Exhibitors were all the more upbeat given indications that leading Japanese OEMs appear committed to keeping production of high-end digital appliances, such as flat-panel digital TVs, in Japan.
"For high-end products, OEMs view logistics as very important, and they want to manage quality better. This makes Japan an attractive location," says Yoshihiko Ohashi, commercial director at GE Polymerland Japan Ltd. (Tokyo). Protection of intellectual property is another reason to keep production of sensitive products in Japan.
Indeed, some are even shifting production of mid-range products back to Japan. Kenwood, for example, brought back production of mini disk players from Malaysia as it found four Japanese workers could do the work of 22 Malaysians, defect rates fell by 80%, and experienced Japanese workers were able to multitask using production cells occupying 70% less space than single-task Malaysian assembly workers.
Canon, meanwhile, says 80% of its capital investment over the next three years will be in Japan. This includes construction of a new high-end digital camera plant in Southern Japan.
At Platex, GE Polymerland exhibited as part of the 3D Weldless Alliance, a grouping of material, mold, and equipment suppliers promoting a system for producing parts with defect-free, high-gloss finishes. The system (March 2003 MP/MPI) passes steam through the mold temperature control channels during injection to heat the mold to temperatures up to 160C—thereby delaying solidification of the part surface—and switches to water for the cooling phase.
Reiken (Tokyo) also exhibited a system operating on a similar principle. The KCOII Series mold temperature controller employs oil as a heating medium, yielding temperatures up to 320C. A separate circuit is required for cooling water.
Recognizing that processors have to add more value to survive in Japan, robot maker Yushin Precision Equipment Co. (Kyoto) has employed steel traverse frames instead of aluminum ones in its new RA-eÃ¸ Series robots to enable more rigidity, accuracy, and high-speed operation.
"This accuracy enables processors to automate secondary processes such as camera inspection and gate mark removal," says Koji Ohashi, assistant manager of sales administration at Yushin. The series also features the new E-touch Web controller for sending and receiving production and robot operation data via the Internet.
Nissei Plastics Industry says the market for sub-200-kN injection machines in Japan is growing fast due to precision components employed in digital cameras, mobile phones, and hard disks. At Platex, it unveiled the latest addition to its NEX SeriesA he ELJECT NEX150. Belt drive and center drive options are available, with the latter offering injection speeds up to 500 mm/sec. The unit on show incorporated an infrared monitoring system for detecting non-ejection of parts from the mold. "System cost is only one-quarter that of CCD camera-based alternatives," says Haruo Okada, manager of the sales engineering department at Nissei.
Vessel Co. (Osaka), meanwhile, offered a solution to prevent small parts adhering to the mold surface, or to each other, due to static. The Static Eraser directs ionized air onto part and mold surfaces to eliminate static electricity.
Building at home, too
Despite a number of Japanese injection molding machine suppliers manufacturing machines in China, Nissei president Hozumi Yoda says his company remains committed to Japan as a manufacturing base. "For small machines, you need volumes of 1500 or more to justify an investment [in China]. If you''re talking 300 machines, you''re better off cutting costs at home," he says.
Yoda adds that if Nissei were to manufacture in China, processors would not be prepared to pay the same machine price, even if quality was on a par with made-in-Japan machines.
Stephen Moore [email protected]