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A leader and pioneer in spring manufacturing

Interview - June 3, 2023

Mikuro Spring is a leading spring manufacturer and a pioneer in this field that is now searching for new opportunities in sophisticated industries.


Over the last 25-30 years, Japan has seen the rise of regional manufacturing competitors who have replicated the Japanese monozukuri process, but doing so at a cheaper labor cost, pushing Japan out of mass-production markets. However, we still see that many Japanese firms are leaders when it comes to niche B2B fields. How have Japanese firms been able to maintain this leadership despite the stiff price competition?

Timing is important. Once you go overseas and try to position yourself in competition to foreign companies, the timing needs to be right. It is all about momentum. We started localizing our production to find new markets back in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1989, we entered the markets in Malaysia and Singapore. It was a good result for us. We found ourselves useful at that time, as there was an increasing demand from local manufacturers outside of Japan. It is also important to mention the evolution of the industry. Back in the day, springs were mostly used in products such as video tapes (VHS) and cassette tapes. Over time as you well know, these products were replaced.

It is not only about coming up with good products, as many Japanese companies are doing. It is also about finding momentum in the right market. Decision-making must be done effectively. You also need to consider that some products may not find as much interest in other countries. It can be difficult to introduce new products even from Japan as many products already exist overseas and are produced by local manufacturers in those markets.  Therefore, it is important to consider what the added-value price is, or what new features and functions you can introduce to already existing products. You need to understand the market and come up with new solutions in order to find new clients. You need to take all of this into consideration before positioning yourself in a foreign market. If your timing is good and you have a great product with great features, then eventually you will find clients.

With that being said, we also cannot forget about our local premises and company here in Japan. Each time that you localize your production or promote your products elsewhere, you cannot forget your roots. You must ensure that you have a good backup with evolving technological knowhow here in Japan. That is essential for Japanese companies including ourselves. Without a solid foundation, you cannot successfully enter and capture new markets. You need to consider new markets where your products will reach a new audience. For example, the EU and the US are markets that we want to enter. It can be difficult to promote your products there. However, there are many core technologies coming from those countries, with ball pens and semiconductor manufacturing capabilities, for example, so eventually we will be needed in those areas. At the same time, you should not forget about your presence here in Japan. You need to improve your technologies to new levels, so you can sell not only throughout Japan, but in new countries too.


Japan is the oldest society in the world and has a rapidly shrinking population. Issues stemming from this are a labor crisis and a shrinking domestic market. What are the challenges and opportunities that this demographic shift is presenting for Mikuro Spring, and how are you adapting to them?

The shrinking population is definitely a challenge, especially for local companies like us. Hiring new recruits is becoming problematic. Each year it is becoming more difficult to bring new graduates to our company here in Nagano. The declining population is making it hard to promote our region, and it is difficult to find people to come to work here, or to stay and live here for a long time. We are definitely seeing this, with less and less people deciding to settle down and live in this area. This of course is not a good sign for the business.

The positive side is that Japan has a long life expectancy. We have a lot of senior employees in management levels and with senior technical capabilities. They are very experienced. This creates a good atmosphere for people who join the company as our senior employees can pass on the knowledge and technologies that we have accumulated over the years. This happens naturally at our company. Our older workers stay at the company until they retire. The official retirement age is 60, however some of our employees work at the company for even longer. This allows for the passing on of their expertise, and I feel that this is a good side of Japan’s increased elderly population.


We know that Mikuro Spring is a leading spring processing manufacturer. You have been a pioneer in this specific field, showcased by the development of the world’s smallest superfine springs that are utilized in semiconductor inspection equipment and have an outer diameter of 0.072mm and a wire diameter of 0.015mm. With such a small diameter size, how are you able to ensure the consistent performance of your superfine springs?

We do not only rely on our own strength. We also rely on the mutual efforts of our suppliers. We are blessed that we have such good surroundings with a number of companies that complement our technology. It is not just a basic technology that we possess. Rather it is a combination of many things. Before we came up with the final product, there were a lot of stages to go through and discussions to be had regarding equipment, material, tooling and plating, as well as the cost. Of course, these are pre-processing steps that are necessary for all companies. Related companies need to provide these types of essentials in order for us to reach this level of excellence. Equipment, material and tooling companies as well as other affiliated companies have to comply with the needs of our superfine springs. Without them, the results would not be so great. We need to have a solid foundation and bond with the companies that are related to the final product. All companies that are related to our business have a role to play.

We are currently developing springs that are 0.065mm in diameter. This size of diameter is not needed by the industry at this point in time. However, we are doing this as we received the Guinness World Record for the smallest spring diameter. This enhances our name recognition, and holding this record helps our company to increase its popularity. Also, it is important to reach for new levels. While this product may not be needed by the industry yet, we are looking at what else we can supply or what kinds of problems we can solve with our technology. When it comes to conventional springs, we do have standardized production flows. However, by challenging ourselves to reach new levels, we can come up with better solutions and new ideas, which will help the company reach new heights.


For the 0.065mm spring, what do you believe would be the best applications for it? In general, are there any new industries or applications that you are looking to export your products to in the future?

You mentioned it already, but there are many things still to be done in the medical field. Fine springs are expected to play an important role going forward. Therefore, this is a major focus for our company right now. Our business field is shifting from something convenient to something that is necessary. A good example of this is the switch from film cameras to digital cameras. The film camera became unnecessary. However, in the medical field, we see that no matter how much time passes, the medical field will be needed to save people’s lives. Humanity cannot go on without enhancements in the medical field. Good products and equipment are always going to be needed and our products will be useful more and more frequently going forward. We must be ready to provide the best products possible, and we are looking optimistically towards the expansion of our business in the medical field.

We know that the Asia-Pacific market is growing when it comes to medical devices as many developing economies in Southeast Asia, as well as India and China are improving their healthcare systems. Are you looking to export your medical spring products to other developing economies that have this demand for medical components?

Yes, we are. We definitely see those trends in economically developing countries. We are currently observing the development of the medical field in China. Of course, we want to see more promotion of our products there. Demand for springs that are used in top-notch and sophisticated machines and equipment in the medical field may not yet be big in China. However, when the time comes, we want to be ready to promote and introduce our products to that area.


Mikuro Spring is part of SESSA, an organization that mainly consists of ODM manufacturers for medical devices. Can you tell us how you got involved with SESSA, and what are some of the synergies that this has created?

Before we joined the SESSA organization, we were acquainted with a  company called Nano Grains. An engineer from a medical device manufacturer  submitted a design proposal and asked us to produce for them. We realized that we had to step up in the business field. We started to participate in SESSA, as it consists of ODM manufacturers of medical devices here in Japan. By being part of the group, we can communicate with these ODM companies, and come up with mutual ideas. We did not want to only be relying on design proposals from other companies. Rather, we wanted to become forerunners and make products and devices by ourselves. That was the reason behind becoming part of SESSA. We can use the accumulated knowledge of the organization to come up with new ideas and new products ourselves. For example, the stent is a result of these activities and the accumulated knowhow that being part of SESSA provides to us.

The product is still at the prototype stage. This technology was developed by SESSA engineers. We are making the spring part of this product.


Apart from SESSA, you also collaborate with university hospitals to develop new equipment such as catheters. Can you tell us a little more about the nature of these academic partnerships? Are you looking for any partnerships in overseas markets?

One result of cooperating with the university hospitals was coming up with embolus coils, which are widely used in medical devices. We cooperated with a medical device manufacturing company to make this happen. First of all, you need to observe and speak to practising doctors in the actual hospitals. That was the reason why we started these types of collaborative efforts. Shinshu University was one of the first universities that we worked with. We were able to go to the hospital and talk to the doctors and patients. The patients were able to tell us about the problems they were having while using embolus coils. After speaking to the doctors, we realized that better solutions had to be introduced. That is a good example of our collaboration with the hospitals.

However, we realized that it was not enough as we were simply a manufacturing company that only produces these types of coils. We did not have a device that was used inside the hospitals themselves. That was the reason why we went directly to the companies that manufactured the devices and began developing industrial-related partnerships. By working with medical device manufacturing companies and hospital-related universities, we have been able to create better products and provide better solutions for the customers.

When we worked with Shinshu University, embolus coils were not something new in the market. We saw that practising doctors were already using the coils. However, they required something better with a smaller diameter, as embolus coils previously only had conventional diameters. As a company that produces coils and springs, we were capable of producing these smaller coils, and in cooperation with Shinshu University doctors, we came up with the solution. We were able to introduce flexible-sized diameter coils.


Given the success that you have had with this partnership model, are you looking to replicate this overseas?

Yes, we are. We have not done so yet, but if there is a company out there with similar ideas, then that would be welcome by us. We will do our best.


Are there any countries or regions that you have identified that you would like to expand into? What strategies will you employ to do so?

We definitely want to see our company expanding our business overseas. However, we have already established production sites in China and Malaysia, so we are not thinking about establishing new production sites at this point in time. Our production capacity in Southeast Asia is able to cater to the current demand there. This demand has increased our production to its maximum capacity, so we are currently not considering expansion.

It is lucrative for our company to have these satellite companies out there.  With regard to China, we do not know where the future will take when it comes to the medical field. However, the Chinese automobile industry will continue to grow. While they make larger-sized springs and components on a wider scale locally in China, there are few precise machine manufacturing component companies there. Therefore, we are useful in China at this point in time, especially in the automobile sector.

Our Malaysian company has been a success story for us, as it has become a company that unites world clients. Domestically here in Japan, we do not see that, as Japan is more of a closed market with Japanese affiliated companies here. However, in Malaysia, the boundaries are expanding and a lot of international companies are present there. This gives us an opportunity to reach new clients from around the world. This is the case for the whole region of Southeast Asia.

We would like to see our company doing business in the US and Europe. However, we do not want to establish a production base there. Rather, we would like to set up an R&D centre, where we could promote our unique technologies and micro spring manufacturing techniques. These technologies will come in handy in the US and Europe. However, establishing an R&D facility is a difficult task. We would certainly have to work with local companies and establish partnerships to do so. This would most likely be through M&A activities.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the interview, timing is important. When we expanded our business to China, spring manufacturing techniques were not widely introduced in that area. By having a presence in Dalian and Shanghai, many business opportunities opened up to us, as people did not have many choices. They asked our company to first produce conventional springs and then later on, more sophisticated springs for more precise uses in different industries such as the medical industry. Since then, we have seen companies emerge in economically developing countries such as China and other Southeast Asian countries. There are now more choices for spring manufacturing. There are fewer and fewer places left out there that have not yet introduced spring manufacturing techniques.. However, when it comes to more sophisticated types of springs, there are many opportunities in the US and Europe.


Imagine that we come back in exactly five years and interview you all over again. What dreams and goals would you like to have achieved?

We are currently building a new plant in the close vicinity. It will double the capacity of this current factory. We decided to build this new plant as we have recently seen a lot of requests from the semiconductor testing industry which has been experiencing a tremendous upscale. We want to become a leading company for spring solutions for the semiconductor testing industry. That is our main goal right now, and I would like to achieve that in the next five years. We want to be a leading global company.

This increase in our production capacity will also help us when it comes to other industries such as the medical industry as I mentioned earlier. Right now, there are needs coming from many different areas. By having a larger production capacity, we want to see more technical tie-ups and M&As with other companies in the next five years. This does not only have to be Japanese companies. It could be overseas companies as well. We want to introduce more of our products and technologies to the world. That is my goal.

Interview conducted by Karune Walker & Ana Ruiz