Since its establishment in 1941, Enuma Chain, a comprehensive manufacturer of chains, has supported the industry with a series of developments to meet the needs of an age of diversification and complexity. The Worldfolio spoke to president Ryukichi Sato, who gives his take on monozukuri and explains more about Enuma’s products, technologies and their applications.
What does monozukuri mean to you? What do you believe to be the strengths of Japanese firms that allow them to stay competitive in global marketplaces?
Monozukuri is a seemingly simple concept, but it is very difficult to understand because of its wide range of interpretations. Its essence is “technology of Monozukuri”. Each manufacturer has its own way of thinking, and although it is difficult to generalize, each company has its unique way of thinking. There are two types of "monozukuri" in our opinion: one is for major manufacturers, and the other is for end-users who use our products. We are a manufacturer of industrial and motorcycle chains, and we supply them to a great many major manufacturers, including Kawasaki, Kubota, Toyota Industries, and Iseki. In terms of our manufacturing, we believe that our "monozukuri" is to provide the highest quality while meeting the demands of each manufacturer and being nurtured by the manufacturer.
Another important aspect here is sustainability. We must maintain a certain level of reliability in maintaining quality and cost fluctuations while meeting customer deadlines. I believe this is one of the core essences that defines an OEM: the ability to supply better products just in time to our customers. I would also like to touch on another form of manufacturing, the "end-user approach”. In terms of motorcycle chains, we have two competitors in Japan. In this regard, I believe it is very important to respond quickly to consumer needs and win their trust. Our goal is to create not only things, but also products that are loved and integrated from order to delivery.
What challenges or opportunities has Japan’s shifting demographic presented to Enuma Chain Manufacturing?
To compensate for the labor shortage, we have a partner company in China, which is a major part of our business strategy, as well as a contract manufacturer of general industrial and motorcycle chains. We believe this is one way to address the declining labor force.
In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to hire new employees due to the decline in the labor force. One of the measures we are taking to counter this problem is to extend the retirement age. The retirement age is 60, but we are trying to stabilize employment by allowing employees to continue working as long as they are healthy, motivated, and capable. Currently, we have 220 employees, of which 40 are over 60 years old. In fact, I myself turned 70 a few days ago.
Another thing we are doing to solve this problem is investing in new production methods. The company as a whole is always looking forward and seeking ways to introduce and establish new technologies. For example, we have begun introducing automated robots to our production lines to compensate for the decrease in labor.
How have chains evolved over the years, and how do your technologies and products combat the issue of durability for motorcycle chains?
Let me tell you about the historical change in chain construction that occurred in 1974. Prior to that time, there was no such thing as a general drive chain with a seal ring. The durability was dramatically improved by sealing the pin and bush with grease to prevent the grease from flowing out and splashing on the seal ring. This was a revolutionary change that was the result of core research conducted jointly by our company and Kawasaki through trial and error. It may seem simple, but the simpler the idea, the more often it is overlooked.
Manufacturing methods for chain parts include press punching and cold forging. The cold forging process is one of our strengths. The specifications we receive from our customers must always be exact. While some conventional press punching processes are not flexible enough, our cold forging process allows us to easily adjust the size, dimensions, thickness, etc. as required by the customer. It is also our patented technology and strength.
You cite the plate hole technology in particular as one of your technical strengths. How are you able to find a balance between weight and strength?
Stress analysis is performed and holes are made in low-stress areas of the plate to reduce weight without reducing the strength of the chain. Plate holes are also used in many genuine motorcycle chains.
What kind of challenges or opportunities do you see in this new market for electric motorcycles? Is it something that is of interest to you?
The electrification of motorcycles is now happening on a global scale and is affecting our clients, but not much has changed for us. Motorcycle manufacturers are currently developing electric motorcycles, which we will see in the near future. The drive chain is the basic functional component of a motorcycle. It transmits the power of the motor to the rear wheel, so as long as the motor is at the heart of the vehicle, the chain will always be necessary.
We supply chains to motorcycle manufacturers in Taiwan, where electric motorcycles are becoming increasingly popular. From an environmental standpoint, I think the shift to electric bikes is good for us.
As a company that is looking towards the Southeast Asian market, are you actively seeking cooperative partnerships overseas?
Cost is the primary reason why it is difficult to capture the market in Southeast Asia. The price of chains for small motorcycles that we supply is higher than that of Chinese and local chain manufacturers, so low-priced Chinese and other products tend to be prioritized. The market for large bikes is still not that big, but we will aggressively supply chains for large bikes, which is our specialty.
Speaking of exhibiting new products and penetrating new markets, I believe you were at both the Tokyo and Osaka motorcycle shows recently. Can you tell us a little more about that experience? What products did you showcase?
The Tokyo and Osaka motorcycle shows were our first participation in two years due to the global pandemic. Overall, we had a very promising experience. Each year, we introduce a new product lineup. This year we exhibited and promoted our new products, including limited edition ones sold to commemorate our 80th anniversary and products best suited for the 250cc class, which is increasing in the Asian market. The essence of motorcycle shows held in Tokyo and Osaka is to show the world our product lineup and what we stand for. We received a lot of valuable feedback from end-users and dealers.
Could you show us and our readers any new products for the overseas market?
70-80% of our exports to overseas markets are motorcycle chains. The rest are mainly industrial chains for the Southeast Asian market and others. Our goal is to continue to increase the number of motorcycle chains and raise our name recognition as a chain manufacturer.
Looking toward the future, are there any particular markets, countries or regions that you consider key as part of your international development?
We have a strong sales channel covering all of North America for motorcycle chains. We are doing our best to get more of our products to each distributor. In Europe, we deal with one distributor per country, and our sales strategy is basically the same. However, in terms of distribution, we have to export to each country, which is inefficient, so we are thinking of using hub warehouses to centralize our operations. We have not yet decided where the hub will be located, but the basic idea is to have a unified warehouse with products and inventory for the European market, which will simplify product procurement and better meet the needs of European customers.
In Southeast Asia, we have established a sales company in Thailand to develop sales. We have been quite busy, and we hope to use this base to expand our sales to neighboring countries.
Imagine that we come back and do this interview again in four years' time to celebrate the company’s 85th anniversary. What would you like to tell us? What are your dreams for the company?
I would be happy to talk about the organic growth of the company. In terms of sales, I would like to increase the company's sales by 30% of its current level. On a personal note, I love to play golf. I want to stay in shape and be physically and mentally fit; I hope to continue playing golf well into my 70s and 80s. It is a personal dream come true.