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Manufacturing

A visit to Amada's home

By Tom Klemens

Experiencing the culture of a high-tech manufacturer

October 2013 - Purchasing a high-tech press brake, punch or laser cutting machine is a large expenditure, not lightly undertaken. Shop owners spend years investigating new technologies, weighing costs and benefits, then sorting out the hype from the meaningful details.

Even when the decision has been made to invest in new technology, uncertainties remain. Who do I feel comfortable doing business with? Who will be a good partner during the transition and afterward in customer support? And when the technology stems from overseas, there are even more unknowns.

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Machine builders and manufacturers who understand the effect uncertainty can have on purchasing decisions address buyers’ concerns in various ways, often including a visit to the company’s manufacturing facilities.

Earlier this year Amada North America invited several trade journalists to visit Amada’s Japanese facilities as well as two of its customers in the area. As trade journalists, we get plenty of attention from companies providing equipment and services to the metalworking industry, but it’s different from a real customer’s experience in one
FFJ-1013-road-image2important way. We are never asked to sign the purchase order.

Even so, our hosts knew how beneficial the full experience would be to our understanding the company culture as
well as the Japanese culture in which it is rooted. And so it was.

At the foot of Mt. Fuji

Amada’s Fujinomiya Works is located on a 187-acre wooded site in a national park area near the base of Mt. Fuji. Machinery production has been going on at Fujinomiya since 1987. Punching and bending machines are produced in the two original factory buildings using a booth-stand production system in which all parts and tools are brought to each machine assembly booth.

More recently a third factory was constructed to produce only laser machines. It has a total floor space of 98,000 sq. ft. The 28,000-sq.-ft. ground level area is divided into five large bays. The three interior bays include 70 booth stands that are served by nine overhead cranes and turn out 140 laser machines a month.

Walking through the Fujinomiya Works reinforced how carefully Amada’s highly technical equipment is designed and assembled. Production data boards at each booth and other areas report on progress and keep the operation organized. The factory’s neat and tidy appearance is stunning.   

Amada’s Innovation Center came to the Fujinomiya Works in 2007 in a move to speed product development efforts. By having engineers from production work with those in research and development right at the production site, the company has seen design time shortened by as much as 40 percent.

The Parts Center, also located at the Fujinomiya Works, is on an upper level of the third factory. It typically fulfills FFJ-1013-road-image6parts orders in one hour or less from a stock of 1 million parts of 60,000 different kinds. (By comparison, GE, the U.S.-based appliance giant, boasts 65,000 appliance parts and accessories at its online store.)

Larger parts are retrieved from an automated section of the parts center where about 25,000 kinds of parts are kept. Smaller items, comprising 35,000 kinds, are manually collected onto carts for easy delivery to the production floor.

On the main campus

We spent most of two days at Amada’s worldwide headquarters in Isehara, Kanagawa prefecture, about 35 miles southwest of Tokyo. In addition to an administrative office building, the campus includes the Amada Solution Center, the Amada School of Vocational Training, and Forum 246, a 12-story hotel the company built to accommodate visitors to its campus. Owned and operated by Amada, it takes its name from the route number of the town’s main thoroughfare.

Thirty-five operating machines, including 13 of Amada’s latest machine tool innovations, were on display in the Solution Center as part of the Amada Innovation Fair 2013 Global, staged for several months each summer to showcase new machines, automation and manu-facturing processes. Amada brings in customers from all over the world to this large, private trade show.

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My favorite piece of equipment was the Lasbend AJ, a single machine that integrates four different operations: blanking, forming, tapping and bending. Sheet goes in one end and formed parts come out the other. All operations are performed while the sheet is vertical. Although the completed parts are broken out easily by hand, the machine accumulates the finished sheets like shirts hanging in a dry cleaning shop so it can accommodate long periods of unattended operation. The Lasbend AJ is not yet available in the U.S., but the company plans to offer it in the future.

After touring the classrooms and labs of the training center, we spent some time enjoying the annual Precision Sheet Metal Technology Fair entries. Sponsored by the Amada School of Vocational Training, the event promotes advanced sheet metal processing technologies.FFJ-1013-road-image4

Power users

At two precision sheet metal fabrication shops we observed how Amada equipment, both old and new, is being used creatively. Fukasawa Inc., located not far from Tokyo, produces sheet metal parts for the IT industry, telecommunications and audio-visual computers. Sony Corp. is one of its more well-known clients.

Like U.S fabricators, this second-generation family-owned business faces constant pricing pressure from Chinese competition. Its adoption of robots and automated bending machines has provided a helpful boost in productivity. In an impressive display of programming skill and equipment dexterity, Fukasawa’s Amada Astro bending robot systems cranked out a steady supply of small metal biplanes, each requiring 28 bends and about two minutes to complete.

The second company, OKI Electric Industry Co. Ltd., was established in 1949. We visited its Tomioka plant located about 60 miles northwest of Tokyo. OKI has a long history of serving the banking industry. The company’s printers are still widely used in reservation ticket terminals and the like. However, ATMs and other cash handling machines currently make up the lion’s share of its work.

OKI fabricates many different parts on its ACIES 2512T punch and laser combination machine, achieving precision processing it says is equal to the press tools the company previously used. This is important because the cash handling equipment requires high precision.

Many of those parts are further processed on OKI’s AstroII 100NT robotic bending systems. It was pretty amazing to see seven robotic systems working, all in a line, attended by only three operators.

On that same leg of the tour, our hosts provided us with an unexpected treat, a stop at one of Japan’s National Historic Sites, the Tomioka Silk Mill. Located just blocks from the OKI factory, it operated from 1872-1995 and was recently named to the World Heritage List.

Cultural delicacies

Our hosts were exceedingly gracious throughout our stay. And after getting to know the family, so to speak, it’s easy to see how important this type of engagement is when someone is about to invest a considerable sum of money and commit to an ongoing support relationship.

Of course, one can’t talk about a trip to Japan without mentioning the food. Much of our getting acquainted happened over meals, which consisted of numerous small courses served at a leisurely pace. As if that weren’t enough to spoil us, the food is a pleasure to all the senses. 

From the Teppanyaki dinner in Asagiri Square, where chefs prepared the courses on bar-like stainless steel cooking surfaces, to the more formal setting of Amada’s Oiso Suikeiso on the Pacific coast, meals were an incredible experience.

What does all of this have to do with buying a new piece of high-tech metalworking equipment? Now I can see that these are the kinds of experiences that go a long way toward relieving buyers’ anxieties. Yes, I can now feel comfortable doing business with these folks and this organization. And I have seen the depth from which ongoing support will come when I need it. FFJ

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