Pursue the use of lightweight and carbon neutral materials for manufacturing innovation


What do you think are the strengths of Japanese manufacturers that allow them to be competitive in the global market?

Although the Japanese business model has changed from B2C to B2B, the world continues to patronize Japanese products, even behind the scenes. I believe that the strength of Japanese companies lies in quality control and assurance as well as in their monozukuri spirit. Their keen interest in maintaining high quality products wins the trust of the international community and enables them to compete in the global market. In addition to quality, Japanese manufacturers make sure to always deliver on time. Even for products that are little used, the artisanal spirit of a company prevails. The techniques and technologies employed in the development of a specific product have led to higher technology. Kiwami or the ultimate pursuit of quality has resulted in more efficient modes of production, as well as the improvement and improvement of monozukuri. Another strength of Japanese companies is their lifetime employment system, allowing employees to learn a variety of skills. Because the workers are skilled, the products can be produced by a few people. Moreover, with such a system, the company can preserve skilled technicians, Waza. However, the situation may change in the future.

A growing problem, especially for SMEs, is the outflow of skilled workers. Along with this is the departure of technical expertise, affecting business continuity. What challenges and opportunities exist for Tokai Kogyo to mitigate the impact of Japan’s aging and declining population?

To mitigate the impact of population decline, we are introducing automation and robotics. However, this approach sets some limits in our quest to Kiwami or craftsmanship, so we are also developing AI, IoT and IoH systems to integrate into our factories. Due to the limitation of AI to maintain the spirit of craftsmanship, we always value people highly, so we strive to make our company attractive enough for talented people. In the short term, we try to integrate diversity by employing older and younger generations, including women and foreign workers. We created our subsidiary which manages trainees abroad, which is an organization already approved by the Japanese government.

One of the most significant changes for manufacturers of parts and components in the automotive industry is the transformation of materials to make cars lighter and more fuel efficient and to adapt to environmental regulations. What impact has this change in the demand for materials in the automotive sector had on your business?

The two main requests from our customers are to manufacture lighter and carbon neutral materials. The transition to lighter materials also involves changing the design of the product. To support carbon neutrality, we must change the manufacturing process by applying energy-efficient processes that will always produce the same quality of products. We need to use adequate materials for production to use less energy. In addition, plant-based materials are widely used, such as cellulose nanofiber (CNF), which is currently the focus of our R&D. Instead of using conventional rubber, we propose the use of resin. We also use sponges inside to make our products lightweight. Nevertheless, it is a challenge to combine these materials.

Could you share an overview of your foaming technology for car and train seats, which you recently applied to your USUKARU wheelchair cushion system? What motivated you to apply this technology to the medical field?

Our company started with rubber-related products, and we weaved rubber as material for seats. However, due to society’s changing demand for comfort, we have focused on using our urethane foam technology for the seats as it provides excellent body pressure distribution. We have always wanted to enter the medical field, but it comes with high risks. I had a friend whose lower body was paralyzed from snowboarding. Talking to him, I discovered that there is no quality cushion for those who have to sit for a long time. This was one of the incentives for the invention of USUKARU.

What new products or applications do you plan to create using CNF?

Our research and development focuses on plant-derived materials for parts, including CNFs. It can be difficult to meet customer specifications but changing perspective adds value to the eco-friendly and carbon-neutral products we try to promote even though it can be very expensive. End users need to recognize the intangible value of environmental friendliness so that we can continue the cycle of environmentally friendly products. I think we have to recognize that each of us is part of the human race. I tell my employees that this is a challenge for humanity.

Building on the success of USUKARU, what is your next goal to enter this new market? If not, how do you apply your core technologies to the medical sector or to new sectors?

We are always looking for new possibilities. Due to the difficult obstacles we have to overcome in the medical sector, we want to use our technology in the companion animal industry. Likewise, we seek to contribute to the needs of the agricultural industry.

Considering that a third of the population will be over 65 in a few years and fewer people are getting married, more people are likely to have pets. Along with this trend is the aging of pets, so we aim to provide a medical solution or service for this. In agriculture, we have worked with machine developers to jointly develop tractor seats using our vibration-absorbing USUKARU.

Collaboration is a great tool, especially for entering new areas, technology transfer and product development. What role does collaboration or co-creation play for your business? Are you looking for new partnerships abroad?

Collaboration plays a vital role in our business model, especially in international trade. Since the automotive industry takes place in multiple locations around the world, we need to be able to easily supply our products to secure our business opportunities. Working with local partners, joint ventures or technical alliances is important. Moreover, to improve our international competitiveness, we would like to work with Japanese and foreign manufacturers for joint development and lower production costs. Each country has its own culture, language and mentality, so local partners acting on our behalf are crucial.

Looking ahead, is there a particular market or region that you consider most key? ?

I feel like there may be an excess of suppliers, so our goal is not to invest too much in facilities. We want to fortify our existing facilities to fully utilize their capacity, and also strengthen our partner companies. We want to collaborate with local partners to enter markets where we do not have a production facility. Likewise, we are also open to mergers and acquisitions.

Imagine coming back in five years and doing this interview again. What would you like to tell us? What are your dreams for the company and what goals would you like to have achieved by then?

The creed or philosophy of our company is that we want to contribute and enrich society through our monozukuri. In five years, I want to fully execute our current TKG 2025, our medium-term plan.

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