The “Manufacturing Town” and New Horizons for the 3D Printer

~ Craftsman Interview at Yoneyama Industry (Tsubamesanjo, Niigata Prefecture) ~

PROTOTYPING REPORT

Just what type of chemical reaction will be generated upon encounters between new concepts in urban mobility and high-tech fabrication?
Putting that type of groundbreaking experiment into action is the custom order service specialist “ROAD KITCHEN.”
Using this innovative service opens the door to fashioning your own customized i-ROAD parts right by a personal computer
or smartphone in the privacy of your own home.
For this report, we traveled to Niigata Prefecture’s Tsubamesanjo, an area globally famed as a “Manufacturing Town,”
to pay a visit to Yoneyama Industry – a company active in the 3D printing of proprietary multiple holders for i-ROAD.
Through an interview with Senior Managing Director Toshifumi Yoneyama, who has his sights set on creating a new chapter in “Japan Quality”
on the strength of fusion between 3D printers and artisan skills, we probe the future lying at the cutting edge of this innovation.
Just what type of chemical reaction will be generated upon encounters between new concepts in urban mobility and high-tech fabrication? Putting that type of groundbreaking experiment into action is the custom order service specialist “ROAD KITCHEN.” Using this innovative service opens the door to fashioning your own customized i-ROAD parts right by a personal computer or smartphone in the privacy of your own home. For this report, we traveled to Niigata Prefecture’s Tsubamesanjo, an area globally famed as a “Manufacturing Town,” to pay a visit to Yoneyama Industry – a company active in the 3D printing of proprietary multiple holders for i-ROAD. Through an interview with Senior Managing Director Toshifumi Yoneyama, who has his sights set on creating a new chapter in “Japan Quality” on the strength of fusion between 3D printers and artisan skills, we probe the future lying at the cutting edge of this innovation.

prof_flow_tubame Toshifumi Yoneyama
(Senior Managing Director,
Yoneyama Industry Co., Ltd.)

At Yoneyama Industry Co., Ltd., a corporation active in the metal processing field in Sanjo City, Niigata Prefecture, Director Yoneyama launched a new 3D printing operation from 2011. In addition to providing a service outputting 3D data based on data via the Internet, he has spearheaded the development of in-house products as the “YONEYAMA BRAND,” acted as public relations manager to institute use of the “Pepper” humanoid robot in his company’s operations and promote other innovative new undertakings. Yoneyama Industry was founded in 1969. Over the years since, the company has built up a reputation for highly advanced technological prowess in automobile parts, metal press fabrication, welding work and other fields.

YONEYAMA BRAND official website:
http://yoneyamax.com/

img_flow_03_tubameA row of high-pressure hydraulic presses used in metal processing inside the factory. One technician is assigned to handle each unit full-time, effectively overseeing the work of instantly transforming flat metal plate into three-dimensional configurations

Surprising New Linkage Between
Digital Fabrication and Artisan Skills

Surprising New Linkage Between Digital Fabrication and Artisan Skills

Among “ROAD KITCHEN” initiatives are “Multiple Holders” – a handy accessory designed for attachment at the i-ROAD driver’s seat to serve as a holder for plastic bottles, sunglasses and various other items. The i-ROAD Test Drive Pilots have personally designated preferred colors and patterns, with the 3D printer output eliminating the need for use of molds. This method also makes it possible to supply plastic items in single piece units, compared to the conventional need for a considerable volume in the initial lot. With this, Yoneyama has realized a “multiple-lot/small-volume production” mode unique to digital fabrication.

Engaging in this multiple holder 3D printing, as well as the polishing, dyeing and other finishing work is Yoneyama Industry of Sanjo City, Niigata Prefecture. For its part, Sanjo City, along with neighboring Tsubame City, are more commonly known under the handle of “Tsubamesanjo” – a district famed for the role of skilled artisans in supporting the traditions of Japanese manufacturing.

Masahiko Inada, President of Kabuku Inc. (a company that has contributed as a key partner in the ROAD KITCHEN development work) and interviewed in our previous report , praises the multiple holder finishing work in the most stellar of terms: “The caliber of this overpowering quality is something that can only be realized in Japan.” Inspired by that recommendation, we talked with Senior Managing Director Toshifumi Yoneyama, the key figure behind the promotion of a 3D printing business at Yoneyama Industry, about his company’s efforts to pioneer a new dimension of manufacturing with the use of the 3D printer.

~ Just what prompted you to become involved in the 3D printing and finishing work of multiple holders?

Toshifumi Yoneyama: Generally speaking, mention of “3D printers” tends to conjure up images of so-called “dream machines” capable of outputting just about anything as long as you have the right data. In reality, though, it requires considerably advanced technology and know-how to make these printers function up to full potential. The people at Kabuku apparently gave us high marks on that front, and when they contacted us we decided to become part of the project.

~ In what areas do you devote the greatest care and attention in the handling of 3D printers?

Yoneyama: Yoneyama Industry is a company with its roots in the metal press fabrication of automobile parts and other products. Our everyday work has long consisted of the relentless quest for precision and quality at the 0.1-millimeter unit, with that background proving to be of substantial value in the newly launched 3D printing business. For example, while such 0.1mm unit accuracy is demanded when attaching or fixing something into place, it is no easy task to eliminate errors of 0.1mm with 3D printers. To succeed in that work requires a firm understanding of the characteristics of the machinery and materials, along with the technology needed to achieve processing and output tailored to the particular product being worked on.

In the output of the multiple holders on this occasion, at the point in time that we received the request, our 3D data was formed. Nevertheless, we considered the vibration resistance traits when attached on moving vehicles, inspected the holding sensation in such attached states and took other steps aimed at presenting the client with a more detailed proposal.

~ How exactly did you put the 3D printer to use in the pursuit of precision?

Yoneyama: In 2013, we purchased a laser-sintering type model from Electro Optical Systems of Germany for 40 million yen. This machine differs from the more commonly known type, which is used for long and narrow plastic resin lamination, in that it is based on the process of using a laser to sinter (harden) plastic and other powdered materials. At the time we introduced this machine there were only several such units in Japan. That meant we had little choice but to undertake an elaborate and ongoing trial-and-error process to acquire the necessary know-how.

prof_flow_tubameToshifumi Yoneyama
(Senior Managing Director,
Yoneyama Industry Co., Ltd.)

At Yoneyama Industry Co., Ltd., a corporation active in the metal processing field in Sanjo City, Niigata Prefecture, Director Yoneyama launched a new 3D printing operation from 2011. In addition to providing a service outputting 3D data based on data via the Internet, he has spearheaded the development of in-house products as the “YONEYAMA BRAND,” acted as public relations manager to institute use of the “Pepper” humanoid robot in his company’s operations and promote other innovative new undertakings. Yoneyama Industry was founded in 1969. Over the years since, the company has built up a reputation for highly advanced technological prowess in automobile parts, metal press fabrication, welding work and other fields.

YONEYAMA BRAND official website:
http://yoneyamax.com/

img_flow_03_tubameA row of high-pressure hydraulic presses used in metal processing inside the factory. One technician is assigned to handle each unit full-time, effectively overseeing the work of instantly transforming flat metal plate into three-dimensional configurations

Surprising New Linkage Between
Digital Fabrication and Artisan Skills

Surprising New Linkage Between Digital Fabrication and Artisan Skills

Among “ROAD KITCHEN” initiatives are “Multiple Holders” – a handy accessory designed for attachment at the i-ROAD driver’s seat to serve as a holder for plastic bottles, sunglasses and various other items. The i-ROAD Test Drive Pilots have personally designated preferred colors and patterns, with the 3D printer output eliminating the need for use of molds. This method also makes it possible to supply plastic items in single piece units, compared to the conventional need for a considerable volume in the initial lot. With this, Yoneyama has realized a “multiple-lot/small-volume production” mode unique to digital fabrication.

Engaging in this multiple holder 3D printing, as well as the polishing, dyeing and other finishing work is Yoneyama Industry of Sanjo City, Niigata Prefecture. For its part, Sanjo City, along with neighboring Tsubame City, are more commonly known under the handle of “Tsubamesanjo” – a district famed for the role of skilled artisans in supporting the traditions of Japanese manufacturing.

Masahiko Inada, President of Kabuku Inc. (a company that has contributed as a key partner in the ROAD KITCHEN development work) and interviewed in our previous report, praises the multiple holder finishing work in the most stellar of terms: “The caliber of this overpowering quality is something that can only be realized in Japan.” Inspired by that recommendation, we talked with Senior Managing Director Toshifumi Yoneyama, the key figure behind the promotion of a 3D printing business at Yoneyama Industry, about his company’s efforts to pioneer a new dimension of manufacturing with the use of the 3D printer.

~ Just what prompted you to become involved in the 3D printing and finishing work of multiple holders?

Toshifumi Yoneyama: Generally speaking, mention of “3D printers” tends to conjure up images of so-called “dream machines” capable of outputting just about anything as long as you have the right data. In reality, though, it requires considerably advanced technology and know-how to make these printers function up to full potential. The people at Kabuku apparently gave us high marks on that front, and when they contacted us we decided to become part of the project.

~ In what areas do you devote the greatest care and attention in the handling of 3D printers?

Yoneyama: Yoneyama Industry is a company with its roots in the metal press fabrication of automobile parts and other products. Our everyday work has long consisted of the relentless quest for precision and quality at the 0.1-millimeter unit, with that background proving to be of substantial value in the newly launched 3D printing business. For example, while such 0.1mm unit accuracy is demanded when attaching or fixing something into place, it is no easy task to eliminate errors of 0.1mm with 3D printers. To succeed in that work requires a firm understanding of the characteristics of the machinery and materials, along with the technology needed to achieve processing and output tailored to the particular product being worked on.

In the output of the multiple holders on this occasion, at the point in time that we received the request, our 3D data was formed. Nevertheless, we considered the vibration resistance traits when attached on moving vehicles, inspected the holding sensation in such attached states and took other steps aimed at presenting the client with a more detailed proposal.

~ How exactly did you put the 3D printer to use in the pursuit of precision?

Yoneyama: In 2013, we purchased a laser-sintering type model from Electro Optical Systems of Germany for 40 million yen. This machine differs from the more commonly known type, which is used for long and narrow plastic resin lamination, in that it is based on the process of using a laser to sinter (harden) plastic and other powdered materials. At the time we introduced this machine there were only several such units in Japan. That meant we had little choice but to undertake an elaborate and ongoing trial-and-error process to acquire the necessary know-how.

img_flow_04_tubame img_flow_05_tubameThe “FORMIGA P110” laser-sintering 3D printer for plastic (produced by Electro Optical Systems of Germany). The work of spreading out plastic in a finely powdered state for sintering into a hard surface is repeated for each and every layer, in the process of forming a laminated finish.

“Japan Quality” for a New Era,
Utilizing the Strengths of Local Industry

“Japan Quality” for a New Era, Utilizing the Strengths of Local Industry

~ While advancing your work in the metal processing business, what exactly led to your introduction of 3D printers.

Yoneyama: That dates back to time when the 3D printer was not a major topic of interest or attention in Japan. Actually, the first big step came with my 2011 visit to “EuroMold,” a major metal processing exhibition staged in Germany. It was there that I first encountered a genuine 3D printer. I was extremely interested to see how high quality iPhone covers and other products could be output on 3D printers. Upon returning to Japan, I wasted no time in having the company procure a resin laminating formation type 3D printer for about 200,000. Unfortunately, the finished quality with that machine was a far cry from what we had envisioned. There were limits on the materials that could be used, the strength was inadequate, the surface quality was rickety at best and so forth and so on. Clearly, the products output on that printer were hardly at a level capable of being sold on the market. That, I must say, was a tremendous source of frustration and disappointment. After that, I was convinced that we needed to introduce a full-fledged 3D printer featuring the caliber and capacity to turn out finished products. That led to our purchase of the laser-sintering type model. But even so, with the multiple holders produced for this project, we added yet another stage of polishing after the actual output. When all is said and done, that extra work was the key to realizing such a smooth surface and lustrous color development in the finish.

~ It would appear that with even with use of 3D printers, the need exists for the knowledge of how to blend artisan skills that are such a distinguishing trait of local industry in Sanjo City with other processing methods and abilities.

Yoneyama: That’s correct. With metal presses and other conventional fabricating machines, there is a natural need for adjustments to fit the specific installation sites, the quality of the materials being used and other parameters. This is also true of 3D printers, with our grasp of powder temperature, the volumes of waste heat and other machine characteristics expanding as we continue the use. We often hear talk of how, as long as you have 3D data, the same products can be output anywhere in the world. I would point out, however, that to achieve and maintain production at that level it is imperative to have people on the job with advanced skills and knowledge. It is certainly no exaggeration, therefore, to say that the final quality will vary widely by the technology and backgrounds of the staffers who actually handle 3D printers.

This is particularly true in Japan, where high quality is virtually taken for granted. In other words, there is no way to deceive the customer. With the use of laser-sintering models as well, simply outputting as-is on a 3D printer will result in a rough surface finish. That, in turn, will lead to significant differences, both in appearance and touch, from the plastic wares processed on existing injection-molding type machines. Taking that to heart, in approaching the fabrication of these multiple holders as well, we proposed the plan of requesting local polishing artisans to perform the final surface buffing work.

~ The merging of such 3D printers with traditional artisan skills appears to truly be the caliber of know-how available only in such a “Manufacturing Town.”

Yoneyama: That may very well be true. Nevertheless, we faced a dilemma related to the question of why, despite being able to readily achieve a smooth finish on plastic products with injection molding, we needed to go to all the trouble of going on to polish versions produced on 3D printers. We understood, however, that the polishing phase leads to major improvements in the color development. Directly dyeing products output on 3D printers in that state would result in the stain solution accumulating in the fine bumps on the surface, generating an overall blurred impression. In contrast to that, dyeing after surface polishing is the key to clear and bright coloring in the finished version. In fact, this color development was achieved at a caliber that proved quite surprising to everyone involved with the 3D printer project.

img_flow_06_tubameThe 3D printing lab: One worker is stationed in air-controlled space to perform the task of removing excess powder from the output products. Under this system, data is transmitted to the 3D printer from a CAD operator on a separate floor.

img_flow_02_tubame

The New Challenge of Passing on “Manufacturing Town”
Traditions to the Next Generation

The New Challenge of Passing on “Manufacturing Town” Traditions to the Next Generation

~ Considering that so much time and effort is involved, what are the real merits of using 3D printers?

Yoneyama: Basically, it boils down to eliminating the need for molds. Under the conventional manufacturing method, it is necessary to first commit the time and money to producing molds. To recoup the costs of that work, we would need to output at manufacturing lots of 10,000 pieces or so. With a 3D printer, however, prototypes can be rapidly turned out even in single-piece runs. I think this gives us a big advantage.

About five years ago, we marketed a titanium iPhone cover as an original product. While it proved quite popular, we also received requests from a steady stream of customers to produce similar titanium covers for use with the Android and various other models. To meet those needs would have required investment of several million yen for the development of each new mold, not to mention the fact that it would not be easy to produce those new versions. We were forced to explain those circumstances again and again to the clients, with that proving to be truly frustrating. I would say that this was the core experience that became a major driving force in our move to introduce 3D printers.

~ We understand that you are now active in the development of plastic iPhone covers, aroma pod attachments for car air conditioner jets and other items manufactured on 3D printers.

Yoneyama: Yes, but it is also true that we are still feeling our way around in this area. Nevertheless, it is my own strong personal belief that such initiatives are possible for the very reason that we operate in the cities of Tsubame and Sanjo – a region where the traditions of manufacturing and craftsmanship have been faithfully cultivated and passed down over the generations. This is an area where certain factories have perfected outstanding metal-casting technology, for example, while others have developed lathe machining expertise and similar specialized skills. This landscape provides the opportunity to combine different strengths in collaborations targeting new frontiers. The love of craftsmanship is alive and well here, entrenched in the understanding that what companies cannot accomplish on their own can often be achieved by joining forces with others in rising to take on new challenges.

From my own perspective as well, I do not feel that simply pushing on with manufacturing in the conventional mode will render it feasible for us to ensure that the industry in this locality prospers throughout the next generation – that is, when our own children are ready to truly take over the reins. There is a need to constantly incorporate new technology and ideas, paving the way to potential and skills capable of supporting new progress and development as an industry.

With this project as well, therefore, it has proved extremely rewarding to receive the opportunity to engage in manufacturing with the type of talented young people advancing the work at Toyota and Kabuku. While 3D printers, CNC machines and other digital machine tools have the inherent capacity to create actual product shapes as such, without ideas about “what to make” there is no way for us to manifest the full range of that machining potential. Looking ahead, therefore, efforts to reach across the lines of different industries, regions and similar divisions to merge the forte fields existing in each respective domain hold tremendous significance indeed. In that sense, we truly look forward to gaining the opportunity to become a part of joint endeavors aimed at promising new initiatives.

INTERVEIW & TEXT BY Keita Fukasawa (contributor)
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Eiji Fukasaku

ISSUED : 4 February 2016