Site: Kubota Corporation Hirakata Plant 1-1 Nakamiya Oike 1-chome Hirakata Osaka 573, Japan Date Visited: January 10, 1996 WTEC Attendees: D. Apelian (report author), D. Bertram, G. Holdridge Hosts: Akira Morishima, General Manager, Hirakata Plant Ryutaro Motoki, Manager, New Materials Development & Technology Dept. Hiroshi Yamaguchi, New Materials Development & Technology Dept. Kazuyuki Inui, Section Manager, New Materials Development & Tech. Dept. Jiro Tsuchida, Section Manager, New Materials Development & Tech. Dept. Takahiro Kaba, Section Mgr., New Materials Development & Tech. Dept. Jun Funakoshi, Metallurgist, New Materials Development & Tech. Dept. Hideo Fujita, Metallurgist, New Materials Development & Tech. Dept. Masayuki Teraoka, Section Manager, Steel Castings Manufacturing Dept.
Kubota Corp. is a publicly held corporation. Its corporate motto for the 21st century is "technology for preserving the earth." As a corporation, Kubota views environmental issues as being very important for the future, and has shaped its corporate strategy to address many environmental concerns. In fact, its corporate philosophy is articulated in another slogan: "Love the Earth More." The various enterprises of the Kubota Corp. are related to soil, water, food, and other vital needs of society, and are connected with key technologies and products that support the foundations of modern human life. The management at Kubota firmly believes that materials is a basic industry, and the company is continuing to invest in materials research and development because of the potential for growing new business. Kubota has a 106-year-old history with the casting industry. The main sectors of the corporation are in agriculture, water supply, pumps, housing, and the environment. Specifically, the divisions are farm and industrial machinery, pipe and fluid systems, the environmental control plant, housing materials and utilities, and new materials. Kubota Corp. has a total of 16,000 employees and $7.8 billion of sales per year (1995 figures). The head offices are in Osaka and Tokyo. There are 20 plants throughout Japan as well as in overseas offices. The farm and industrial machinery division contributes 45% of the sales whereas the pipe and fluid systems division (including ductile iron pipes, pumps, etc.) accounts for 30% of sales.
The Hirakata plant, which the WTEC team visited, is one of the major plants of Kubota Corp. It is housed on 300,000 m2. It is the largest Kubota plant, and is responsible for generating $1 billion in sales per year. The Hirakata plant is responsible for about 13% of the sales of the corporation. There are 1,550 employees, and the main products of the plant are pumps, valves, construction machinery, and steel castings for the construction, chemical, nuclear, and steel industries. The Hirakata plant is a first-class operation and is ISO 9001-qualified for the manufacture of pumps and valves and ISO 9002-qualified for steel castings. Construction machinery is in the process of applying for ISO 9001. The plant is impressive in size and scale. The organization we witnessed, the New Materials Department, is enviable, and the presentations were well rehearsed and organized. A special booklet with all of the handouts was prepared for each of the WTEC team members. The managers are very hospitable, and they are very interested in exploring cooperative relationships with U.S. corporations and technologists.
Mr. Motoki, who is the head of the New Materials Department, indicated that there are 30 employees in the department. They have two major initiatives within the materials group: process technologies and materials technologies. The process technologies deal with hot isostatic pressing (HIP) and cold isostatic pressing (CIP). The materials technologies deal with issues such as corrosion resistance, heat resistance, and creating new businesses. A very important point which should be noted is that the new materials group is not solely an R&D department; it also is involved in the manufacturing side of the business as well as marketing, sales, and business development. In other words, the whole group is an integrated unit creating the business, addressing the needs of the customers, and directing technology to those needs. This is perhaps embodied in the name of the department -- i.e., development and technology versus research and development.
With respect to Kubota as a whole, the New Materials Department is a small group. 1995 sales for the new materials group were $8 million (vs. $7.8 billion for the entire company). The Materials Development Group has a target of $80 million in sales to be reached by 2000. The presentation Kubota staff made to the WTEC team and the subsequent discussions focused on the materials development and steel casting departments. What follows are some of the salient points of Kubota's developments in new materials:
The WTEC team also visited Kubota's steel casting operations at Hirakata. Mr. Teraoka was the guide and host. There are four foundries, three dedicated iron foundries and one steel. These produce about 4,000 metric tons of cast products/month; and over 90% of the steel output is centrifugally cast. Kubota uses horizontal centrifugal casters, maximum length of the sand mold being 15 m and casting weight being 60 tons. The smallest centrifugally cast material this plant can make is a minimum bore diameter of 50 mm. Centrifugal casting is done either using metal molds or sand molds. Most of the centrifugal castings are produced in a metal mold although a few are made with sand molds. The Hirakata plant also produces static castings for a variety of industrial fields, petrochemical, oil and gas, steel, civil engineering, and electric power plants. One of the shops the WTEC team toured was labeled "Nuclear Shop." It has evidently been specially qualified to produce tubular products for critical nuclear power plant applications. We saw complete assemblies (e.g., pump housings, pipe assemblies with bolt flanges) being welded together from cast parts. The mold technologies which are used are furan resin molding, alkali phenol, metal molding, lost pattern molding, and vacuum molding. The lost pattern mold is a Kubota proprietary process where naphthalene is used as a pattern to make the shell. The process is being used to manufacture turbine blades. The operation was quite impressive: WTEC team members witnessed gigantic pieces being cast for paper mills and for the construction industry. One of our hosts noted that orders from the construction industry had risen in the past year partly as a result of reconstruction work from the Kobe earthquake.