Wednesday, Aug 30, 2023
Update At 12:00    USD/EUR 0,92  ↑+0.001        USD/JPY 146,24  ↑+0.368        USD/KRW 1.321,31  ↑+3.12        EUR/JPY 158,91  ↑+0.23        Crude Oil 85,80  ↑+0.31        Asia Dow 3.418,86  ↑+17.15        TSE 1.934,00  ↑+1        Japan: Nikkei 225 32.529,72  ↑+302.75        S. Korea: KOSPI 2.571,80  ↑+19.64        China: Shanghai Composite 3.138,78  ↑+2.8948        Hong Kong: Hang Seng 18.615,13  ↑+131.1        Singapore: Straits Times 3,29  ↑+0.008        DJIA 22,02  ↑+0.05        Nasdaq Composite 13.943,76  ↑+238.626        S&P 500 4.497,63  ↑+64.32        Russell 2000 1.895,54  ↑+26.5312        Stoxx Euro 50 4.326,47  ↑+32.78        Stoxx Europe 600 459,83  ↑+4.42        Germany: DAX 15.930,88  ↑+138.27        UK: FTSE 100 7.464,99  ↑+126.41        Spain: IBEX 35 9.581,20  ↑+91.1        France: CAC 40 7.373,43  ↑+48.72        

Revolutionizing Plastic: Yoshida Technoworks' Quest for Masterpiece Artworks

Interview - June 28, 2023

With the goal of merging art and plastic manufacturing, Yoshida Technoworks discusses overcoming industry challenges, and inspiring passion for monozukuri.


You have already interviewed our group company, Yoshida Cosmeworks, and I want to clarify how it differs from our business. Yoshida Cosmeworks produces cosmetic containers for major brands such as Chanel, Guerlain, Estée Lauder, Shiseido, Kao and many other international brands. On the other hand, Yoshida Technoworks focuses more on complex-shaped plastic molding products, especially in the field of electronics and automobiles. We also support Yoshida Cosmeworks in providing more complex-shaped cosmetic containers. Our major focus is electronics and automotive plastic parts, which are required a higher quality standard than cosmetics.


Who are the hidden champions of the supply chain? How has the role of Japanese manufacturing evolved, and in what direction is it heading? What are the top global niche companies, and what sector do they dominate?

China, Vietnam, and India have now become the factories of the world. From automobiles to electronic devices and white goods, most of the world's industrial products are currently being efficiently produced on the production lines of Taiwanese giant EMS (Electronic Manufacturing Services) companies. However, due to the enormous size of the production lots, there are some high-end products that require precise parts that cannot be mass- produced, as well as decorative products made through special manufacturing processes that cannot be put on these production lines.

For example, the design that became popular in Japan 15 years ago, using Double-sided In- mold Decoration, which we take pride in globally, is now hardly used. This is because this method of molding is only available from us. For us, the production lots of electronic devices planned by Japanese manufacturers at that time were just the right volume for us, but we are unable produce all the quantities required by today's giant EMS.

In other words, as a result of giant EMS companies becoming the world's factories, they can only use generic parts and generic methods, and at least in the area of decorative design, the number of distinctive and attractive products has decreased.

Currently, some brands that plan unique and attractive products may depend on giant EMS for the production process but may order some parts from Japanese small and medium- sized enterprises. It is important for Japanese small and medium-sized enterprises like us to increase such order opportunities.

In addition, it will become increasingly important in the future to enable giant EMS to realize unique manufacturing methods and technologies that only we can achieve.


Concerning automation and digitalization as the future of factories, how is Japan leveraging labor-saving equipment to assist its aging workforce? How have Japanese production lines been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

From now on, the production lines that remain in Japan will not be final assembly lines, but lines that produce small amounts of high-value-added parts through specialized processes. If we can reduce the number of people and use robots to produce even one second faster, we will be able to reduce costs on paper, however, small and medium-sized enterprises like us in Japan should break away from the mindset established in the era of mass production and aim for the next stage.

Rather than investing in automating all processes, it may be better for us to painstakingly create high-value-added products that cannot be made without the skills of artisans. We aim to build semi-automated lines where artisans handle important processes, while robots take care of general processes that do not require artisan skills. With a semi-automated line, we are able to maintain a certain level of productivity even during a drastic drop in orders like during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Automation" is written in kanji as "自動化" and pronounced as "jidohka," but what we are aiming for is "jidohka (自働化)", " jidohka (自動化)" with "human" attached(亻 meaning human). In Japan, where the working population is decreasing due to a declining birthrate and the aging of artisans, "jidohka" with "human" attached will become even more important.

Chusho kigyos are the building blocks of the industry. What role do smaller companies play in the national supply chain? Why do large corporations rely on small-sized OEM and ODM suppliers to produce niche components?

During the heyday of Japan's clamshell-phone era (2003-2013), Japanese electronics manufacturers collaborated with small and medium-sized enterprises specializing in various parts to develop new manufacturing methods and technologies in order to create more attractive mobile phones than their competitors. By investing funds, providing personnel, and repeatedly prototyping, they were able to introduce many attractive products that had never existed before.

However, now that the top position has been surrendered to US, Korean, and Chinese manufacturers, and Taiwanese EMS (Electronic Manufacturing Service) companies have become the world's factories, Japanese major manufacturers no longer have the resources in terms of both physical and human capital to collaborate with domestic SMEs to pursue new developments. It is a very sad fact, but from now on, Japanese major electronics manufacturers will not return to being top runners. Therefore, we must find an alternative to Japanese electronics manufacturers.

That's why we decided to collaborate with Korean SMEs. Japanese SMEs have rich expertise in their fields and have the perseverance to engage in research diligently. On the other hand, Korean SMEs are very aggressive, possessing robust sales capabilities and speed to achieve their goals quickly. We are working on realizing a business scheme that will sell new decorative technology and the manufacturing methods that allow mass production using
this technology to Korean companies, which in turn can introduce this technology to the world's major manufacturers and mass-produce the product in Taiwanese EMS in China. We are witnessing the emergence of a novel manufacturing approach that leverages the unique advantages of Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan.


What will be your strategy going forward to continue to overcome this communication and innovation hurdle? Are you looking for opportunities to partner with other or new companies, whether it is in Korea or elsewhere, as a way of getting your name out?

The plan is to work together and partner with local companies to promote our products.


Would that be with companies in Korea specifically, or do you have plans to meet other companies in some other markets?

I feel that working together and partnering with Korean companies is advantageous for us since they are very aggressive and very good at sales. Moreover, they have strong connections and networks, so working with them helps create a synergetic effect for us.

Every region, like China and Taiwan, has an advantage.

We emphasized that the increasing number of production is from 100,000 to 50 million, and the projected volume is already oversized for us. Our strategy is to partner with a Korean company. We provide technology and materials, and the Korean company sells them to users such as large electronic device manufacturers and supply equipment manufacturers. This is the kind of scheme we are thinking of.


What role does collaboration play in Japan’s industrial structure?

New things that have never existed before or existing things that are particularly attractive are not created on a desk, but rather born from daily production. That is why I think collaboration between upstream, midstream, and downstream processes is important. By exploring materials (upstream), improving processes (midstream), and responding to demands (downstream), the best masterpiece will be born.

The swordsmith who made the Japanese sword called "meito" did not make it by spending his lifetime in the mountains without meeting anyone. Instead, he made dozens of swords to meet the requirements of samurai, and one of them became known as a meito = a masterpiece sword. In other words, I think the best masterpiece is born from the experience of mass production. Therefore, we consider it important to have our own factory that can mass-produce.


One of your core strengths or competencies is being in this field of complex shapes for high-standard, quality-sensitive applications. One of the largest of which is the automotive industry, which is living a very transformative time into the switch to electric vehicles (EV). How is this shift in the automotive sector impacting your company in terms of design and production?

With the advent of COVID, all EV-related prototyping and testing were halted, especially in Tier-1 and companies like Denso. They have stopped prototyping related components we were involved in, and it has yet to resume. However, instead of the existing ICE companies, newly established EV-specialized companies are now contacting us. They initially wanted to use glass for luxury aesthetics, but to compensate and make it lightweight, they have been inquiring if plastic could replace it.


Are there any particular new products, new types of applications or fields in which you are receiving several increases or that you are interested in pursuing with more focus in the future?

Due to the environmental concerns about plastics which are generally thought to emit a lot of carbon dioxide, many industries are moving toward combining plastics with more natural materials, such as wood, fabric or glass. Industries like electronics, smartphones and automotive are looking into combining these similar materials with plastics, and we have been doing development on that.


Could you tell us more about this R&D into these similar materials?

I cannot disclose it since it is a customer's product. However, we are trying to achieve molded products with fabric. The surface would be fabric, but the backside would be plastic. Furthermore, we insert wood into the mold and apply pressure to inject plastic from one side. One side is wood, while the other side is plastic. We have the strength to combine different materials in one mold processing and one molding technology.

This smartphone surface from the Israeli venture has warped glass. We added a 0.5 mm rim, and plastic on the backside. It was done in one molding process. We also inserted metal under the glass so that the two different materials inserted are molded simultaneously in a single process.

Smartphone surface with warped glass

Yoshida Technoworks is an SME that is involved in manufacturing activities. For many young people in Japan today, the manufacturing career has become less desirable, and there is a lot of difficulty for SMEs in recruiting young people. How are you addressing the challenge of Japan's aging population in terms of recruitment and managing to maintain that human element in your monozukuri?


That is exactly true. It has become harder to recruit young Japanese people since they are not very interested in the manufacturing industry. Our strategy is to lengthen the working years of the existing employees so that they can work up to 70 or even 75 years old. The veteran employees who have been with us for a long time have experience and skills. It is important to retain these long-term employees who possess experience and expertise and provide them with a comfortable working environment.


You have a long history of international business with several locations, including China, Vietnam, Taiwan and many partnerships in Korea. How do you see the direction of your continued international development?

We have factories in Tianjin, China, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam and a contracting factory in Taiwan. They are all making cosmetic containers. Regarding Technoworks, our products are so complex that it is hard to delegate our work overseas. For example, when it comes to the Golden Wazara, only a small number of employees at the Iwate factory have the expertise to manufacture this unique plate. Our products are complex that require one or two engineers per machinery.

We rely heavily on human resources, which limits us. Through this business model, we are trying to work with a Korean company so that we can take the technology and produce in the Taiwanese EMS system and take this craftsmanship and convert it into a piece of machinery. If we use this type of material together with this machinery, we can do mass production. We have developed and designed a robot or a unit facility that can mass produce, and we have sold that design drawing to our Korean partner, who manufactures the machinery. Thus, we can take that and mass-produce products for companies.


You have been the president for 20 years. Imagine we come back on the very last day of your presidency when you are about to pass the company to the next generation. What dreams and goals would you like to have achieved by then that you would like to tell us about in that new interview?

I always say, "I want to make this company an exciting company. I want to create an environment where employees can look forward to coming to work."  Generally and conventionally, plastic is considered cheap. However, I want to change the notion of plastic and revolutionize it and make it into an artwork, and be the one to produce a cultural heritage artwork that would change and support the lives of people.

Many other Japanese companies are not very good at making profits. Still, I want to make this company exciting, so people become thrilled about making something that is their passion. It would be like the blacksmith of the Meito masterpiece sword who was not making the sword for money but for his passion and desire to achieve the ultimate masterpiece.

Interview conducted by Neale Oghigian & Ana Ruiz