Since its inception in 1960, PACRAFT has strived to apply advanced technologies to build pouch fill/sealing machines and automated systems to meet the diverse needs of its customers, all while never losing sight of one of its core philosophies: once a client, always a client. PACRAFT’s customers have become familiarized with looking to the company to solve their problems and produce creative solutions. PACRAFT’s unmatched attention to detail assures customers that its durable and high-performing equipment can be used for the maximum length of time.
Pacraft was founded in 1960 and its development coincided with what is known as the “Japanese industrial miracle” which was based upon the Japanese monozukuri manufacturing philosophy. What are your thoughts on monozukuri and how does it apply to a packaging manufacturer?
Japanese manufacturers, especially in the machinery sector, originally learned their skills from western machine manufacturers. After WWII, the Japanese economy grew exponentially and Japanese firms focused on developing their Monozukuri, which consequently enhanced Japan’s industrial sector as a whole. At the time, Japan strived to manufacture goods domestically. Japanese manufacturers during that period really challenged themselves. One aspect of the Japanese population that drove this sector to what it is today was the high demand of consumers and the monozukuri craftsmanship required to fulfil these demands.
Initially, modern industry focused on large volumes of identical products being mass produced. However, what developed was the ability for manufacturers to cater to the requirements and specific demands of each client. One of the core elements of why Japan is so good when it comes to machines is the concept of “karakuri” which can be identified as 'efficiency. For example, how many actions or movements can be initiated with each turn of a motor? Can we create twenty to thirty moves? How can we most effectively use weight and gravity to create as many movements as possible? This kind of thinking has historically led to the development of Japan’s Monozukuri.
The origins of the Japanese machinery industry can be traced back to the Edo period, where craftsmen learned from the west but then redefined their learnings through unique Japanese ideas. Pacraft's origins were with scales but our customers had other requirements, so one of our first forays into packaging equipment was for packaging sugar and salt. After that, we developed a packaging machine for retort food following a request from a leading Japanese food manufacturer which subsequently created a large retort food market in Japan. To some extent, I believe that our machines triggered the start of the instant curry pouch industry. Since then, many forms of instant foods, like curries and noodles, have become popular in Japan. Soon after that, convenience stores opened across Japan, selling products like candies and gummies, requiring further development of our equipment. Thanks to our packaging machine technology, we were able to help this industry really grow, and we cover 80% to 90% of the market.
Industry 4.0 is a new phase in the industrial revolution where interconnectivity and digitalization has become key and has been referred to as ‘smart manufacturing’. As a packaging manufacturer, how are you adapting your machinery to the demands of industry 4.0?
Our products are IoT compatible. We can develop machines in accordance with the customer IoT system. The solutions to create a factory automation system which includes robots are available.
The final phase of our current mid-term strategy is to expand machines with integrated IoT systems that are steadily under development. To a large degree, the challenge with these machines is not the technology itself, but rather, to what extent do our clients actually require IoT systems. We add IoT systems to manage data such as machine operating condition, alarm history used for preventative care and maintenance, and to keep consistent production and engineer service history on customer IoT systems. We are supervising customer machine maintenance by monitoring current machine condition remotely upon customer request. Being able to adapt to our clients’ information needs and adding to optimization processes will become a critical key of the mid-term strategy.
As an example, a leading factory automation company's IoT system is a high-quality system that enables connectivity between the machines and the factory, so data from all equipment can be compiled and a site fully connected. However, whether companies require that kind of system is debatable. Many do not want data shared outside of the company and want to keep it within. For this reason, we develop IoT systems flexibly to fit with customer requirements and their circumstances. For most of the companies we supply, we have installed machinery that can independently gather and analyse data. The customer can then decide what information is sent, depending on what the client wishes to inspect and monitor. We have everything in place so that depending on what is required, the basics are installed, and the data can be delivered to the proper communication data centre. Moving forward, we are looking to strengthen our after-sales services by providing services in case of breakdown and repair. We are also developing preventative care and maintenance technologies to track performance and predict breakdowns before they occur.
Thanks to our parent company, Nabtesco, we are able to utilize their expertise in Big Data and IoT to bolster our technical capabilities.
COVID has changed many aspects of business the last two years has altered the world’s supply chain. What has been the impact of COVID on your company and what do you think are some of the mid to longer-term trends that it will serve to accelerate?
If we look at the food industry which we serve, the number of people eating out at restaurants has decreased dramatically while eating at home and using takeaway services have increased exponentially. Of course, we were impacted by this trend as have many food manufacturers who are our customers. On the other hand, increased supermarket and convenience store shopping has increased business in these segments beginning the latter half of 2020. While the Japanese market has taken a hit, we’ve been supported with increased business through our international clients. Thankfully, this financial year, we have added a record number of overseas clients through their effective efforts to adapt to shopping trends changes developing from Covid policies.
Another adaptation to Covid, is our ability to provide remote installation services to help our clients setup and launch equipment and production lines for clients in different countries. Utilising our system, we can provide visual data, deliver machinery and provide the support needed to install it. Once equipment is installed, it can be managed and controlled remotely from Japan. We are rolling out systems and machinery in Japan, providing testing, and when proven, introducing standardized remote services to our overseas customers.
Finally, we have seen a huge increase in demand for sanitizing products and we have had to double our production specifically for this field. Cosmetics, bath, and hygiene-based product makers are investing more in our machinery and our market share has really grown. We are extremely grateful and fortunate that we supply our products to the majority of the world’s suppliers of soaps and personal care products.
In this area and following the move towards net zero carbon emissions, there is a growing need to reduce plastics in production. For convenience, people buy products in a rigid container, often with a pump, then refill the bottle using pouch refills that are energy efficient and use a fraction of the resources required with rigid containers. Moving forward, we see a trend of reduced plastic product use worldwide and using materials that are more easily recyclable. Sustainability for the environment and the global economy is our goal and we are developing products for that."
In April of this year, you re-branded to Pacraft, which is a combination of the words ‘packaging’ and ‘craft’, signalling to your customers that you are ready to take on the challenges in the international market. With this re-branding in mind, which markets are you looking into and what other new industries would you like to serve?
The name change from Toyo Jidoki to Pacraft was to mark our company's 61st anniversary. The mind is craft and the domain is packaging. Of course as a business, our target is to be the best known supplier of pouch packaging equipment worldwide and we thought it helpful to have a name and image that was accessible to all regions and not just to our home country.
As for markets, our main field is food packaging but we are also supplying equipment for home and personal care, pet food, dry goods and pharmaceuticals among others. We specialise in difficult-to-package products both at home and globally. Instant curry is difficult to package, for example, as it is not only a liquid but also incorporates solids such as vegetables and meat. Packaging just a liquid or a solid is routine but to combine those items is difficult. Measuring technology changed so that contents were always the same and to ensure the accuracy of the machines. Our strength is the ability to provide a stable supply of accurate packaging – 250 packets per minute reflects stability and consistency. Our customers trust us as they know that our machines are accurate, do not break down and can be counted on. Most of our customers are repeat users of our machinery. We are currently developing equipment to package difficult products outside of the food sector. "
Since your company’s founding, you have been part of the Nabtesco group. What synergies come with being part of this group?
One of the greatest strengths are the partnerships that we have, especially in IoT. I put a lot of effort in my career into creating channels with robotics makers and server motor makers. A key advantage in being part of the Nabtesco group is that we are able to utilise the capital, facilities, offices and staff of the Nabtesco group around the world to enhance and support our operations. Furthermore, they have a solid system when it comes to CAE (Computer Aided Engineering). They support us with experts to manage intellectual properties, monozukuri, quality control, legal and project planning.
Internationally, you have been established in China since 2011, the US since 2013 and more recently in Dusseldorf, Germany. You also have many distributors, supplying over 11,000 products in forty countries. What is your international strategy moving forward and which countries are you looking to further penetrate?
We are looking to strengthen the facilities that we that already have developed in those countries that you named and we have been investing resources heavily into Europe over the past few years. In North America and Europe, we have been able to create a system that allows us to quickly develop equipment to meet specific local customer needs, allowing us to quickly adapt in those markets. We are also strengthening our capabilities in China and we will likely invest more resources into creating a south-east Asian facility to support that market. We therefore can cover regional needs in China, North America, Europe and Asia, creating a consistent supply for these markets.
How would you do that? Would you be finding new distributors or establishing new factories? Or perhaps an M&A or joint venture?
Our customers and their needs drive most of our decisions. We would like to create a style that best provides support for our local clients with our engineering and support teams close at hand for when anything is required. The ultimate goal is that such teams should be made up of local individuals from that region, creating a local management organization structure. To that end, there may be processes our company manages where we provide the different facilities and capital, but then everything is managed by local teams or through other styles of partnerships.
Is there a particular goal or objective that you would like to achieve during your presidency?
My objective is to put a lot of effort into branding and rebranding our company, not only towards the world, but within the company too, so our re-brand includes a new mindset and culture for future growth. That is not only reflected in the name change to Pacraft, but moving forward, to what extent we can all treasure and respect the sixty years of history that we’ve been able to create in order to continue to challenge ourselves. One of the mottos for Nabtesco long-term vision is “Innovation in Action”. We’d like to treasure these words and embody that spirit.