My second visit to Japan took me to the Amada Co. Ltd’s headquarters in Isehara, Kanagawa Prefecture and its flagship manufacturing, development, spares and assembly facility Fujinomiya Works, which is situated at the base of Mt Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture.
During the last two decades, CO2 lasers have become a critical tool to help manufacturers deal with a rapidly evolving environment, one that has driven the metalforming and fabricating industry to new levels of lean and efficient production. State-of-the-art laser-cutting machines optimise efficiency by eliminating multiple setups required with other processes.
That efficiency optimisation took a leap forward with the recent advent of automatic changeout of nozzles and cutting lenses, as well as the ability to detect when there is a problem with either the nozzle or lens and adjust the cutting program accordingly. Metal formers can leverage these recent advances to turn a maximum lot size of a single part into a profitable endeavour, by eliminating setups and increasing the machine’s green-light on-time.
However the talk of the town undoubtedly is fiber-laser technology, promising efficient, accurate and high-speed cutting of thin-gauge sheetmetal.
One of the world’s largest machine manufacturers for the metalworking industry, Amada Co. Ltd., with headquarters in Isehara, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan and company stocks listed on the Tokyo and Osaka stock exchanges, is involved in manufacturing both CO2 and fiber laser machines for the sheet metal world. In fact they are more involved than one realises until you visit the headquarters facility, which includes a solution center, the Amada Machine Tool Plaza, which forms part of the Amada Solution Center, the Amada School of Vocational Training and the company’s very own hotel – Forum246, and the state-of-the-art manufacturing facility Fujinomiya Works, Shizuoka Prefecture.
Five years ago I was lucky enough to be part of an international press junket of 15 editors invited by the Japanese Machine Tool Builders Association to visit five of the world’s top machine tool builders. A trip to Japan is in itself inspiring enough. Visiting the manufacturing facilities of some of the world’s most advanced and biggest machine tool builders – with four of them in the world top 15 rankings – is a privilege.
The visit left a lasting impression on me with a want to visit the country that is so first world and welcoming with friendly, respectful and helpful inhabitants – there are not enough adjectives – again. That trip did not include a visit to Amada Co. Ltd. because all the companies were mainly involved in building equipment to shape metal rather than form metal.
“Domo arigato” I said to my hosts, Amada (UK) JHB Branch in South Africa and Yukihito Kikuchi, who is the manager for Asia and Overseas Business Division of Amada Co. Ltd., when they issued an invitation for me to visit in June. There was no hesitation in my acceptance.
Japan has been at the forefront of machine building for the metalworking industry, both in technology and numbers, for a long time. According to the Gardner Publications World Machine-Tool Output & Consumption Survey Japan has been the world’s number one producer of machine tools in terms of revenue, for close to 30 years. They only lost this position to China a couple of years ago. No mean feat considering that it was only in recent years that the country’s export orders started to overtake local consumption.
In this same survey Amada’s name regularly appears in the top four. For over 60-years, Amada has provided the fabrication industry with machine tools that set the standard for both performance and reliability. With a wide range of CNC fabricating machinery, Amada is an industry leader in providing solutions for punching, forming and laser cutting.
Today the 190 billion yen a year (US $1,9 billion) manufacturing company is engaged in the manufacture, sale, leasing, repair and maintenance of plate and sheet metal and press equipment, as well as the research and development of plate and sheet metal related software and ancillary services and equipment such as pallet changers, shuttle tables, material storage systems, automatic material loading and off-loading systems, sheet followers plus a host of accessories such as bending indicators, work followers, safety, back gauge and depth control devices. This segment’s major products include laser machines, numerical control turret punch presses (NCT), punch and laser combined processing machines, press brakes, bending robots, shearing, plate processing system lines, factory automation and software.
The metal machine tool segment is engaged in the manufacture and sale of machines for cutting and shaping metal blocks used to process precision components, tools and dies. The major products of this segment include sawing machines, shaped steel cutting machines, drilling machines, cutting blades, lathes and grinding machines. This range is mainly as a result of a business tie-up with Amada Machine Tool Co., a company that Amada would eventually purchase.
Amada also offers a wide selection of cutting fluids, lubricants and other consumables that are chlorine-free.
Markets served include aerospace, air conditioning, appliance, computers, electronics, farm equipment, gaming industry, medical equipment, metal office equipment, restaurant equipment, telecommunications and transportation.
On the innovation side the company offers the Virtual Prototype Simulation System (VPSS), a digital manufacturing system that lets you check all aspects of manufacturing on a computer before actually making the part. The VPSS system analyses the product or component in question, evaluates the company’s manufacturing process and then provides a targeted solution to simplifying the process. This is one of the best features offered by Amada as a company’s existing manufacturing line can be adapted to make it meet specific production requirements.
Other segments the company is engaged in is the leasing of real estate and the operation of golf courses, including its own golf course in the Mt Fuji area, located next to the company’s Asagiri Square Log House that is used for a variety of purposes including welcoming VIP customers and holding seminars.
When the company was founded by Isamu Amada in 1946, it mainly focused on the production of and tool processing of bandsaw blades. 1955 was the company’s first venture into manufacturing machines with the introduction of a range of band saw machines.
Other production machinery milestones include the year 1965 with the first press brake production. In 1971 Amada introduced the numerical controlled bridge frame turret punch press (NCT), a concept which stunned industry worldwide and became an epoch-making invention of excellence.
1972 saw the start of revolver punch press production, while in 1980 the company ventured into laser cutting machines, and in 1986 Amada started manufacturing its own range of press brake tooling.
Amada now has four manufacturing facilities in Japan as well facilities in the US, Austria, France and China. The global group is composed of 80 companies and has subsidiaries in 27 countries, employs 8 000 people worldwide with 4 000 of those located internationally.
In June this year the company acquired a 100 % stake in Miyachi Corp, a Japan-based company manufacturing machines for resistance welding, laser welding, laser marking and heat-seal-bonding as well as customised systems.
It didn’t take long to realise that Amada was not just about selling equipment. They understand, as I understand, that anyone can sell machinery or parts. Amada’s business objectives are to offer manufacturing solutions and not just products. They are committed to growing their clients’ businesses by introducing systems such as the VPSS and software solutions that enable Amada’s blanking and forming equipment to communicate offline, minimising upfront engineering time and maximizing equipment and material utilisation.
Besides the normal managerial and sales facilities, the Isehara headquarters comprises three other important facilities that help make the company successful. These include the Solution Center, the Machine Tool Plaza and the school of vocational training.
The Amada Solution Center is the place where Amada offer “proposals” to solve your issues. The Center has multiple functions. It acts as an exhibition and showroom site to show you various products that Amada offers, is a place of “process verification” through which the company personnel propose solutions and best practice options and methods to manufacture your component, before then allowing the verification of these proposals by processing and manufacturing the component. In other words customers can actually process their products on Amada machines and experience the differences compared with their traditional processing.
The Amada Machine Tool Plaza, which forms part of the Amada Solution Center, comprises an east and west wing and is equipped with the latest equipment available from Amada, all powered up to give live demonstrations.
In total these three buildings make up a space of close to 16 000m². Similar Solution Centers and Machine Tool Plazas, but not on the same scale, are located in the company’s main markets.
During my visit the company was in the process of holding its ‘Amada Innovation Fair 2013 Global’. The event was held over a period of 23 days in May and June with 6 000 visitors from 2,500 international and Japanese companies attending the event.
The new Lasbend AJ – the world’s only process-integrating all-in-one machine
Star of the exhibition was undoubtedly Amada’s new Lasbend AJ machine, which was launched at EuroBLECH last year and exhibited for the first time in Japan.
I had to climb up onto a platform to look down into the Lasbend AJ machine to really understand all that was going on inside. The machine, with 18 axes under control, is designed for quick production of prototypes as well as for the manufacture of individual parts and small runs within a self-contained production process. It combines a vertically oriented 2 kW fiber laser, a 10-axis rotary-bending unit and onboard four-station tapping setup, along with material-handling robots.
During operation, the fiber laser first cuts subpanels (as large as 1250 by 2500 mm, from material up to 4 mm thick) that are guided vertically through the machine for subsequent processing. The unique bending unit (200 kN capacity, 400 mm maximum bending length) with automatic tool changer boasts the newly developed BI-J angle-measurement system that measures the bending angle in real time and adjusts bending parameters as needed to ensure accuracy.
As all the parts needed for a particular product are processed from a single sheet, the machine allows for the processing of parts appropriate to order volume. The machine is specially designed for the process of v-mix, v-lot small parts through its sophisticated cutting-edge technology of sheet metal processing. The Lasbend-AJ is highly effective for the processing of small electronic components and so forth.
The four new technological innovations of the Lasbend-AJ are as follows:
1) Four processes of integration – laser cutting, forming, tapping and bending – in one machine: complete automation from blank to finished product in a small footprint
2) High accuracy bending using ‘swinging press’ mechanism: this allows for the safe and stable processing of small parts, using a handling robot
3) Energy saving and high speed cutting by fiber laser: lower costs are achieved through energy saving and high speed cutting; highly reflective materials such as copper and brass can also be processed
4) High productivity through continuous operation: flexible and continuous unmanned operation thanks to storage which can hold up to 80 sheets, and a tooling system stocker capable of holding a maximum of 37 sets. This allows for high productivity even with high-mix low-volume production
In addition to the new Lasbend AJ there was a 6-axis robot EG-6013AR electric servo machine on display, 12 types of bending machines, three types of punching machines, as well as a new product that’s compatible with the ID-tooling system. Visitors were also able to see four types of punch/laser combination machines, six types of laser machines including the new fiber laser machines FLC-3015AJ and ASF-H-3015, which are fitted with 2kW fiber laser oscillators and fiber laser welding machines.
The school of vocational training
The Amada Group established the Amada School of Vocational Training Corporation in 1978 to provide training to enhance the workers’ skills at the company and those at their 26 000 customer base. It is Japan’s first vocational training school dedicated to metal processing machines in Japan.
The Corporation was born out of the Amada School, which was established in 1974. Courses include machine operation, software and machine education, drawing, management courses and skills training and it employs 20 teachers on a full time basis.
Fabricating comes to life
Started in 1988, the Precision Sheet Metal Product Technology Fair, hosted by the Amada School, promotes the exchange of sheet metal technology and skills. The fair exhibits products that promote advanced precision sheet metal technique and sheet metal fabrication technologies, from both inside and outside of Japan, in one place and lets the participants observe, learn and evaluate the products.
Today the fair has several sponsors including Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun, The Japan Society for Technology of Plasticity, the Japan Vocational Ability Development Association, regional precision and sheet metal industrial associations including the Sheet Metal Industrial Association, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the Kanagawa Prefecture and Amada.
Entries are judged in six categories: sheet metal working parts, welding fabrication, machine assembling technology, formative arts fabrication, high-precision small parts and student participation.
Inter-linked to these buildings is the Forum246, a 12 floor comfortable and creative space where training sessions, seminars and other meetings can be held. Forum246 is complete with restaurants, a convention hall, two large training rooms and 16 small training rooms, as well as accommodation facilities for over 100 guests. In essence it is the company’s 20 000m² hotel – not many companies can boast about having a facility like the Forum246.
My visit also included a tour of Fujinomiya Works, which is situated at the base of Mt Fuji and is approximately two hours drive, by car, from the Isehara headquarters.
Fujinomiya Works was first opened in 1987 but has subsequently seen many changes and additions. 900 staff are located here and it comprises three factories, an innovation centre and a parts centre on a site area of 760 330m².
It is the flagship of the four manufacturing plants and is regarded as the “source of innovations” within the company. No mistaking that when you see and experience the manufacturing and production processes, the environmentally friendly, energy saving and high efficiency facility that was built on the concept of ‘circulation’. The company even has its own bus service running regularly between the various factories, a service that it would need considering the size of the land it occupies.
Fujinomiya Works uses the AM-HIT’S production control system, which is unique to Amada. The system tells the factory production status at a glance.
The first and second factories
The original first factory handles the processing, welding and coating of frames, processing of turrets, and even assembly of turret disc modules based on the “Table Manner” method, and the second factory produces punching machines and bending machines according to the booth-stand production system.
Laser machine dedicated factory
Amada expanded the Fujinomiya Works by adding a third factory in 2007. This factory is dedicated to the manufacture of laser machines, comprises 17 880m² under roof and produces up to 140 units a month of laser machines also using the booth-stand production system.
In March 2011 Amada and JDSU, a communications test and measurement, communications and commercial optical products manufacturer based in the US, announced plans to jointly develop a second generation suite of kilowatt class fiber lasers with up to 4 kilowatt output power. The lasers will be used in the Amada high-powered laser material processing system.
JDSU’s collaboration with Amada builds on the companies’ partnership for the first generation fiber laser, which was launched in 2011. Focused on improved cost, reduced size and enhanced beam quality, this next generation kilowatt fiber laser will enable Amada to further proliferate the technology into the materials processing market.
CO2 oscillators used by Amada are outsourced to Fanuc Ltd, a company based on the ‘other’ side of Mt Fuji.
Booth-stand production system
The booth-stand production system produces customer-satisfying products at best quality, cost and delivery levels. The machines are designed in modules based on the front-loading development concept. They are manufactured, using parts procured just in time at “booth stands”, where assembly takes place. With this system and an IT-based production control system, clean and digital manufacturing is realised. Each booth has an area of about 80m², and the supply of gas, air, water and electrical power, as well as the collection of dust from each booth, are centrally installed to maintain a clean environment.
Each booth has two to four team members, depending on the machine being assembled, with each member dedicated to his disciplines. All parts and components are digitally recorded and time frames have been set to complete the specific tasks. Process cards are used to monitor the stages.
The system was first introduced by Amada into its assembly plants in 2002 and virtual perfection was completed in 2007, although there is constant monitoring and adjustments made. With this system and an IT-based production control system, a clean and digital manufacturing environment is realised.
MAF production system
This is a large system used for processing a punching machine frame called a “bridge frame”. The system provides screw holes for fitting parts at high speed onto frames in sizes up to 2.5×5.5m maximum and in weights of 9 to 13 tons, in a continuous automatic operation during the night-time shift.
Turret disc processing line
This is a system used for processing the punching machine “turrets” at high speed and high accuracy. The system can process turrets at high accuracy since it processes them in the same state as they are fitted onto the punching machine.
Both these systems use digital technologies such as auto-programming and virtual simulation using 3D CAM and the monitoring using a web camera are contributing to increased safety at higher speed and with higher accuracy.
In 2007 Amada consolidated its entire R&D staff under one roof. The 240 development staff members, including engineers, are now housed at the Development Center, which is situated at Fujinomiya Works.
The Development Center has four “Innovation Rooms” where the latest design systems and video equipment have been installed so customers, partners and Amada’s development staff can use the rooms as a creation space for developing cutting-edge metalworking machines and systems. Modular designs created on 3D CAD allow them to verify the manufacturing from the design stage to high-quality modules.
All products are developed and manufactured based on the 3S+E concept (Safety, Security, Surroundings and Energy).
Amada have also developed a front-loading concept that is used on most of their equipment. As the company says the front-loading shortens time-to-market of new products and ensures lower production costs for both them and customers, with quicker manufacturing and shorter lead times.
The 11 840m² Parts Center, which was inaugurated in 2009, is also located at Fujinomiya Works. This core facility of Amada’s corporate service operation includes an information network linking the large historical service records with global inventories and demands. With a capacity of 1.3 million parts in 80 000 different codes, the company currently stocks close to 1 million parts with a minimum of 10 items per part, making it one of the largest parts centers in the machine tool industry.
To ensure prompt service delivery to customers totally automated picking carts with IC tags have been adopted to eliminate wrong parts delivery. The Parts Center was established with the aim of providing a global, 24 hour parts supply operation. The company’s target is 98% shipment within one day domestically and two days for international use.
Technological advances in the sheet metal work industry in the late twentieth century revolutionised the efficiency and precision with which sheet metal products were fabricated. These advances centered in large part on improving tools, dies, and other equipment, relying more extensively on automated machinery and embracing the benefits of the computer, new software, and the internet. The need to cut costs and increase equipment durability with quicker manufacturing and shorter lead times while not losing quality is a demand, rather than a request, from customers.
Equally important though, is the way today’s faster, more powerful machines utilise and integrate with the other systems in their environment. After visiting Amada Co. Ltd in Japan I can certainly say that the company is not just keeping pace, it is an innovator in this field.
To Rick Ferreira and his team at Amada (UK) JHB Branch in South Africa and Yukihito Kikuchi, who is the manager for Asia and Overseas Business Division of Amada Co. Ltd, looking after South Africa, for arranging my visit.
For further details contact Amada (UK) JHB Branch on TEL: 011 453 5459 or visit www.amada.co.jp
My visit also included a tour of Fujinomiya Works, which is situated at the base of Mt Fuji and is approximately two hours drive, by car, from the Amada Isehara headquarters
Rick Ferreira of Amada (UK) JHB Branch, President and CEO Mitsuo Okamato, Managing Director Kotaro Shibata and Yukihito Kikuchi, all of Amada Co. Ltd. Japan
The original first factory handles the processing, welding and coating of frames, processing of turrets, and even assembly of turret disc modules. In this picture an automatic machining cell has been set up for machining of frames using an eight-pallet system. The cell is 40 metres in length
The company also makes extensive use of large Okuma CNC milling and machining centres for processing frames
Frames of press brakes in the production line
The impressive entrance to the Fujinomiya Works
An overhead view of Fujinomiya Works, which was first opened in 1987 but has subsequently seen many changes and additions. 900 staff are located here and it comprises three factories, an innovation centre and a parts centre on a site area of 760 330m²
Amada expanded the Fujinomiya Works by adding a third factory in 2007. This factory is dedicated to the manufacture of laser machines, comprises 17 880m² under roof and produces up to 140 units a month of laser machines also using the booth-stand production system
The booth-stand production system produces customer-satisfying products at best quality, cost and delivery levels. The machines are designed in modules based on the front-loading development concept. They are manufactured, using parts procured just in time at “booth stands”, where assembly takes place. With this system and an IT-based production control system, clean and digital manufacturing is realised. Each booth has an area of about 80m², and the supply of gas, air, water and electrical power, as well as the collection of dust from each booth, are centrally installed to maintain a clean environment
Each booth has two to four team members, depending on the machine being assembled, with each member dedicated to his disciplines. All parts and components are digitally recorded and time frames have been set to complete the specific tasks. Process cards are used to monitor the stages
The 11 840m² Parts Center, which was inaugurated in 2009, is also located at Fujinomiya Works. This core facility of Amada’s corporate service operation includes an information network linking the large historical service records with global inventories and demands. With a capacity of 1.3 million parts in 80 000 different codes, the company currently stocks close to 1 million parts with a minimum of 10 items per part, making it one of the largest parts centers in the machine tool industry
The Amada Group established the Amada School of Vocational Training Corporation in 1978 to provide training to enhance the workers’ skills at the company and those at their 26 000 customer base. It is Japan’s first vocational training school dedicated to metal processing machines in Japan. The Corporation was born out of the Amada School, which was established in 1974. Courses include machine operation, software and machine education, drawing, management courses and skills training and it employs 20 teachers on a full time basis
My trip included a visit to Amada customer Akiyama Equipment, a precision sheet metal processing company manufacturing OEM components and medical equipment. Included in the equipment used by the company is an Amada EML-3510NT punch laser combination machine and an Amada Astro 100NT robotic press brake with an automatic loading and unloading facility, which is shown in the picture