A Center of Excellence with a Global Outlook
― Japan Radio’s Advanced Technology Center in Nagano
The Nisshinbo Group has positioned wireless communications and electronics as a strategic business field. Japan Radio Co., Ltd., which is the core Group company in that field, transferred its operations from Mitaka in Tokyo to a new technology development center in Nagano two years ago. Since its creation in 1915, Japan Radio has played a pioneering role in communication and IT devices in Japan. The company is now aiming to step up its game as a manufacturer of cutting-edge electronic devices for the global market. In this section, we look at how Japan Radio’s Advanced Technology Center is leading the company’s technological development efforts.
After more than a century in business, Japan Radio worked with group companies Nagano Japan Radio Co., Ltd. and Ueda Japan Radio Co., Ltd. to restructure its business to support growth for another hundred years. The Advanced Technology Center, which was a key element of the restructuring program, was equipped with the latest equipment and facilities and given the remit to accelerate technology development as a center of excellence.
The building itself is designed to promote teamwork among engineers. The aim is to create an environment that maximizes innovation in manufacturing by harnessing the unlimited power of imagination to create a steady stream of new ideas that benefit society. The center’s spiral atrium is used as a meeting space and presentation area, while also allowing people from different departments and teams to meet and exchange ideas easily. The roof and balconies on each floor have been designed as field testing areas and a well-equipped facility next to the center gives engineers a place to conduct environmental testing. The Advanced Technology Center’s key mission is to cultivate the senses and imaginative power of every engineer, helping them to create new products and services that can compete in today’s tough market environment.
Interview with the CTO
It’s now been two years since Japan Radio moved from Mitaka in Tokyo to Nagano. What is your take on the last two years?
We designed the Advanced Technology Center as a place to harness the creative power of our engineers, guided by our vision for the facility ? a center of excellence in Nagano creating new products and services for the world. We also launched World Cafe, an event held with Nagano Japan Radio and Ueda Japan Radio once or twice each month to energize communication across the Japan Radio Group. The aim is to promote new ideas and creative thinking by encouraging topic-based discussion among small, fluid groups of four to five people in a relaxed setting.
Compared with our approach at Mitaka, these and other initiatives have created a stronger sense of cooperation between engineers across different teams. Efforts by the architects to embed the Advanced Technology Center in the surrounding natural environment have also reinvigorated our employees, spurring an even stronger desire to innovate.
What role does the Advanced Technology Center play in the Nisshinbo Group?
The Nisshinbo Group’s growth was driven by its original focus on textiles, but it is now aiming to become an Environment and Energy Company group. Japan Radio and the electronics business as a whole have been given a key role in driving that transformation.
Research and development related to artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT), or the internetworking of physical devices, is vital to support the continued growth of the Japanese economy. Developments in those fields will make sensors that handle information and connected devices increasingly important, presenting a major opportunity for the IT sector.
Against that backdrop, Japan Radio is also targeting the field of mobility, including the highly promising growth market of autonomous driving, where we are working to adapt our existing radar technology to automotive applications. By maximizing the role of the Advanced Technology Center, we aim to foster close cooperation between technology and business divisions in order to grow automotive electronics into a major business for the Nisshinbo Group.
Insights from Engineers at the Advanced Technology Center
Committed to developing new products from the standpoint of customers
I develop marine radar systems for small vessels, such as fishing boats, merchant ships and working boats. As the eyes of the boat, radar systems are vital to protecting the lives of the crew. Developing products with that kind of crucial role gives me a great deal of job satisfaction.
The Advanced Technology Center has an open-plan design, making it easier to arrange and hold meetings with other teams. The move from Mitaka to the new center has helped energize communication between engineers, which is also driving forward our research projects.
At the moment, my focus is on ensuring we develop new marine radar systems that are reliable and satisfy customers. Going forward, I hope to create new products that give Nisshinbo a foothold in new markets, while always being mindful of customer needs.
Leveraging our marine technologies to move into new business fields
I develop satellite tracking antenna for ships. Ship antenna always need to be facing the satellite to ensure unbroken communication. Marine antenna therefore need control systems to compensate for the ship’s motions on the water. As more satellites are positioned in orbit, control systems are becoming more advanced to prevent interference with other satellite communication links.
One of the strengths of the Advanced Technology Center is the way it encourages greater cooperation between engineers. When I was asked to develop new devices for automotive applications, it was easy for me to organize meetings with the automotive team, helping to foster good communication.
We have a high degree of confidence in the technologies we accumulated through the development of marine systems. We now plan to transfer that expertise to cars and other modes of land transport, contributing to the creation of a new business for the Nisshinbo Group.
A Mother Plant Supplying the World
―Nisshinbo Brake’s Tatebayashi Plant
The Tatebayashi Plant is the main domestic manufacturing site of Nisshinbo Brake Inc. The plant produces brake pads and brake linings for the automotive sector in Japan and for export markets. As the mother plant in the Nisshinbo Group’s automobile brakes business, Tatebayashi has developed manufacturing approaches that achieve high levels of operational safety, product quality and efficiency. These approaches are transferred worldwide to other plants in the Nisshinbo Group. Tatebayashi is also responsible for developing new products such as copper-free brake friction materials.
Overview of the Tatebayashi Plant
The Tatebayashi Plant is located in Ora-machi on the outskirts of Tatebayashi City in Gunma Prefecture. The vast site of more than 120,000m2 houses two disc pad production plants and one brake lining production plant. Tatebayashi also has a research center and a testing center. The plant’s onsite facilities and prime location make it an ideal place to develop and manufacture brake products.
Disc pad production started in 1981, followed by brake lining production in 1989. The friction materials division at the Tokyo Plant was transferred to the Tatebayashi Plant in 2000, resulting in today’s integrated automobile brake product facility. The plant had a workforce of 670 as of March 31, 2017.
Nisshinbo Brake puts the highest priority on workplace health and safety at the Tatebayashi Plant. After many years of workplace safety initiatives, only a handful of incidents occur at the plant each year, down sharply from levels in the past. Our analysis of incidents in recent years shows that almost no accidents are caused by physical factors that create unsafe conditions inside the plant. Many accidents are in fact caused by unsafe practices by experienced employees as a result of over familiarity with processes or inattention. Based on that analysis, we launched a program to eliminate accidents with lost work days and accidents with no lost work days (full recovery seven days or more) in the fiscal year ended March 31,
Priority Safety Activities
- Conduct risk assessment
- Establish forklift safety instruction
- Establish safety instructions for dangerous area
(which could have serious accidents)
- Ensure compliance with internal safety regulations
- Ensure standard procedures regarding accidents
Number of Workplace Accidents
2017. Under the program, we implemented a number of priority safety initiatives that limited workplace accidents to just one during the entire fiscal year. The sole accident involved no loss of work days and the employee recovered fully in less than seven days.
We are transferring these health and safety activities to overseas plants in the automobile brakes business. Initiatives include assessing the quality of health and safety management systems and running Safety Dojo* training sessions overseas. In July 2016, we invited representatives from Nisshinbo Brake’s Chinese plant, Saeron Automotive’s Korean and Chinese plants, and TMD’s three Chinese plants to take part in a health and safety seminar to raise awareness and exchange ideas.
* A mobile training facility used to teach employees about the importance of workplace safety through 13 hands-on training tools that simulate being caught in machinery and other accidents.
Continuous Kaizen activities
The Tatebayashi Plant began Kaizen activities in 1998 after learning about the Toyota Kaizen approach from Toyota Motor Corporation. Nisshinbo Brake subsequently developed its own Kaizen program, which has been progressively rolled out to plants overseas during the last five years.
The Kaizen program was extended to TMD in 2016 under the Mission ZERO Step by Step banner. We are using Kaizen activities to improve the Group’s entire operating structure by building stronger links between our employees, regardless of division and country, to promote sharing of best practices, invigorate teams and further improve cost competitiveness. An emphasis on profits based on KPIs and human resources training are two key elements of the activities.
Each business site also runs presentations about Kaizen activities at their facilities. In the fiscal year ended March 31, 2017, 108 people who took part in those presentations at business sites in ten countries worldwide were invited to the first NISTMD Kaizen Activities Conference, which was held at the Tatebayashi Plant in April 2017.
Training activities at Nanbu Plastics
Nanbu Plastics Co., Ltd., which joined the Nisshinbo Group in October 2015, has created a pamphlet summarizing the Nisshinbo Group’s Corporate Philosophy and Business Conduct Guidelines in a single document. The company distributed the compact and easy-to-carry pamphlet to its employees and those of its subsidiaries and held a training course as part of a management policy briefing in January 2017. Nanbu Plastics uses the pamphlet to share the Corporate Philosophy and Business Conduct Guidelines with new employees and mid-career recruits during training when they join the company.
Nanbu Plastics also conducted human rights awareness training for some 70 management-level employees to instill the Nisshinbo Group’s stance on human rights, part of the Business Conduct Guidelines.
Protecting the Golden Orchid (cephalanthera falcata)
The R&D Center of Nisshinbo Holdings Inc. and the Toke Plant of Nisshinbo Chemical Inc. have become members of the Chiba Business Network for Biodiversity, established by Chiba Prefecture. Both facilities are working to protect the Golden Orchid (cephalanthera falcata), which grows within the Toke Midorinomori Industrial Park. The Golden Orchid, a perennial plant belonging to the Orchidaceae class, relies on carbon produced from organic matter in the soil broken down by mycorrhizal fungi, in addition to carbon they produce themselves through photosynthesis. Artificial cultivation of the Golden Orchid is therefore difficult.
APOLLOCOT Wins Frontier Award 2016
Nisshinbo Textile Inc. received the Frontier Award 2016 from the Japan Research Association for Textile End-Uses for its wrinkle-free shirt fabric APOLLOCOT. Newly established in fiscal 2016, the award is presented to researchers and developers of unique textile products that make a positive contribution to everyday life and play a role in creating new value.
APOLLOCOT is the first 100% cotton shirt fabric to achieve level 4 wash-and-wear characteristics*.
In addition to being free of wrinkles after washing, the material provides wrinkle resistance when the shirt is worn. APOLLOCOT received the award for this contribution to consumer lifestyles.
* Wash and wear characteristics: An index of the degree of wrinkling after washing. A level 5 rating means that the material is completely free of wrinkles, as if freshly ironed. A rating of 4 or higher means that wrinkles are reduced by 90% or more.