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The kaizen kings of automotive plastic injection mould manufacturing

Interview - January 24, 2023

With over 50 years of expertise, Yamaguchi Seiki Kogyo has long been serving Japan’s automotive sector, manufacturing high-quality moulds through innovative methods and machinery. Renowned in the industry for its meticulousness about the design and production of its products, the company’s molds are created using machinery, but finished by hand to achieve a superiorly smooth curved surface. We sat down with president Taichi Yamaguchi to learn more about the company and its technologies

 

TAICHI YAMAGUCHI, PRESIDENT OF YAMAGUCHI SEIKI KOGYO CO., LTD.
TAICHI YAMAGUCHI | PRESIDENT OF YAMAGUCHI SEIKI KOGYO CO., LTD.

Japan is famous for its craftsmanship, for products created with extreme attention to detail, as well as for kaizen, the philosophy of striving for constant improvement. As a plastic injection mould specialist, what is the essence of monozukuri?

As a mould manufacturer, monozukuri is about providing moulds that satisfy and cater to our customers’ needs. To achieve this, daily improvement based on the kaizen philosophy is crucial. We have had weekly kaizen meetings for the past 15 years and every week to improve our competitiveness. The company has been making progress in this area. We believe it is important to continue to strengthen our corporate structure with the participation of all employees.

 

You supply to Toyota; producing a range of moulds used in plastic injection and in manufacturing car exterior products. Ensuring the absence of defects and smoothness in finish is essential: your products are very important in car production and can be used for up to ten years. How do you ensure a perfect finish each time?

Bumper moulds for exterior products are our core products. In order to ensure quality and prevent defects in other products as well, we make each mould up to a conclusion. We have a system in which each process is completed, including inspections, and we call this self-completion.

We are particular about the design aspect of our products, and the moulds are created using machinery, but they’re finished by hand to achieve a smooth curved surface. The 1000-minute unit is polished in a set procedure. Furthermore, fluorescent lamps are used to check for distortion and ensure quality. To maintain machining accuracy, we have discussions with tool makers for creating original tools and use them in some machining operations.

 

What is the average time to create a mould and, once in use, how long does it last?

It depends on the size, some take between one to five months. The period of use varies from customer to customer, but some are used for more than 20 years.

 

How has the automotive industry’s switch to Electric Vehicles (EVs) impacted you, and in the future, what new applications do you envision for your moulding technology?

We do not expect any major impact on the demand for plastic moulds as we believe they will continue to be necessary in the future. However, competitiveness will become increasingly crucial.

In the area of technology, we believe that there are many issues to be addressed in the future, such as mould making for lighter products. We would like to take on challenges in this field as well. Additionally, we would be interested in expanding to other industries and markets if opportunities arise. However, our main goal now is to truly value and take care of our current customers.

 

You currently don’t have any overseas offices, but you have established relationships with Chinese, Canadian, British, and Turkish mould makers. Are you looking for more business partners overseas, for example in Mexico, where many automotive makers are present to serve the US market?

These partnerships aren’t for production but are more oriented towards maintenance, and the reason we have partnered with these companies is that we have customers in those areas. The ideal situation is to produce moulds where the client is located. However, as a mould manufacturer we can’t go abroad alone, so we are working with our current partners and looking to find new partners to extend our service areas. If there is a request from our clients then we respond to it, but we aren’t actively seeking partners by ourselves. Though we aren’t actively seeking partners, it is true that we don’t have a maintenance partner in Mexico. As of this year, we have made an agreement with Concours Technologies, and they have a site in Mexico, so they will take care of everything there.

Also, we don’t currently have overseas dealings but get all our orders from domestic companies. While we do conduct some sales overseas, all communication takes place in Japan.

 

As you mentioned, the kaizen philosophy plays a major role in your company. What are your main competitive advantages, and what makes you the go-to partner when it comes to moulding?

Our strength is in acting with customer satisfaction foremost in mind by meeting their quality requirements. We will not say that we cannot do something for them, but rather we will think positively about how we can do it and take it as a challenge.

Our founder's philosophy is the following:

1. To make better products at a lower cost and faster turnaround time.

2. Value our customers, employees, and facilities.

This is the reason for the high evaluation of our company.

 

R&D is very important for your business, and you recently opened a new technical centre in Saga. What is its purpose?

We believe that the company with the best design capabilities will have the upper hand. That is why we are investing in this project. The reason we chose Saga is so that we could gather more talented people. In the Chūbu area, where we are now located, there are many factories already, so the pool of people to recruit from is limited. While we were working on various projects, we made a connection with a person in Saga, and our founder, Fumiji Yamaguchi, is also a resident from that prefecture. The location was also chosen because the company is from the same area.

 

Large companies have the idea of moving their operations from Japan to overseas, saying they can find SMEs that can produce the same quality at a lower cost in other countries. As a result, the number of jobs available to Japanese SMEs will decrease and they will look overseas for work. How do you perceive this?

Ideally, it would be best to procure moulds close to the production site. However, considering that moulds are one-of-a-kind, we have determined that it is difficult to make everything locally overseas. There are many moulds that are difficult to make, others for high quality products, or that require durability, etc. Even if the production is done overseas, there are many moulds that are made in Japan. We will continue to maintain and improve our competitiveness in order to remain a mould maker capable of manufacturing such products.

 

You are Yamaguchi’s third generation president. If we were to come back in five years’ time and interview you again, what goals would you like to have accomplished?

The first thing I want is for our customers around the world to consider our products to be indispensable, and to be a company that can be trusted. To achieve that, advancement in technology is important as well as training employees. Furthermore, we would like to continue to meet new customers’ demands as well as existing ones.


 

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Yoshihiko Hirano

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