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TESAC Corporation – The next generation rope provider

Interview - January 6, 2022

Since its establishment in 1943, TESAC has been providing a diverse range of high-quality rope and fibre products that are utilised in a wide variety of industries. With the demand for environmentally friendly products growing each day in today’s world, TESAC offers solutions that help firms achieve their environmental goals. In this interview, President and Representative Director Takashi Sugiura, discusses the company’s long history of success, stemming from its philosophy to continuously evolve through its ability to innovate and improve its already existing product line, while also being adaptable to the times.

MR. TAKASHI SUGIURA, PRESIDENT AND REPRESENTATIVE DIRECTOR OF TESAC CO., LTD.
MR. TAKASHI SUGIURA | PRESIDENT AND REPRESENTATIVE DIRECTOR OF TESAC CO., LTD.

In recent decades Japan has seen the rise of regional manufacturing competitors in places like China, South Korea and Taiwan who have replicated Japan's monozukuri process, but taking advantage of a cheaper labour force. Despite this fact, many Japanese firms maintain a large global market share, especially in B2B markets and niche fields characterized by high-mix low-volume production. As an integrated manufacturer of a wide range of materials, can you give us your take as to why this is?

Japanese manufacturers, indeed, need to compete with China and Southeast Asian countries that sell comparatively cheap products; however, our customers have very sensitive requests. Therefore, we are very dedicated to providing high-functional items that cater to their specific needs. Japanese monozukuri manufacturers companies are able to evolve because of the demands from our customers.

We do experience what is known as the Galapagos syndrome. However, Japanese companies have their way of development. Our end users are the artisans at the site who have specific needs that we need to cater to. We believe that they are different from the mass-produced items that come from Chinese and other Asian companies. We are competing with global companies within our domestic market. The ability of Japanese manufacturers to respond to the specific needs of the artisans is what differentiates and enables us to survive. 

 

In the next 15 years, one out of every three Japanese people will be over 65 having two major manufacturing repercussions. First is the labour crisis, and secondly, the contraction of the domestic market. What has the impact of Japan's demographic decline been like here at Tesac?

In 2040, it is expected that a third of our population will be over 65 years old, and it is inevitable. We foresee a shrinking market due to the population decline and also environmental factors, as well as changes in preferences. For example, we provide ropes for fishermen, but their demand number is decreasing. It is not only due to population decline, but also due to people are not eating as much fish as before or fishermen cannot catch enough fish for climate change other causes include. Being a fisherman is not a popular occupation anymore, and the young generation cannot sustain themselves through fishing.

Nevertheless, some of TESAC’s product lines have history as long as the human beings. Even if the market becomes smaller, we must continue to provide products that are needed by the world. So we have the responsibility to provide fishing ropes as long as we have the fishing industry. Ropes have been used throughout human history, which shows that the need for them will not cease. 

 

Your four main product divisions are fibre ropes, industrial materials, environmental products, and construction and logistics. As the market is changing, do you see a particular division or group having the greatest growth potential moving forward?

Among TESAC’s product line-up, 「TUFLITE」 is our current focus. This product improves the toughness of concrete it allows it to be thin and lighter while not compromising its strength. 「TUFLITE」 can be applied for the autoclave curing method, which requires heat resistance. Moreover, this product also improves the safety of a building; it prevents the concrete from exploding when there is a fire.


Left: TUFLITE | Right: Cement products using TUFLITE


Due to the ageing society, one of the directions for our research and development is to provide safety in social construction. Along with safety, we are pursuing materials and equipment that are easy to use by providing lighter and more efficient components. Some overseas companies have contacted us, as well as Japanese companies that go abroad, because they want to use our 「TUFLITE」in their product lines. Thus, we are paying more attention to this product domestically and internationally. 

 

As a consequence of Japan's decreasing demography, there is a lesser need for new construction projects or buildings. Still, infrastructures from Japan's construction boom in 1964 have aged, increasing the demand for maintenance and repair work. What are some of the opportunities and challenges that Japan's matured market is creating for Tesac?

I was born in 1964, and it is a year considered to be the peak of economic growth and construction age. In the 57 years that have passed, the buildings, roads, and tunnels have aged and need maintenance. Although we do not have a solid plan on how to use our products yet, we are doing joint research with a professor at Gifu University. Conventionally, buildings use steel, concrete and other heavy materials, but we are trying to more safety and to apply our light fibre materials in construction. 

 

TESAC is the first private company to get involved in the Misato Valley Project, a joint initiative between academia, local government and industry. Can you explain to us what your role is in this project?

There is a growing issue of wildlife damaging agricultural products, so we decided to join this initiative and assist by providing animal damage control materials. The Misato Valley Project, led by the town of Misato in Shimane Prefecture, is working in cooperation with the theme of "regional revitalization with animal damage prevention as the keyword.

The role of TESAC is to challenge and provide "monozukuri" (manufacturing) that will make customers truly happy by demonstrating the knowledge and technical capabilities that we have cultivated over the years as a manufacturer.  Our first initiative is to develop and promote anti-animal damage products, and we will continue to challenge ourselves to develop more than just anti-animal damage products.
 


Left: Anti-animal damage products | Right: animal approaching products


Since your establishment in 1943, TESAC has developed into an integrated manufacturer of materials for different markets and needs. Can you share with us some key moments in the evolution of your company?

In 1943, TESAC was established by combining multiple companies that initially made ropes, textiles and jute-related products. For 78 years since our founding. we have focused solely on industrial materials. Before World War II, we were using natural fibre materials, but after that, we shifted to using synthetic fibres. It is a milestone for us because we were the very first company to make synthetic ropes in Japan. Now we have retained our natural fibre line-up as there is a growing need for these, and in response to the call for more environmentally-friendly products. Also, we are developing new applications of this fibre for our new product line-up.

One thing that we are looking into is using natural fibres for automotive interiors to make them lighter.

 

 What are some of the products that you are developing for this new era of automotive materials?

Our products don't make direct parts with automotive. However, we are foreseeing an indirect use of our products in factories or transporting cars. For the past 15 years, we have been working on replacing steel products with the synthetic fibre products that we produce, and it has been the focus of our new developments. 

 

 How do you describe the role that collaboration or co-creation plays in your business? Are you currently looking for any new partners in Japan or overseas?

As an SME, it is difficult to develop new products on our own. It is vital to collaborate with players upstream like the yarn producers, as well as downstream, which are the end-users. We work with major yarn companies because we cannot produce the ground-breaking new yarn.

It is our role to do the second processing and make textiles or ropes. It is our duty to communicate with the end-users to identify their needs and provide products that cater to them.

Safety is the keyword in our product development. Working together with our customers and users who require safety is essential. We will continue to look for new partners who need our products. 

 

Can you tell us more about your recent initiative in Mie, Prefecture?

We hope that the establishment of a model field in Tsu City, Mie Prefecture, using a product that incorporates technology jointly researched by the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, Misato Town, and our company, will serve as a starting point for the spread of the product in the region. It goes without saying that the best way to improve the effectiveness of animal damage prevention is for farmers to take the initiative in setting up model plots with the cooperation of the entire community, while the government provides only support.

 

What are some of the advantages of using synthetic ropes over traditional steel wire ropes?

Synthetic ropes are predominantly replacing the traditional wire ropes in ship mooring. Wire ropes are conventionally used in tankers, but they are heavy and need to be greased, thus requiring much effort from the workers.

On the other hand, our synthetic ropes provide a better working condition because they are much lighter and are grease-free. The wire ropes are used for their strength which cannot be replaced by weak nylon fibre, but with the development of high modulus polyethylene ropes :「Dynamics rope」, we have been able to develop ropes that are as strong as wire ropes. Though they have the same diameter, our synthetic ropes are 7 times lighter than wire ropes. I have seen the actual work done mooring a tanker using wire ropes. It takes about two hours, whereas using synthetic ropes only take about 40 minutes.


HMPE "Dynamics Rope" on a tugboat


You have been present in Malaysia since 1997. Looking to the future, are there any particular markets that you consider key? Can you elaborate on your international expansion strategy?

The reason why we went to Malaysia in 1997 was that it is close to Singapore, which we were targeting. It enabled us to transport our products to Singapore by land. In addition, Malaysia has a Look East Policy where they have a number of people sent to Japanese universities. Malaysians are very diligent. Many were studying Japanese, so communication was much easier. We found someone who graduated from a Japanese university and had been working in a Japanese firm. This person became one of our precious employees.

Now we are focusing on the domestic market. The quality of the products in our Malaysian factory has improved, so we now want to sell our made in Malaysia product line within the domestic market. We want to take the same strategy as Japanese electrical appliance companies that take the production of relatively easier components to overseas facilities and keep the more sophisticated parts to be made in Japan. We want to have dual production facilities. At the same time, we want to focus on Singapore because it has a lot of ships and ports. It is a promising market for our ropes. 

 

Imagine we come back to interview you again in 10 years. What objectives or goals would you like to have achieved by then?

I will be retired by then. In this harsh competitive environment, it is important to reinforce and strengthen our company to survive. In ten years, Japan's population will have declined, but as long as the demand from our customers and the society exists, it is our duty to keep providing quality products. It is not only a business but also a social contribution. Through our activities, we believe that this is way to contribute to the well-being of society.

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