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Takigen: fitting solutions for global industries

Interview - June 2, 2023

A manufacturer with expertise in products such as handles, locks and hinges, TAKIGEN is now looking to apply its know-how to fittings for electric-vehicle chargers.

MITSUGU TANAKA, PRESIDENT OF TAKIGEN MFG.CO.,LTD.
MITSUGU TANAKA | PRESIDENT OF TAKIGEN MFG.CO.,LTD.

Over the last 25-30 years, Japan has seen the rise of regional manufacturing competitors who have replicated Japanese monozukuri processes by taking advantage of cheaper labor costs, pushing Japan out of mass industrial markets. However, Japan is still a leader when it comes to niche B2B fields. How have Japanese firms been able to maintain their leadership despite the stiff price competition?

First of all, Japan has its uniqueness because of quality control. That is one of the biggest reasons why we can maintain leadership. Not only total control over the quality of products in terms of functionality and appearance but what is another important factor is that we put that kind of quality control on the materials we use. That is an important contributor, particularly when it comes to operations and also inspections.

There are well-known regulations like ROHS, and also, when it comes to chemicals, there is REACH. Those are directives that we have to comply with, and this has been well documented so that we will be able to explain to our customers, based upon our documentation, in compliance with those regulations. With information like what the ingredients are or what is included in our products, we will be able to convince our customers that they are safe and secure because we comply with these regulations. Those measures are in place so that we can aspire to have perfect hardware products, but being that said, it is not that easy to achieve. Sometimes, of course, there may be some defects, but the important thing is that we should be able to convince our customers that it is OK. We take good aftercare of the customers after we release the product so that our customers feel safe in our hands.

The current situation is as follows. Regional companies in China and Korea, have been able to copy products like ours, however, our customers continue to use and purchase our products because, even though they may be more costly, defect-free ones are safer, particularly when it comes to semiconductor manufacturing equipment that requires perfect quality. Therefore, those customers have been able to purchase our products for those reasons.

 

Your products are already being used in such diverse sectors as reusable energy, agriculture, medical treatment equipment and EVs. Are there any new industries or applications that you would like to further expand your products into?

We have started to explore new areas, so to speak, but we are still halfway through, and we are afraid that we will not be able to share details about that at this moment, but maybe we can give you some hints.

The key word here is decarbonization. We are trying to approach players in that segment so that they should be able to develop something useful in that industry. That is something they have been doing so far. As you may know, in Japan there have been a lot of events concerning decarbonization, like exhibitions and showcases for some products. We have been visiting those exhibitions and presentations so that we could understand what the requirements were, and what was needed. Through our research, we tried to develop good products which will be suitable for that market.

 

In March this year, you will be showcasing at the Rechargeable Battery Exhibition in Tokyo. Can you share with us some of the expectations you have for this upcoming event?

We have already planned multiple showcase products to be exhibited there so that we should be able to listen to the voices of the customers for their constructive thoughts. I have to warn you, of course, that we are not a manufacturer of rechargeable batteries and such, but we are trying to develop good and useful products for those who are going to manufacture those rechargeable products themselves.

 

Internal combustion engines are being phased out in favor of lithium-ion batteries, and with more EVs being utilized around the world, the need for charging infrastructure is increasing. As this switch to EVs continues to take place, what opportunities do you see for your firm?

When it comes to charging stations, we are behind compared to European countries, but I understand that those charging stations and equipment will continue to be increasingly installed in Japan as we go forward. We were making a holder for the charging gun four or five years ago. That is our product. We have been producing some products already, and many of them have already been adopted at charging stations here in Japan.

The thing is, there are different types of locking systems. There is electrical locking or using a key. There are different locking systems that we have been developing ourselves to meet the requirements in different ranges. We not only cover rapid chargers but normal chargers too. The reason why locking systems are now on everyone’s lips is that the cable tends to be stolen. That is how it all started. Some of the genuinely manufactured cables cost something like 100,000 yen, so it needs anti-theft equipment.

 

Realizing potential cost savings of up to 50%, engineers in the aerospace industry are under pressure to design aircraft that are utilizing less fuel. As such, they are looking to newer, lighter materials such as CFRP, modified heat-resistant alloys and lightweight composites. What effects is this change in materials having on your business?

Talking about aerospace industries, we cannot be involved in the major parts. Therefore, what we are focusing on internally is cabin stuff, for instance, trolleys, when they offer people a drink, and also housing - the doors and where you put the house. That is an area we have been focusing on because we will be able to invest based on our strong hardware and expertise there. As you know, multiple Japanese companies are doing business with Boeing, so through those Japanese manufacturers, we should be able to find good opportunities to contribute to them, so there has been some business going on there.

We have tried to produce hinges and handles from CFRP, but this is too expensive and has not been adopted. Also, as they are small parts compared to the entire aircraft, resin or aluminum may be fine. However, research and development is being carried out, so it is possible to commercialize parts made from CFRP if there is demand for it.



When it comes to vehicles, we know vibrations coming from the motor or external forces can loosen bolts or screws, providing maintenance and safety challenges, but Takigen supplies vibration-resistant parts designed for vehicles such as construction machinery. What technologies have you integrated to allow for vibration-resistant products?

The thing is, when it comes to metallic hardware materials, they were not designed and meant for anti-vibration because, as you can see, those are boxes that are stationary and therefore have nothing to do with vibrations to start with. There have been different customers appearing, like specially equipped vehicles, like trucks, on railroads, ships and the aerospace industry. Those are the customers emerging here. They are going to take good care of us.

The key to making the customer happy is to do enough testing for vibration and durability. This includes repeated trial and error testing until it passes the standards required by the industry. Standard testing does not mean that defects will not occur. For this reason, field tests are sometimes carried out on actual equipment. We have accumulated such a wealth of experience and data that it is difficult to specify what special things, in particular, are the ones which define us. There is so much expertise here but it is difficult to present them as interesting stories to others.

 

Takigen developed the first 0200 key in 1964, which has since become standard in electrical installations. However, because of this, it is common, so you developed the TAK series of high-security locks as a response to this. How is the TAK series superior to more conventional lock and key systems?

The No.0200 has become popular throughout Japan as a key for cubicle-type high-voltage power receiving and transforming installations, which are always installed in buildings. Originally, cubicle-type high-voltage power receiving and transforming facilities were not installed in places where people could easily enter. Therefore, high security was not required and the No.0200 was used as a key for electricians as a safety measure. However, with time, security measures for building electrical controls have become a requirement, and the fact that they can be unlocked with similar keys developed by other companies in the same industry has become a problem. For this reason, we have developed the TAK series of compact but high-security locks, allowing the user to choose the level of security that best suits the application. However, as No.0200 is widely used throughout the country, it is difficult to completely change to a different key, so we developed the TAK55 as a one-step security measure.

That is how we came up with the TAK55, which is good for the customer because by just purchasing this one, we should be able to open the old locks as well with this one key. This is good because that is how we can differentiate ourselves from other competitors and maintain our security.

 

Moving forward, what other countries or regions have you identified for further expansion, and what strategies would you employ?

Originally, we had no intention to go overseas to sell our products. This is how it started. To ensure the quality was just as good as that of Japan, we dispatched our Japanese engineers to the local factories. There were some Japanese companies there who wanted to source materials locally instead of importing them because their factory was there. That is how it all started in China and Korea, with Japanese local companies that wanted to do business directly with locally established firms.

When it comes to Taiwan, there is a factory there. There were some Japanese companies in Thailand as well, of course, and they started to do the same thing with Japanese-Thai local companies, and then that expanded into including national Thai companies there. That is how it all started there, but we have no intention of going beyond that at the moment.

When it comes to Western countries, the thing is that there are different standards, so there are no immediate opportunities for us to be able to promote our products. There is some business going on through trading companies, but not much at the moment, and we have no plan to expand our business to European and American companies.

That said, our products have been developed to solve problems faced by our customers at their sites. Therefore, although they may look like simple components, we have put a lot of ingenuity into them, resulting in unique products. This is why our original and unique products continue to sell well in Europe and the USA, even though we have only an English-language website and no other PR activities.

 

Imagine we come back to interview you again in two years. What would you like to have achieved by then?

I am not sure if I should call this a dream or not, but the current goal is to reach a certain sales figure. As of last year, we achieved sales of $200 million, the most historically that we have made in a year. For 2025, which is our 115th anniversary year, our target is set at $223 million. That is my dream, of course. You cannot really beat that figure if you continue to do the same thing, so we are really trying to get more customers, and also new products may be developed and sold so that we should be able to reach that figure. That is my current dream.


Interview conducted by Karune Walker & Sasha Lauture

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