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NS TOOL: micro-machining for macro impact in hi-tech fields

Interview - May 27, 2021

Established in December 1954 as a manufacturer of cutting tools, NS TOOL has a focus on pioneering the technology related with high precision machines and has created a very strong competitive advantage in the market. We had a talk with president, Hiroji Goto, to discuss Japanese monozukuri, the competitive global manufacturing industry, and NS TOOL itself.

HIROJI GOTO, PRESIDENT OF NS TOOL CO., LTD,
HIROJI GOTO | PRESIDENT OF NS TOOL CO., LTD,

How would you describe the essence of Monozukuri in the pursuit of excellence in the Japanese manufacturing process?

The ethos of Japanese monozukuri highlights the importance of never leaving anything halfway and getting everything done. Monozukuri is something we can relate to the culinary industry. You might not know that there are many secret recipes and special ingredients and treatments behind a dish that makes it delicious. This is why we need to always focus on the details of every step, even if no one is watching you. Discipline related to the meticulous care of every step in manufacturing is then key to creating high-quality products. This is why the Japanese are making a lot of effort in maintaining Monozukuri.

Someone who is not used to the Monozukuri ethos will think that Japanese products are overdone – too high quality. This is our way to reach a certain level where we are able to hold ourselves. Those people might not be able to understand and appreciate the work in the short term, but 15-20 years down the line, they will understand why the ethos and culture of Japanese Monozukuri is adopted in society.

Monozukuri does not always come with advantages; taking something to such high-quality does require higher costs to produce, and sometimes customers do not have the capability to buy the product at such a high price. This becomes a challenge for Japanese companies competing globally.

 

When talking about the statement of lower quality equals cheaper prices, how do you deal with this certain trend as a Japanese company?

Chinese companies do produce similar end mills that we produce. Obviously, there is a big gap in the price, where China’s market price for end mills is one-fifth of ours. Chinese companies focus on targeting those clients who choose the option to buy it at a cheaper price, whereas we are targeting the high-end markets that require quality tools to make quality products. Our strategy is not necessarily targeting the market with mass production of scale with lower quality. 

Those high-end markets include smartphone manufacturing companies that deal with lens products. These kinds of companies are seeking high-quality builds. Furthermore, these companies need products that are able to follow the miniaturization trends in the world, and we are the company that is able to fulfill their needs.

 

What roles does NS TOOL play in developing miniaturization in the industry?

We started to play a role in developing miniaturization in the last 10 years. We were the pioneer of the smallest end mill available on the market with a size of 0.01mm. When we first introduced this product into the market, only a few companies actually used that. Just recently, the 0.01mm end mill has been increasing steadily in terms of numbers of users.

Our mission is always related to looking ahead to what might be needed in the future, as before a product is created, we need to create the tools required to create it.

Our principle and philosophy strongly highlight the importance of making this kind of tools or machines a reality, so that we make it possible for the industry to move into the miniaturization direction. It is our job to provide the highest quality of processing and precision machines. 

 

Could you tell us how your products help in developing the hybrid and electric vehicle industry?

NS TOOL provides CBN end mills to make machine molds for separators in fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) that separates the hydrogen and oxygen to inject water. Currently, the Japanese car industry is the global leader in making these FCVs and it is excelling in world standards. Our CBN is used in Japanese FCVs and I do believe that our CBN has very high growth potential in the market. In addition to that, a leading German car maker uses our miniaturized end mills to create their special headlight design and components.

In the near future, where the 5G networks will be fully functional in driverless cars, the demands for all the different sensors and components on the autonomous driving system are something we would like to contribute to moving forward. The automotive industry has very great growth potential for NS TOOL.

 

What are your expectations for the future of high precision machines and miniaturization trends, and what is NS TOOL’s effort in achieving that?

We focus on putting efforts into our high precision machines in creating miniaturized components at a micro level, where other companies do not have the capability of doing so. This is our competitive advantage and we put high expectations and a lot of effort and investment into pursuing research and development. Our expectations are that we want to contribute to even bigger development in this field and continue to be the pioneer in high precision machining.

We invested 1.4 billion yen to build our new research and development facilities so that we are able to further develop our technology. The building itself is a vibration proof building that is designed to support the environment needed in the research and development of the making of high precision tools, as you need to ensure that there are no external vibration factors. 

 

How does NS TOOL diversify the materials in the aerospace and automotive industry?

When it comes to this industry, lightweight materials, such as resin, aluminum and carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRPs), are our focus. We are not necessarily looking to penetrate the aerospace market, as the scale is too big, and they do not require such high processing standards that our technology can provide. We are focusing more on electronic components and ceramics that require a greater level of processing standards with fine precision machining, where we can utilize our strengths. 

 

When talking about AI, robotics, and sensors, what are the particular market sectors that you think will have bigger opportunities?

Considering our expertise in processing, the sensor market sector has a very great opportunity globally. The trends in sensors require lightweight and miniaturized components, and we think our technology can play a great role in that.

I do also believe that AI is a very promising market segment, especially for Japanese semiconductor component makers. The need for memory for data centers is increasing following the trend, as the industry needs to control a bigger amount of data. Some of these semiconductor makers are our clients.

 

Do you see any changes in China’s growth in the manufacturing industry?

In terms of machines and equipment, they have the capacity to create great machines. However the ethos of manufacturing that the Japanese have may be the difference. The Chinese can build machines that last 1-2 years but the durability of those machines in the long term is still questionable.

As a company, we do not care too much to share our knowledge and information with other countries. Technology that has been commodified is fine to share, but high precision technology is something with which we need to put our guard up.

 

What role does the international market play for NS TOOL regarding future growth?

Currently, we are not fully benefiting from the potential of the US market. We have a lot of startups as our potential clients. I believe that the technology we have can catch up with the trends of lightweight and miniaturization in the US market, as new companies looking for electrical components or medical devices can be potential clients for our technology. We are in the stage where we are reaching more clients so we can move forward in capturing the market opportunities.

 

In the distant future when the new generation will take over your position, what legacy would you like to leave behind?

The monozukuri is something I want to leave as a legacy. I would say that we should have the spirit to create something out of our creativity when something is not available in the market. We used to purchase the machines for end mills from our supplier, but the specifications do not reach our expectations. We decided to develop our own machines to fulfill the high standard that we need. When this spirit is continued by the next generation, I believe that there is nothing to worry about regarding the future of NS Tool.

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