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MetalTech: ‘The basis of manufacturing lies in people’

Interview - March 2, 2023

Utilizing its unique technologies, MetalTech is providing high-quality products to its customers.

RYUICHI YAJIMA, REPRESENTATIVE DIRECTOR & PRESIDENT OF METAL TECH CO., LTD.
RYUICHI YAJIMA | REPRESENTATIVE DIRECTOR & PRESIDENT OF METAL TECH CO., LTD.

What do you believe to be the core strengths or competencies of Japanese manufacturers that make them globally competitive in 2023?

It is not easy to describe it in simple words, but my basic concept is that all the work is born from human idea. The basis of manufacturing lies in people. With that in mind, my job as the president is to provide them with a comfortable place to work and check whether the work is best suited for them.

The success of Japanese companies being able to provide better quality products is completely reliant on human capacity. I do not know much about China, but I think Chinese workers are not that serious. With some of my experience working in China, I understood that the way we approach and execute our work is completely different. In China, there is a huge distance between managers and employees, but in Japan, they have a strong desire to work together, so I feel that the distance is close. We are working together to create products of better quality and solve problems. There is unwavering trust and harmony. 

 

One of the major social issues facing Japan is its aging population. The workers are aging, making it difficult to continue working and pass on their expertise. Secondly, many young people in Japan are not as interested in a career in manufacturing, especially in more rural areas. Can you tell us about the impact of Japan's aging population on your company? How will you manage to offset some of the challenges it presents?

We can extend the age of retirement to 65 if our employees want to do so. They have the ability, so that they can continue to work. You said that young people are not too interested in monozukuri. However, based on my observation, they produce results that exceed expectations when job opportunities are properly given to them. We also believe that by increasing the motivation of women and elderly employees, they will be able to play an active role in a wide range of fields. In order to make the younger ones become more interested in monozukuri, we must show them a more attractive way of how we do our work. In addition to the duties they have to fulfill, we would like to give them as much authority as possible to give them a broader perspective and help them feel a sense of achievement. Currently, we are working on changing our methods for our evaluation of human resources, including senior personnel and employees. In most large companies, I believe it is difficult to give young people a wide scope of authority. It tends to be limited. On the contrary, on our scale, we need to grant a certain authority to younger people to operate the company. In reality, a person who starts working with us can find many things to do so that he or she feels are worth doing, also referred to as ikigai or yarigai. Therefore, It is important to let the younger generation know about our company. We cannot deny the inevitable shortage of labor, but that can be offset by introducing AI or using automation for repetitive tasks. That is our direction moving forward. In the past, employees were involved in a wide range of work, so they were attached to products that they had created. Nowadays, however, each employee produces a part or a piece of a component, so they do not know what a particular part they are working on will be used for. Although this initiative has been suspended due to the pandemic, we try to teach them where a part they made is used in the automobile in order to heighten their awareness of how they are contributing to the entire society. At the same time, it can also strengthen their willingness to work, especially the younger ones.

 

Besides automation and using digital technologies as a way to handle the challenges of an aging population, another option that many are pursuing is the use of overseas workers. Are you interested in attracting or hiring foreign workers to Metal Tech?

We are especially interested in hiring personnel in Thailand, where we have subsidiaries. We want to tap into its human resources by training them here in Japan factories. Our trainees from Thailand enhance their skills in Japan to qualify as specific technical staff. Afterward, they can work in a subsidiary in Thailand, and be involved in quality assurance, engineering and even management.

 

The automotive market, which is your core market, is experiencing a very transformative time as we slowly switch to next-generation vehicles. Notably, the anatomy of the car is changing in many ways, such as the need to become more lightweight and more fuel-efficient as well as altering the cabin space to accommodate autonomous driving in the future. Different types of parts are becoming more important or less important. Can you tell us about the impact of the switch to EVs and next-generation vehicles for your company?

Nowadays, people are paying attention to all these things, and they are trying to address these changes. However, we also do not know what kind of problems will arise after all the changes. We will first need to identify the possible problems that may take place. Although we are yet to study those huge changes, but as a concrete example that we are currently working on, we need high-strength steel, which is extremely difficult to press to further reduce the weight of the body. That's why we introduced a new technology, a hot press machine.

Along with the development of pressing technology, we also need higher quality welding technology because the existing welding technologies cannot be applied on some new materials. Also, we have introduced the ultrasonic measuring instrument which is one of the nondestructive measuring instruments to check the strength and quality of welding. Using this instrument to analyze new automobile parts, there have not been any problems so far.



Can you give more detailed examples of some cases where your ultrasonic measuring instrument was used?

Whereas in the past, the weld diameter was measured and confirmed by cutting the product, ultrasonic measurement technology enables continuous monitoring of the weld area without cutting it. Since no cutting is performed, waste is reduced, and feedback in the event of welding abnormalities is easier and faster. 

 

Japan's shrinking market has been the inspiration of many SMEs such as yourself to look overseas to compensate for the lack of domestic business. Can you tell us about your experience on how you have managed to compensate for Japan's shrinking market with new overseas partners or customers?

Because overseas production is becoming more widespread, we have expanded to Thailand. Our Thai subsidiary is not only addressing the Thai market, but it is our global production base from which we provide our products around the world. It is undeniably becoming the pillar of our global production. In a populous country like Indonesia, which has a population of about 270 million in Asia, business is expected to flourish due to the increasing motorization. Fortunately, our capital alliance company has already set up operations in Indonesia, so we are focusing on Thailand based on the concept of selection and concentration.

 

A popular way for many SMEs to gain a foothold in a new market is through partnerships. Are you interested in finding partners in the international market?

In the past, we couldn't create a 100% Japan capital subsidiary in Thailand, so we needed partner companies, but now it's possible, so instead of looking for specific overseas partners for business development, we are looking for supply chain partners because our customers want Japanese quality.

 

Are there any particular markets or countries that you are now shifting your focus to, whether in terms of increasing sales, establishing an office or replicating the model you have in Thailand?

In Thailand, there is another group company called “KORAT SAISAN CO., LTD. (KSC)” that makes molds. KSC is currently working hard to acquire more orders.

 

What is the ratio between your Japanese and foreign clients?

Our customers are all Japanese companies.

 

Are you interested in creating relationships with foreign companies and supplying these parts to foreign automakers in Southeast Asia?

KSC, which is engaged in the mold business, is looking for customers because it sells globally. Metaltech has no plans to do so at this time. Since we are working at full capacity to supply parts to Mitsubishi and Nissan, we cannot increase the number of customers.  However, I believe that it is necessary to explore it in order to expand it widely in the future.

 

Imagine we come back in five years for your 105th anniversary as a company and have this interview all over again. What would you like to tell us? What are your dreams for the company, and what goals would you like to have accomplished by then? 

Though it will not be easy, we aspire to achieve things that are beyond what we are doing now. I want to talk about those accomplishments when you come back.

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