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IMM's Plant Tour: Moldmaker, molder, machine OEM

March 1, 2000

7 Min Read
IMM's Plant Tour:  Moldmaker, molder, machine OEM

Akira Nagamatsu is full of surprises. He surprised many of his Japanese competitors in the 1990s. Rather than follow customers to China and Southeast Asia like they did, on his own initiative, Nagamatsu, president and ceo of one of Japan’s leading moldmakers and custom molders, chose to establish a manufacturing facility in Anaheim, CA (see March 1998 IMM, p. 25). In doing so, he sidestepped the worst of the Asian economic downturn and has prospered. Startup of his U.S. operation, Meiho Technology Inc. (MTI), was in August 1997. Sales are expected to reach $12 million by 2001.

Nagamatsu is still full of surprises. For example, last year he shocked the semiconductor industry with an ingenious idea. MTI introduced an all-electric, all-in-one molding system it designed and built for packaging integrated circuits faster, better, and cheaper in thermoplastic PPS than in thermoset epoxy (see July 1999 IMM, p. 131). MTI’s MIPS-30 molding system has been met with rave reviews in Japan. It has yet to catch on here. Meanwhile, though, Nagamatsu has a few other surprises.

For one thing, MTI is preparing to launch its own compact, servodriven vertical and horizontal injection molding machines for more general-purpose precision molding of small parts (see March 2000, page 141). Another surprise is that, in essence, MTI has evolved into a U.S.-based transnational company. MTI has become the key decision maker in Meiho’s family of companies. Meiho Japan uses its abundant capacity to support decisions made in Anaheim.

"Meiho" means "bright" and "abundant," as illustrated by MTI’s logo—the sun rising above the water. As you will see, this enlightenment and richness of resources is reflected in the layout of MTI’s plant. But the company’s true luster comes from the abundant talent of its human resources. The corporate culture Nagamatsu has established encourages all employees to use their ingenuity and to act on their own initiative. As a result, the consistent quality of the parts and services they provide comes as no surprise to MTI’s customers. Let’s tour.

Precision Molds
Harry Nakamoto, executive vp, and Miki Imai, general affairs manager, are our guides. A diverse array of molded parts is on display in glass cabinets that seem to go on forever in MTI’s spacious two-story lobby. The parts bear witness to the company’s 27 years of experience in material selection, precision molding, and moldmaking. As noted in our March 1998 article, the president’s motto is, "Simple parts can be done anywhere." Gazing at the parts, it is apparent this means anywhere but MTI.

The toolroom is our first stop. Tooling is where it all began for Meiho 27 years ago. The same origin story is heard anywhere around the world: The company was asked to test some of its molds by a customer and, after a couple of years of sampling, Meiho was molding better parts than its customer. Today, Meiho Japan runs more than 35 molding machines and has grown to become the number one Japanese supplier of PET injection-stretch blowmolds. It has also become the country’s leading supplier of tooling for integrated circuits, and one of Japan’s largest moldmakers.

"We intend to build smaller, simpler molds here, and leave the work on bigger and more complex molds to Meiho Japan. We generally go from 90 to 400 tons," Nakamoto says. Meiho Japan has 200 mold and die engineers. "We also intend to move our mold design engineering department with 3-D CAD/CAM to MTI before the end of the year."

The toolroom is well equipped for its mold manufacturing and maintenance plans. A Sodick CNC EDM is the shop’s centerpiece. It shares the room with an Okamoto precision surface grinder, a Makino CNC mill, an Ikeda radial drill, a Birmingham lathe, and a 9-by-16-inch Rong Fu horizontal bandsaw. MTI uses Topcon measuring microscopes and Osaka Seimtsu gear testers for inspection. The toolroom also has fixed and portable gantry cranes and Thermal Care water management systems.

No Time for a Warehouse
Near the toolroom is an area with boxed parts. Both Nakamoto and Imai are quick to point out that this area is not a warehouse in the traditional sense. MTI ships parts daily from stock, supporting JIT deliveries. The plant was intentionally built so there would be no warehouse. Nakamoto says he will soon install FIFO racking for the boxed parts to speed things up even further.

Nearby is MTI’s quality assurance room. While looking around, Imai tells us obtaining ISO and QS certifications went more smoothly for MTI than it had anticipated. "Maybe that’s because we are a newer facility—it’s easier for us to write new procedures as we go along, but we definitely had a good leader, too!" she says.

If there was an internationally recognized certificate just for cleanliness, MTI would have little trouble earning one. From the plant’s glistening PUR-coated flooring to its brightly lit, 25-ft-high ceilings, nothing is out of place and everything is spotless.

MTI even prefers copper electrodes, believing them to be cleaner. Nakamoto and Imai agree that the company’s insistence on keeping work areas clean and organized creates an environment that encourages employee involvement and improves quality. Kaizen continuous improvement and kanban systems for smoothing scheduling help customers reap the rewards in high-quality parts delivered on time at a reasonable price.

Self-contained Cells
MTI’s main molding room may be the best showcase of its dedication to cleanliness and order. Its molding machines are all Nisseis, including a recently purchased Nissei all-electric it runs in a cleanroom area. Other presses also feature Nissei’s latest technology, including Triple-Melt and ultrahigh-speed injection. All run in self-contained cells.

One reason MTI standardized on Nissei machines is because Nissei America is located in the same industrial park. That speeds delivery and service. Another reason is that President Nagamatsu was a close personal friend of Nissei’s founder and chairman, the late Katashi Aoki.

All robots are from Yushin and Star. All loaders and dryers are from Matsui and Nissui. Nissui also supplied all of the plant’s beside-the-press granulators—regrind is immediately recycled wherever possible. Temperature controllers are from Mokon and Nissui. Crizaf conveyors are used. MTI has installed automatic good/bad parts separators on its nonrobotized machines.

Encouraged Initiative
We catch up with Tony Murillo, molding supervisor, in the company’s new cleanroom. He explains that although the room is "cleanroom ready," MTI has yet to switch on its Hepa filters. "We need space to do other molding right now, we’re so busy. The A, B, and C lines are full. But we’re going to go after medical work." Murillo is quite proud of the extra air compressor he talked MTI brass into installing outside. "It’s for backup. We can’t run the business without air and can’t afford any possibility of downtime."

MTI supports the initiative of its employees. For example, Murillo teaches injection molding and basic English part-time at a local school, Cerritos College. MTI helped him talk Nissei into leasing an all-electric press identical to its own to the school. "We’ve already acquired five full-timers from the College," explains Murillo.

"This is only the third job I’ve had in my life but it’s the right company for me," he adds. "It’s the wrong company for anyone who doesn’t like to work, but it’s the best I’ve ever worked for."

In addition to targeting the medical market, MTI has several other surprisingly ambitious plans. "Our automotive customers, primarily, are already asking us to build another plant in the U.S. We haven’t even started looking yet," Nakamoto says.

A Bright, Abundant Future
Meanwhile, MTI definitely plans to manufacture and maintain its dies for integrated circuits, precision press cutting, and injection-stretch blowmolding in the States. MTI also wants to move into beverage bottle and integrated circuit production. It expects to increase its molding press capacity to 50 units and its machine tools to 15. It will intensify its quality systems and circles, while adding a 3-D CMM and pursuing ISO 14001 certification.

Then there is MTI’s planned entry into the molding machine business (p. 141). There is no telling how many more surprises Nagamatsu and company have in store, but one thing is for sure—we may not have to wait too long to find out. After all, MTI has been up and running only for a little more than two years, and look what it has done already.

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