FOCUS on PERFORMANCE
FOCUS on PERFORMANCE
Two buildings stand on a wide expanse of land along the Oashi River in Kanuma City, Tochigi Prefecture. The plant built in 1991 began as a small work place more than half a century ago and was founded by Etsuro Suzuki, grandfather of current President Takuya Suzuki.
Etsuro loved making things and gathered friends to found the company and started work making shoe decorations. Following this, the company shifted to general parts machining. In 1971, Suzuki Precion Ltd. was founded to start full-scale machining of metals.
The company increased its workforce to 10 and added NC lathes to its hydraulic equipment. Vice-President Isao Suzuki looked back that time and said, “The 2nd generation president, my older brother, Yosuke Suzuki, really loves special machines and implemented a wide range of such equipment. He first operated the NC lathes himself and at that time they were programmed by using a punched paper tape.”
While serving as a subcontractor for manufacturers, the then President Yosuke Suzuki had an experience he would never forget. On a visit to a customer’s office, he was wearing work shoes that had oil on them from the floor of his factory. The customer scolded him harshly: “Don’t ever come into my office in dirty shoes.” It was this experience that caused President Suzuki to realize the importance of sorting, setting in order, and shining (3S), and he started prioritizing factory cleanliness.
In 1991, the company moved the factory to its current location. In 1992 they reorganised the company into Suzuki Precion Co., Ltd. However, it was about the time that the Japanese “bubble economy” collapsed and the company encountered its first business crisis due to a significant decrease in work.President Suzuki felt that they should not continue as a subcontractor simply waiting for work. He hired managers to reinforce the company’s sales force and the number of customers began to grow. At the same time, the company also focused on developing a better work environment for employees.
While improving its business, the company also started machining dental implants, which gave them a chance to machine titanium materials for the first time. Company sales at that time were driven by shafts, arms and computer parts, of which a few million units were being produced every month. However, when President Suzuki visited Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, he was shocked to see that their plants were manufacturing the same parts 24 hours per day. He quickly realised that the production base for the parts Suzuki Precion was manufacturing would eventually move out of Japan to where labour costs were cheaper. As he was considering changes in the company’s management strategy, he received news that would threaten the very foundation of his business. In 2001, the company’s largest partner, a partner that accounted for approximately 30% of sales at that time, declared bankruptcy. This was Suzuki Precion’s second business crisis. The Vice-President looked back on this and said, “Suppliers changed their attitude quickly and told us that they would supply materials and tools on a cash basis only. Our major bank rushed to us to check our ability to repay loans. I thought we were finished.”
After the bankruptcy of the company’s major customer, Suzuki Precion decided to make a bold change in its management strategy. They shifted target production to medical equipment, switched their manufacturing method from small-item large-scale production to larger-item, small-scale production and focused on securing orders with a higher degree of engineering difficulty.
Jun Hanawa, who joined the company’s sales staff at that time said, “President Suzuki told us to get the orders first and then the company would find a way to fulfill them. He told us to be confident and think positively.” This positive attitude also led to improvement of the company’s technical strength. They focused on winning technically difficult orders and finding ways to meet the requirements. They also created a database so information could be shared with others at the company.
In addition, the experience of machining dental implants significantly increased their technical strengths. While manufacturing parts that are extremely small, but require strict dimensional tolerance, the company’s precision and fine machining techniques improved. One example of such improvement was the ability to machine a 0.03 mm diameter hole, which is smaller than one strand of hair, in a stainless steel plate.
“The key to successful machining is the proper setting of conditions. When cutting titanium dental implants in particular, achieving better machining conditions significantly changes production efficiency. This does not mean, however, that quick cutting is the best because it is often necessary to take 20 to 30 minutes per part. We manufacture on a 24-hour schedule a large production run and optimise it considering the lifetime of the cutting tools. This could be achieved with unique know-how accumulated through the machining of difficult-to-cut materials.
While the company proceeded with its shift to medical equipment manufacturing, they learned about the revision of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act (current Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Act) from customers in 2006. They acquired a Medical Equipment Manufacture License under the new act that imposed stricter regulations on medical equipment manufacturing. In 2007, they also acquired ISO9001 and ISO 13485 certifications. ISO 13485 is the standard for medical equipment manufacturing and quality management systems. “The acquisition of these certifications made a big difference,” said Yuzo Morita from the Sales Department. He continued, “ISO13485 is essential for medical equipment manufacturers. However, few of our competitors had acquired certification, so it became a strong advantage for us.”
In 2009, Suzuki Precion exhibited at Medtec Japan, one of the largest exhibitions for manufacturers and developers of medical equipment. “All of the companies at the exhibition except ours had many more employees than we did; but having the medical device manufacturing license and ISO13485 certification raised interest in our company. When customers began contacting us, we began to see our efforts paying off,” said Hanawa.
Kazuhiro Ugajin added, “Dental implants are very small, but require a high degree of technical capability to prevent imperfections, and ensure dimensional accuracy. Biological implants, on the other hand, simply require different sizes, which was difficult for us.”
In 2010, they participated in a medical equipment exhibition in Germany for the first time; and in 2012, they participated in MD & M West, the world’s largest exhibition for medical equipment, parts and materials in the United States. They also exhibited at the Japan Pavilion sponsored by JETRO, and were fortunate to meet someone that would bring a significant boost to their business.
“One of the people on our development staff,” explained Hanawa, “had a friend living in the United States, and that friend visited our booth. When he saw parts we had produced that were the size of a grain of rice, he was extremely impressed with the technique and introduced our products to others at the exhibition. He brought an engineer working at one of the world’s top medical equipment manufacturers. This led to business negotiations and orders, and a relationship with the customer that continues to this day.”
In 2012, the company reached a turning point. They received the Nippon Brand Award for the IB-SPINDLE, a 4 × RPM high precision, mechanical speeder tool, using precision machining technology developed by the company for CNC automatic lathes.
The development of the IB-SPINDLE started from the previous president’s dream of the company developing its own products. The company first produced 50,000 to 60,000 rpm spindles for machining centres and lathes. They made the mistake, however, of not considering specific customers, so sales suffered.
In an attempt to correct this, they changed their approach. Considering that most automatic lathes only rotated at 5,000 to 6,000 rpm, if they developed spindles whose circumferential speed could be increased, production efficiency per hour would increase. This would be an advantage for the company and manufacturers alike. This is how the IB-SPINDLE came into being. The IB-SPINDLE features ultra-precision planetary gears that increase CNC automatic lathe speed four-fold. “It is a spindle unit capable of increasing speed, developed to achieve high-precision and cost-performance in the processing of parts for medical equipment. We decided that this would fit the market,” said Ugajin.
Suzuki Precion’s sales comprise medical equipment (approx. 50%), IB-SPINDLE (approx. 25%), and semiconductor producing equipment and automobile parts (approx. 25%); but the company is planning to focus on medical equipment and the IB-SPINDLE rather than ultra-precision machining technology.
Mr. Hanawa said, “We consider Suzuki Precion as a total advisory company. The technology required in manufacturing is not limited to machining alone. We integrate other elements of technology from the development and design stage to ensure the best approach for customer’s needs. We want to be a one-stop supplier providing a full range of support, from inspection, cleaning and sterilization through to packaging for medical equipment. In order to do so, we established a Class 10,000/ ISO14644-1 Class 7 rated clean room. With a focus on reducing labour load, we also implemented a multiple-piece system and 24-hour operation to improve production efficiency. We also want to ensure a wide range of new ideas, so we prioritise the creation of a corporate climate that allows employees to express themselves freely.”
To expand its range of business, Suzuki Precion joined REG Partners, an organization of small and medium sized corporations engaged in a wide range of manufacturing. Established by Tanaka Medical Instruments Co., Ltd., each company in the partnership gathered their individual technology to work on the development of spinal implants for orthopedic treatment. We attracted attention in the market with the commercialization of Class II medical equipment. After confirming that it did not infringe upon an earlier patent, the RENG Spinal System sold by KiSCO Co., Ltd. was marketed under an agreement among partner companies to disclose technical information, prioritize profit as an organization and allocate profit based on the contribution of each company. The unique approach to development was recognized when REG Partners received the 6th Medtec Innovation Award.
Suzuki Precion also assigned a Vietnamese trainee who had accumulated experience in Japan to take charge of IB-SPINDLE sales in overseas markets and dispatched him to METALEX, an exhibition held in Thailand. They consider Vietnam as the second most important overseas base, after the United States.
They introduced the MIT Force 3 mm, a needle for laparoscopic surgery, at Medtec Japan 2017. Although it has a very thin shaft, it has rigidity capable of minimizing deflection to meet the increasing need for minimal invasiveness in surgical treatment. Suzuki Precion changed business strategy with a shift from the production of medical equipment to the expansion of sales of products that it developed to increase its competitive strength by leveraging the ultraprecision machining technology that they had accumulated. Their shift is an example that the machining industry would do well to follow.