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During a recent trip to Japan, media professionals were given a candid look at the philosophies and strategies that drive Amada manufacturing success

Amada fabricating technology is found around the globe in a myriad of applications. Its product range is wide yet focused; its customer base is large yet still growing. While its impressive growth is intimately tied to its customers, the company’s management philosophy is also inspired by a dedication to its community and the environment.

The company philosophy – “growing together with our customers” – is further detailed in Amada’s 2017 annual report. “Rather than being content with the present situation, we are constantly in search of new and better ideas to put into action in order to improve and enhance our business activities.”

To punctuate the company’s commitment to the environment: “By treating the Amada Group’s stakeholders (such as shareholders, customers, business partners, employees and local residents) and the global environment with respect, we strive to continue to be a good company for both people and the earth.”

To elaborate on its management philosophy and the trajectory the company will take in the months and years to come, Amada Holdings Co. extended a generous invitation to industry media professionals to visit its operations in Japan – as well as the operations of two of its customers.

As a first stop, Amada opened the doors to its headquarters campus to showcase its advanced Ensis laser technology and the strides the company has taken to accelerate its IoT offerings. The trip also afforded the opportunity to shine a spotlight on a new museum dedicated to the company’s 72-year history.

Harmony in mfg.

Amada facilities are far ranging, including its headquarters in Isehara in Japan’s Kanagawa prefecture as well as Fujinomiya, its manufacturing campus near the foothills of Mt. Fuji. Nearby, Amada’s Asagiri Square serves customers as a picturesque setting for entertainment and educational purposes. The log cabin, built during the company’s 45th year in business, offers views of Mt. Fuji as well as the cabin’s namesake, the asagiri, a morning fog that slowly crawls across the horizon, enveloping everything in its path.

When Amada was first established in 1946 by Isamu Amada, the company primarily produced bandsaw blades. Fast-forward to the present day, and the company is recognized among the elite in industrial laser processing and sheet metal fabricating equipment.

The organization holds more than 1,000 design and technical patents, employs nearly 8,500 employees and is represented by 80 companies and subsidiaries in 70 countries around the globe. Its massive equipment manufacturing operations are the embodiment of “monozukuri,” which in Japanese evokes the idea of pure craftsmanship.

As a guest of Amada, looking out at Mt. Fuji shrouded in clouds and the asagiri creeping across the landscape, it’s hard not to recognize the balance the company sees between nature and the cutting-edge equipment it produces. One of the first items mentioned before touring Fujinomiya was the company’s commitment to environmentally friendly manufacturing practices.

Built in 1987, the Fujinomiya factory is Amada’s biggest global manufacturing site. One thousand employees work across the nearly 2.5 million sq. ft. of floor space, holding positions in R&D, production and human resources. Over the past 30 years, the campus has continuously expanded, including the announcement of a sixth building, which recently broke ground and will give Amada 30 percent additional manufacturing capacity.

Within the campus’s five current buildings, Amada manufactures its sheet metal fabricating equipment, including press brakes, punches, stamping presses, laser cutters, combo machines and laser welding equipment. A current highlight of those machines is Amada’s Ensis 9-kW laser cutter, which features an advanced version of the company’s revolutionary beam control technology.

The beam control technology, as well as an increase in oscillator output, give customers stable, consistent cutting across a range of materials from thin to thick. And beyond the exceptional cutting efficiency, the Ensis is an ideal counterpart to Amada’s V-factory, the company’s approach to helping customers revamp their facilities as smart factories in the age of Industry 4.0. Operators and business owners alike find power consumption, processing costs and other operational information at their fingertips, ready to be harnessed to make better data-informed decisions.

To achieve the level of sophistication and accuracy found within the Ensis – and all of Amada’s equipment, for that matter – the company relies on the “Yatai Booth” approach to manufacturing efficiency. This approach ensures that production employees have everything they need for assembly and inspection within arm’s reach. It is this efficiency that defines Amada’s manufacturing identity – one that only accepts the utmost of standards.

Machine tool customer

Like Amada, the company’s customers operate under tight tolerances, impeccable degrees of consistency and incredibly high standards. They also subject their products to extensive testing to put out nothing other than first-class quality products.

Amada and its customers share similarities in manufacturing excellence, but two of the company’s customers have something else in common: their name. Makino Milling Machine Co. Ltd. and Makino Co. Ltd. rely heavily on Amada equipment and both have banner reputations.

The former Makino is known worldwide for its vertical and horizontal machining centers, the type required for aerospace, automotive and other precision manufacturing operations. Because of the nature of its customers’ work, Makino holds tolerances as tight as 3 microns when producing its array of machining equipment.

“When our customers are expected to make perfect parts, we, too, must be perfect,” said Tatsuaki Aiba, vice president, director and executive manager of the production division at Makino, during a tour of the company’s Atsugi factory.

The first takeaway when walking into Makino’s more-than 300,000-sq.-ft. factory is just how meticulously clean it is. Although the building was erected in 1967, the floors still shine like new. The building is temperature controlled and earthquake sensitive, ensuring that even in inclement weather, the indoor environment is conducive to precise manufacturing all year round.

“Every spindle is exactly the same,” explained Aiba. “Even after 50 years, we’ll still be able to sell our customers the exact same product we produced today.”

To manufacture Makino’s machining centers, Amada equipment plays a big role. With 40 percent of its operations focused on sheet metal fabrication, Makino utilizes a full fleet of Amadas.

Specifically, the company boasts 12 Amada machines in total, including a 4-kW laser cutter with pallet changer; two punch/laser combination machines, one featuring a storage tower and automated parts remover; five press brakes; a tooling grinding machine; a shearing machine; as well as Amada’s FLW 4000, a 4-kW fiber laser welding cell, which typically handles material at 2 mm thick.

Custom fabricator customer

Similar in its reliance to Amada equipment, the latter Makino – Makino Co. Ltd. – has a shop floor dominated by the signature red machines. The company, a custom fabricator that produces semiconductor manufacturing equipment, communication equipment parts and other precise sheet metal parts, was established in 1969. The quick-turnaround philosophy of its high-volume, small-batch operations is even printed on employee T-shirts.

Lot sizes average as small as 10 parts with 70 percent being aluminum, 20 percent stainless steel and 10 percent mild steel. It processes a wide range of material thicknesses all the way down to sheets as thin as 0.02 mm.

The challenges surrounding the nature of Makino Co. Ltd.’s work include quickly turning over customer quotes as well as reducing the time employees need to find the necessary tools and paperwork to complete a job. To address the quoting process, Makino is currently working to develop an AI program that can speed up the process. It also developed and implemented an active message app that employees can access for order information, such as CAD/CAM drawings, process details and job timing, via iPods located at each station.

To meet the goal of delivering orders within 24 hours of receipt, the company invested in a variety of Amada equipment, including an Amada FLC 3015 AJ fiber laser system with a high-speed fork pallet changer, an Amada EML NT punch/laser machine that also features a pallet changer, an Amada HMX 3015 NT punch press with automatic tool changer, an Amada RMP 48M racking system and an Amada MARS storage tower. It also relies on a fleet of Amada press brakes – including one with an automatic tool changer that is so fast it handles 60 percent of the company’s bending capacity.

Because of its aluminum, stainless steel and mild steel material mix, the company primarily does YAG, TIG and fiber laser welding. Most of the aluminum welding is done on its Amada FLW 4000 M3 fiber laser welding cell, but it also employs an Amada YAG welder as well as multiple Amada spot welders. To round out its equipment investments, Makino also relies on two Amada deburring machines, a tooling grinding machine, a shearing machine and a corner shear.

Company leadership

As the visitors traveled across the central eastern region of Japan, a stop was made at Amada’s Forum 246, a training center, showroom and hotel where customers and employees alike can learn to better harness the technology found within Amada equipment and its V-factory IoT framework. During the visit, media had the unique opportunity to participate in a press conference with Amada chairman and CEO, Mitsuo Okamoto.

During the conference, Okamoto outlined the current state of the company as well as the strategies being implemented for further growth. In terms of its presence in the U.S. market, Amada’s focus on direct sales and service is divided into three regions: the northeast, west and southeast. With the company already dominating 50 percent market share in the western region, the plan moving forward will be to maintain that leadership and expand operations in the remaining two regions.

In the northeast and southeast, press brake and peripheral accessory manufacturing will commence to more effectively serve customers. And with that same goal in mind, an additional facility will open in North Carolina by 2020.

Furthermore, the acquisition of Marvel Mfg. Inc. expands the company’s sawing equipment market share from 12 percent to 25 percent, positioning it as the top manufacturer of bandsaws in North America in terms of sales.

With 100 years of metal cutting manufacturing under its belt, Marvel is a well-respected brand name, which aligns well with the equally respected Amada brand name. The acquisition also helps to broaden Amada’s current bandsawing portfolio, expanding cutting capabilities into lightweight structural steels, such as construction materials for the automotive and agricultural industries, among others.

Amada’s investments in businesses such as Marvel as well as its investments in additional community-based sales and service facilities underlines the commitment relayed in the company’s philosophy of “growing together with our customers.” During the press conference, Okamoto expressed this pledge to customers using the Japanese workforce as an example.

“Everyone understands that the Japanese people are working too much,” he said. “While the Japanese government is trying to shorten working hours … and while employees are growing older, our customers will require more from us in terms of automation and IoT features.”

As similar working conditions exist in the United States and around the globe, Amada will continue to develop tools and technologies to help create a solid infrastructure for efficient, thoughtful metals fabrication. Reinforcing that commitment was the company’s willingness to open its doors to the media – an opportunity that the team at FAB Shop Magazine is incredibly grateful for.

Amada Holdings Co. Ltd.