Ever since the company was founded in 1934, Sintokogio’s corporate philosophy has been “giving form and life to process materials.” This, explains company president Atsushi Nagai, has been the guiding principle for what is the only company that has managed to automate the entire casting process, providing total solutions for foundries.
Sinto's slogan is "Giving form and life to process materials" through advanced company-related technologies. As an industry leader, what do you think distinguishes Japanese monozukuri from foreign competitors, and what are its main advantages?
Our passion for manufacturing has been the driving force for our business since the beginning. We started in 1927 with the production of Japan's first sand molding machine, and in 1934 our company was founded. Since then, "Giving form and life to process materials" has been our corporate philosophy. The traditional casting process for a complete product includes using sand to create a mold, putting the cope and drag together, pouring in the melted iron, cooling down, sand removal and deburring. We are the only company that has this entire process automated, providing total solutions for foundries. Our business today is derived from these technologies, based on our long history of technical strength and innovation.
The keyword that perfectly describes our company is "amazing", because the key technologies we developed over our history are now being used in completely different fields as technologies for the future. For example, a Japanese government consortium of major battery-related companies is utilizing our casting technologies and machines for processes in battery production. For our surface treatment technology, we not only contribute to lighter-weight automobiles, but also to the production of solar panels and semiconductors. In addition, our powder and handling technologies are used in the development of smartphone parts.
Recently, our foundry and environmental technologies have been applied in the development of an embedded detector for diapers that indicates if a changing is needed. This device is being utilized in the nursing care industry. In this way, our business has evolved from our original roots in the foundry industry in response to the changing times. This passion for manufacturing that drives innovation in unexpected fields is a special feature of Japanese monozukuri.
Japan's population is declining and aging, and by 2050, it is expected that a third of its population will be over 65. How is this demographic change affecting your business? What steps are you taking to react to this challenge and ensure your business' longevity?
The demographic change in Japan is an important opportunity for us to consider how we can contribute not only to the changing workforce but also to the way business is done, both domestically and globally. The Sinto Group extends throughout the world, and to provide the same quality in every country, we have a common skill evaluation system that is used throughout the group companies. In order to deliver the service that our customers desire by developing each and every Sinto member’s abilities, we emphasize an environment in which our employees work and grow together with the company for many years.
In this sense, the employees and families of all Sinto group companies are the most important aspect of our business. To protect the Sinto members, safety and health are the pillars of our business; therefore, these are our highest priorities. We promote the concepts of safety, and being able to say “I’m home” with a smile every day. We want to offer value to our workers’ lives, giving them an opportunity to develop skills in their career as well as personal life achievement. This is reflected in our human resources system in which the goals of each worker align with the goals of the company. We are a big family working together and ever moving towards the same purpose.
We make efforts to accommodate all workers, including people with physical disabilities as well as developmental disabilities, striving to give equal opportunities to everyone. We work to build a suitable infrastructure for our employees with learning disabilities, entrusting tasks to our employees who strive to succeed, and their invaluable support allows us to increase our productivity overall. I am very proud to share that one of our employees has joined the International Abilympics competition for persons with disabilities a couple of times now. We will keep supporting him in his work as well as his personal endeavors.
This concept of protecting and cherishing workers extends to our products and technologies. We want to provide machines that are effortlessly operated by workers of all ages, and we believe the operating condition of our machines should be consistent with real living conditions, with clean air, water, and floors through our environmental technology that provides a comfortable work environment for everyone.
Another product that supports the shifting workforce and alleviates labor shortages is our force sensor for automation, which allows robots to recreate the nuanced movements of skilled workers. Major manufacturers like Fanuc, Yaskawa, Denso, Kawasaki and Nachi, along with others, have approved our product as their official accessory. Now, through the partnerships and friendships that we have cultivated over the last 50 years, we will bring the force sensor and other products and services to the global market, responding not only to the demographic shift in Japan but also to changing industries around the world.
The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic has varied dramatically for different industries. The semiconductor and machine tool industries have recovered quickly, but the opposite is true for process automation and automotive industries. How has COVID impacted your business, and what changes have you made to adjust?
Since we had to limit in-person meetings due to COVID, our business has experienced some difficulties. Perhaps more than other countries, Japanese management encompasses working closely as a team. On the other hand, this gave us the opportunity to implement IT more proactively. As part of our business, we usually send our engineers overseas for the installation of the machines, but due to COVID, our Japanese after-service personnel were stuck in place and could not travel. With these travel restrictions, we have worked together with our overseas companies' local personnel more than ever before, and we did this even for young companies that are still developing their technical capabilities. Fortunately, as a result, our remote customer support has become more effective, and we have considerably improved our local companies' capabilities as well.
Can you tell us how you are transforming traditional businesses like foundry-related businesses into the next generation of smart factories?
Sinto Smart Foundry™ offers many solutions through the digitalization and connection of equipment. We use these connections to create smart factories that focus on quality control, a safe environment and the constant availability of machines. Of course, there are technicians who inspect the condition of the machines, but in the end, the final product is more important than the hardware control. With Sinto Smarty Foundry™, we ensure the stable quality of the final castings at the plant, controlling the objectives, not the machines. From a marketing perspective, customers do not want to buy a drill, they want to make a hole. In this sense, while we still emphasize the quality of the hardware, the focus has shifted to include the use of software with quality control for the customers’ final product in mind.
This idea of Sinto-quality local support is very important to us, and machine integration through digitalization is an important aspect. We used to go to physically meet our customers from our 16 different overseas locations, but through remote support, we can provide even more timely assistance to our customers on top of this on-site support. Even as we expand our business globally, our goal is to be the “best in town” to support the local customers’ needs in each country and market. I want to embrace collaboration with local companies, using digital technologies as much as we can to meet the needs of customers near and far. Sinto Smart Foundry™ and our global customer support system, Sinto Support System™, put us on the customer’s worksite both physically and digitally.
Sinto's original businesses are focused on surface treatment, foundry and environment. Which are the main customers that you receive orders from? Can you talk to us about the synergies between these three businesses that you have?
Most of our businesses were born from our original foundry business, and they are all intricately linked. We have a comprehensive support system that ensures the safe and stable operation of our customers' equipment around the world with our technological strengths in these three fields: surface treatment, foundry and environment. Through the unique blend of hardware and software, we have developed new businesses that unify society and the environment, supporting the way people live and work.
Starting with foundry, we expanded our business to surface treatment and metalworking areas relating to engines, shipbuilding, steelwork, die casting, windmills, machine tools and robots. Whenever we cater to metal-related needs and demands, they are also our customers for the surface treatment and environment businesses.
With these businesses based on our original foundry customer base, we continue to provide productivity and environmental solutions that apply across industries. For example, our electric cylinders are not only compact and precise, they also contribute to increased workability and the overall reduction of CO2 emissions on the worksite. We will continue to provide products that respond to customers’ needs as well as the global movement for sustainability.
In which one of your new technological fronts do you see the most potential, and which one are you focusing on for your midterm?
Throughout our history, our technologies of today have been the foundation of our new technologies of tomorrow. Currently, we are seeing the greatest business growth in our surface treatment because of its broad customer base, and our technologies in this field differentiate us from other companies.
Most of our technologies are based on our existing key technologies. For example, the mechanism of putting two molds together is the basis for our technology of joining LCD panels together. The first mobile phone display made by Sharp in Japan utilized our machines, and these technologies are now applied to our battery-related business. Some new ideas can be merged with our key businesses and take those to growing markets, which is what we have been doing for the past 80 years. We continue to perform a more detailed analysis of our key technologies for tune-up and improvement.
Japan aims to switch to EV by 2035, and more than 15% of all EVs are in the European market. As we are entering the next generation of batteries – solid-state batteries, what technologies will you be providing? How do you plan to be at the forefront of this transition?
Motors, batteries and ion-batteries are the key technologies for EVs. For surface treatment, in a process called peening, we shoot small iron balls at their materials, which makes them strong and rigid. By strengthening the surfaces, we make them more durable and compact. For the automobile industry, these technologies can be applied to make smaller and lighter-weight parts, ultimately reducing carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, most of the gear springs and some functional parts in automobiles use peening technologies. These technologies are also utilized in the aerospace market, and while many companies only concentrate on one area, we work on both, giving us the ability to provide the best conditions and the best mix to our customers. Normally, peening causes surface dents, but our process results in fewer dimples on the surface, which is beneficial in developing motor-related parts. These motor parts in particular that are made through die casting processes require multiple steps of after-processing. Our surface treatment technologies can be used for applications such as deburring and improving fatigue strength for these motors in the EV industry, contributing to lighter parts and more environmentally friendly production.
Along with motor-related parts, our technologies are also used for next-generation batteries for EV. For example, strengthening the stacking of battery powder for better adhesion increases battery power. We provide processes for battery production to top-ranking companies that work with dry-cell batteries of the future. In particular, Sinto is the only company in the world that can perform all these processes for all-resin batteries.
As another key technology for EV, we also conduct testing for power semiconductors, and we are continuing to find ways to apply our technologies in various aspects of EV production. Some parts of our business have not shown considerable growth yet, but with the movement toward EV in Europe, Japan and around the world, these have great potential in the future.
Can you tell us more about your magnetic metallic powder for which you offer the smallest grain in the industry?
Our magnetic metallic powders offer many benefits as functional powders for manufacturers in IT, with smartphone and high-end electronics-related companies as end users. These powders originally come from our shooting technologies, which we developed over many decades. In the 1970s, our materials were used for copy machine toner carriers. Since our foundries also deal with powder and sand, we wanted to develop small powders, but since small grain powder itself is not useful, we have also added functionalities that users can benefit from. In particular, we have developed two-micron powders, which are much smaller than a human hair (which is about 20 microns) in diameter. Through the continuing evolution of our powder technology, we work to provide the best products to our customers who are working at this micron level.
Your company provides a cutting-edge air control technology, which allows superior accuracy to laser-based etching. Can you tell us more about that technology and how you are helping contribute to the miniaturization of PCBs?
Along with accuracy, our air control blasting and peening technology differs from conventional laser-based processing in the effect it has on the product. We use laser processing for various purposes, but peening has less of an effect on the quality of the surface, which means it is better for specific applications. For example, we do not use laser etching for solar panels. Instead, since these solar panels are exposed to outside elements like rain and wind, we employ a special mechanical etching process that adds functionality to the material while preserving the quality of the surface. In this sense, air technology is more convenient than laser processing.
What role does co-creation play for you to expand your business internationally? Are you looking for partners in America or Europe, and if so, what type of partners?
There are two types of partners that we are looking for. The first one is technical partners to help us bring new ideas to life. The other is sales or marketing partners to assist us in areas where we lack expertise, such as working with people with disabilities and those in nursing homes. In Europe, the United States and Japan, our focus is on finding good partners in digital technology that we can combine with our technical strengths to provide the best solutions to customers.
At the same time, we see production shifting to growing areas such as China and India. Therefore, we are adapting our original technologies for these local sites where our group companies localize, simplify, improve ease of use and modify our products to meet the local needs. Markets around the world are greatly changing, so we need to shift the product mix to meet those needs with our key technologies, developing partnerships and promoting co-creation with local companies that allows us to reach even more and more customers.
How will you unlock your primary target markets, such as the American and European markets expand further?
For global expansion, trust among members of our global network is essential, opening up access to target markets through collaboration with local partners. We learned this first-hand over decades of partnership around the world. In 1963, we had a joint venture with an American company for our surface treatment business. From the beginning, they gave us the majority of the shares, showing their trust and warmth as partners, and they promoted a family atmosphere which made me recognize the importance of personal relationships in business. With this in mind, we went on to learn over many years how to operate our group, always remembering that it is people who build business. We allocate funds and technologies for each company as we depend on local management as partners who know their businesses and markets best.
As the Sinto Group, we are now moving towards our second phase of globalization. Many companies in the Sinto Group handle varied businesses that span across borders, and they know each other well. During our first phase of globalization, we focused on transferring out technology from Japan to our overseas companies, but now, each company looks for their own new businesses, which do not necessarily have to come from our business in Japan. We encourage them to grab opportunities and respond to local market needs, eventually developing them as technologies and services that can respond to global needs.
We have about 4,000 employees globally; 60% are in Japan while 40% are outside Japan, which means we have talented members that can bring new solutions to customers around the world. The local management have their own dreams for their businesses, which become the driving force for our success as the Sinto Group in response to growing markets.
Joe Biden is emphasizing domestic manufacturing, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in Asia was launched last January. What effects are such world events having for your business, and is it changing how you are planning to move forward overseas?
During a thunderstorm, the surface of the water may be rough and turbulent, but the ocean bottom is calm. As a small party, we may not be heavily affected by political events right away, but our customers are. Therefore, as we follow these major global changes, we will continue to focus on the needs of our customers. For example, in other recent government movements, America was very generous during the COVID pandemic with stimulus money, which they gave out as incentives. We can benefit from these by making customized investments and taking advantage of these government policies. In the end, however, our customers’ needs come first.
Imagine we come back for your 95th anniversary in 7 years and have this interview all over again. What would you like to tell us? What are your dreams for this company?
When we have one foot in the grave, I want everyone to be able to say, "I am happy. My life was great because I worked for Sinto." I think marriage among our company staff is very special, and we are happy when parents send their children to work for our company. Even when one retires from the company, we have already created a system to offer a modified work lifestyle, so that they can work longer for the company if they wish. We offer two-hour work programs for these retirees to choose from, and this arrangement can help them be mentally active by allowing them to support junior employees in a comfortable environment. This echoes our ideal of personnel acquiring skills through a company that is like a big family, with staff caring for each other and senior staff educating younger staff. In this way, we want our employees to continue as part of the Sinto family even after retirement, and we want to give them the chance to keep on improving and expanding their skills. Our goal is for Sinto to be a career-building, life-enriching company.