Mr. Akihiro Hayashi, president of Hayashi Seiki Seizo (Sukagawa City, Fukushima Prefecture), visited with us at the Grand Prince Hotel New Takanawa (Minato Ward, Tokyo) on March 3, 2014.
He was there to attend a METI-hosted awards ceremony to honor the “300 of Japan's Vibrant Monozukuri (Manufacturing) SMEs” that evening. Hayashi Seiki was one of the companies being honored.
For four years between 2006 and 2009, the “300 Vibrant SMEs” was held under the title “300 of Japan’s Dynamic Monozukuri SMEs. ” It was originally a program that selected and recognized enterprises contributing to regional economies and employment through innovative product development and manufacturing. After a four-year hiatus, the program was restarted in 2014, with its focus expanded to the service and retail industries.
As he listened to a congratulatory speech by METI Minister Motegi, a video letter from Prime Minister Abe, and a review by Mr. Hiroyuki Itami (dean of the Tokyo University of Science’s Graduate School of Innovation Studies and a member of the selection committee), President Hayashi reflected on the miserable state of affairs his company faced when its main factory was destroyed in the Great East Japan Earthquake, which occurred just ten months after he assumed the presidency. He also spoke of how, despite the damage, both he personally and his company refused to give up and pressed forward without letting a single employee go.
Hayashi Seiki does business in the automotive products and medical devices sectors, with focus on three central areas: precision component operations, plating and surface treatment operations, and equipment manufacturing operations . The core technology in all three areas is “polishing.”
One of the reasons Hayashi Seiki was chosen for recognition among the “300 Vibrant SMEs” was its unique polishing technologies that achieve both beauty and functionality. These technologies were developed through the manufacture of watch casings.
President Hayashi says, “Our polishing technologies are special. No other companies have technologies for distortion-free mirror-like finishing of three-dimensional curved surfaces.”
Recently, “Sallaz polishing”?the polishing of a watch case to a mirror-like finish?has gained recognition as a polishing technology for luxury watches. However, the first to use this term was Hayashi Seiki. There once was a machine tool manufacturer in Switzerland called Sallaz. Hayashi Seiki began using the term “Sallaz polishing” when it imported a polishing machine built by this company in the 1940s.
“To pass down our technologies within the company, we maintain a training team that specializes in polishing technologies. It takes time for employees to acquire polishing technologies. It is said that it often takes a person 10 years to become accomplished in those technologies and 30 years to master them. However, even if you invest 30 years into training your staff, that doesn’t mean that your business will be practical. Given this, we decided to identify the scope of areas within the polishing process that truly needs to be handled by human beings. As a result, we concluded that this scope extended to just 10%, and that the remaining 90% could be handled by machines. That remaining 10% that cannot be handled by machines is our most powerful weapon. In the end, it is human skill that counts.”
This basic stance of focusing on “human skill” led to the development of cold forging simulation technology for plates through collaboration among Hayashi Seiki, Ibaraki University, and Fukushima Technology Centre.
This project was adopted as a “Strategic Foundational Technology Improvement Support Operation” (Strategic Core Technology Advancement Program) of the national government in the fall of 2011, which was immediately following the Great East Japan Earthquake. President Hayashi recalls that “The screening standards for being designated a Strategic Core Technology Advancement Program are tough, and it was a major effort for us just to pass them.”
The operation that was selected was press technology that was developed primarily to meet the needs of luxury watch manufacturers. Watch casings are manufactured through a process of 1) punching metal plates with a press and then 2) placing the punched pieces on a die and shaping them with a press using a technique called “cold forging” (compressive molding of metallic material at room temperature).
Unlike hot forging, in which metal is pressed after being heated to a high temperature, cold forging at room temperature involves shaping metal slowly by applying press pressure to it many times. Here, the metal material can become fatigued if shaping is conducted frequently?in other words, if the metal is pressed a high number of times. Conversely, however, making incompletely shaped forged parts by reducing the number of pressings makes more work necessary during the subsequent machining and polishing processes.
Against this backdrop, Hayashi Seiki developed a revolutionary technology that raises shaping precision while reducing the number of presses by introducing a servo press that can fully control stroke strength and interval. This reduced the amount of work required in the polishing process and allowed Hayashi Seiki to reinvent the watch case manufacturing process.
“Press shaping is the starting point of the manufacturing process. From there machining, polishing, and assembly take place. If a part is not properly made during machine processing stage, there is no way that manual polishing at the end can improve its quality. Thus, what is particularly important during machine processing is the precision of initial press shaping. In every sense, the excellence of our monozukuri is founded on polishing, and this cold forging project is another example of our drive to improve our polishing quality.”
For Hayashi Seiki, the above-mentioned collaboration with Ibaraki University and the Fukushima Technology Centre under the Strategic Core Technology Advancement Program is an example of a successful joint project. However, when asked about business matching in the sense of “pitching in-house technologies to large companies,” President Hayashi says, “We’re looking for ways to make such matching successful.”
Hayashi Seiki has established a “Business Development Group” as a special department to find new customers. The group makes initial contact with potential customers and then targets them with sales activities that integrate the company’s three operational areas of watch casings, plating and surface treatment, and equipment manufacturing. In addition to taking advantage of business matching opportunities provided by the prefectural business promotion agency and the company’s banks, Hayashi Seiki is also registered with B2B websites such as Alibaba, which promotes international exhibitions on the Internet. However, President Hayashi says, “Organizing the jumble of information we get is hard. It’s a real job trying to filter out the information we need.”
However, an example of successful matching did occur in October 2013, when the local procurement promotion center of Toyota Motor East Japan (TMEJ; Ohira-mura, Kurokawa-gun, Miyagi Prefecture; president: Takeshi Shirane) approached Hayashi Seiki . TMEJ is a manufacturing company specializing in compact cars that Toyota Motor Corporation established following the disaster in July 2012 by integrating three group companies. Hayashi Seiki said it wanted to make use of its plating and surface treatment technologies to enter the automotive industry, and after a few days, the center introduced it to three tier-one parts suppliers (i.e., suppliers the supply main components).
J-GoodTech introduces much information on outstanding top-of-niche or one-of-a-kind products and technologies which Japanese small and medium sized companies possess. Here in Feature Story, we feature dealings actually finalized by small and medium sized companies and major companies that participate in J-GoodTech and also describe their activities which enable to realize those.
J-GoodTech provides an introduction to a host of excellent but lesser-known Japanese companies and their niche-top and one-of-a-kind products and technologies. Here are ten representative examples.