alaska, are potential clients of ours. I personally visited our clients in these areas to discuss their requirements and present them with our solutions.
With the electrification of automobiles, the utilization of lithium-ion batteries has skyrocketed, naturally causing lithium extraction to increase. Consequently, large companies such as Panasonic and BASF utilize our machines.
Again, Ishigaki’s competitive advantage is to introduce unique technologies and world-leading functions into filtration equipment. This dedication to product improvement has allowed us to master our field and to diversify our range of applications.
While Ishigaki has several types of filter-press, all are focused on automation and on matching our customer’s niche requirements. Basic filter-press is based on cloth travelling where all cake are discharged automatically. As such, operators must be close to the machine and manpower is needed to take care of the discharged cake. In the 80s, one of our clients, namely, Shell, used filtering machines for a gasification process that involved filtering toxic gas. Because of the toxicity of said process, it was impossible for humans to work next to the machine. Shell’s engineers travelled around the world to find a company that could solve their issue, and found Ishigaki. They adopted our machines and have been using them ever since.
In 2016 we began working with Aramco, the leading Saudi Arabian energy company, thanks to a recommendation made by Shell’s engineering team. In the industry, Aramco is known for having stringent quality standards that require vast documentation and optimal material usage. Fortunately, we met all of their criteria and Aramco bought 16 of our units. We are grateful for our collaboration with Shell because not only do they still use our machines, but they also recommend our superior capabilities to other companies. As a manufacturer, we are proud of working with Aramco because we showed our industry that Ishigaki can meet all requirements, even the most difficult, complex and stringent ones.
Today, our world faces a series of environmental threats. From C02 emissions to water scarcity, experts have warned that environmental deregulations will have catastrophic consequences on the world at large, and have pointed to the impact industrial activities have on the planet. How can Ishigaki’s product help solve environmental problems?
Current Japanese legislation are severe when it comes to environmental standards and Ishigaki respects them in their totality. To ameliorate the environmental performance of Ishigaki, diminish our C02 footprint and methane consumption, we introduced the Screw Press in 1995. Along the years, we continuously improved our product design and today, this energy-saving machine utilizes a low-consumption electric motor to operate a screw shaft with low rotation speed, therefore diminishing noise and vibration. This simple yet efficient mechanism is utilized for sewage and industrial sludge treatment, and its ingenious design and easy maintenance combines high performance with low power consumption.
Ishigaki’s current ISGK Screw Press
Our screw press was introduced to pump manufacturing companies, and then to sewage facilities. At the time, filter manufacturers used electricity-driven high-velocity centrifuge filters. However, these rapid filters deteriorated hastily and the need for repair and maintenance significantly increased. As an alternative to centrifuge, we introduced the Screw Press, which has lower energy requirements. Centrifuge filters rotate at 4,000 rpm, which translates into 4,000 rpm, thereby employing large quantities of energy. In comparison, the Screw Press rotates at 0.2 rpm, less than a rotation per minute. While Screw Presses are slow, they are incredibly energy efficient and require minimal maintenance cost. The Sewage and Water Association of Japan gave an environmental award to our products for its reduction of C02 consumption.
In 1979, Ishigaki cross-licensed its Filter Press technology to an American firm named in exchange for their pump technology. Thanks to the knowledge acquired by this exchange, Ishigaki introduced and patented petal-shaped impellers, which increased the efficiency and pace of pumps. After years of development, we released our own proprietary non-stop pump, which is called “FLOOD BUSTER.”
Ishigaki’s Non-stop Pump Gate “FLOOD BUSTER” IGAH-S/IGDH-S
This product was developped in collaboration with Japan’s Ministry of Land & Infrastructure and with the Japan Sewage Association.
For their impellers to properly function, traditional pumps are dependent on the stability and limitation of the water level. As a submergebale pump,“FLOOD BUSTER”is not limited by water level and can operate in various environments. Before the “FLOOD BUSTER,” existing pumps needed to be switched on and off and readjusted, which created issues both in terms of operation and energy. In comparison, the “FLOOD BUSTER” runs continuously. This product was developed to help Japan and other natural disaster prone countries cope with floods.
Looking at the future, what will be your mid-term strategy and what role will international markets play in your development?
Our objective is to sustain our pre-existing international network and focus on maintaining and enhancing client satisfaction. As such, we are currently focused on ensuring the steady procurement of supplies and spare parts across our international cites. Being able to swiftly react to our client’s needs on the ground will allow us to maintain our existing customer base while gaining new clients.
What new market would you like to penetrate?
In the US, the market is already matured and further expansion is difficult. With its new and unique regulations, the EU market comes with its share of uncertainties and possibilities. We already have satisfied customers in New Zealand, a market which has been good to us. Logically, we believe that the next step is to penetrate South East Asian markets, especially since we currently do not have a strong presence there.
What would you like the Ishigaki brand to be associated with?
Our motto is ‘Trusted Technology.’ Our philosophy is to be a company that can answer all the claims and questions of its clients. We want all of Ishigaki’s clients to know that no matter what their problem is, they can come to us for solutions.