KIRIU, the Group of “Ikki Seisan” Manufacturing Professionals
Corporate Communications Staff Explores the World
Mass Media Relations Team, Corporate Communications DepartmentMasaaki Nakamura
Joined Sumitomo Corporation in 2014. As a member of the Mass Media Relations Team at the Corporate Communications Department, I am in charge of the Transportation & Construction Systems Business Unit, the Mineral Resources, Energy, Chemical & Electronics Business Unit, Finance, Accounting, and Risk Management, and Asia and Oceania. Although I am into golf, I am feeling a limit in my own way and wondering if I should take a golf lesson. As I enjoyed working in Vietnam as a trainee, I always recommend my friends to travel to Vietnam.
This year marks 100th anniversary of Sumitomo Corporation. According to one estimate, only about 6% of Japanese companies have lasted 10 years, and very few companies have been in existence for 100 years or longer. In the Sumitomo Corporation Group, one group of manufacturing professionals boasts a longer history than even that of Sumitomo Corporation. KIRIU CORPORATION was founded in 1906 and is based in Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture. The company is a supplier that specializes in casting and machining and plays a primary role in the automotive parts business of the Sumitomo Corporation Group.
I made a visit to KIRIU on a sunny day during July 2019 and set foot in the Ashikaga Plant.
How Sumitomo Corporation met KIRIU
Sumitomo Corporation invested in KIRIU in July 2004 because of KIRIU’s overwhelming technology, which allowed the very efficient manufacturing of high-quality products. Reportedly, the investment by a trading and investment company, who seldom own goods, in an automotive parts manufacturer became a hot topic in the industry. With a focus on front-line manufacturing, KIRIU had unrivaled technologies. Sumitomo Corporation was taking on a new challenge by investing in new business to get ahead of the trends. The aspirations of the two companies matched, and they joined forces.
KIRIU initially manufactured and sold textile preparatory machines before starting to manufacture machine tools. It currently manufactures automotive parts. The global networks of the Sumitomo Corporation Group have helped KIRIU accelerate its operations outside Japan, increasing its plants to four in Japan and nine outside the country. With Sumitomo Corporation expanding KIRIU’s customer base by using its worldwide networks, KIRIU has been able to focus on improving its production technology and developing new products. Consequently, sales of the KIRIU Group have almost doubled over a period of 15 years.
KIRIU has succeeded in dramatically increasing its plants outside Japan during those 15 years because it uses common production equipment and processes around the globe. Its processing lines for its main products, brake discs and drums, use equipment and jigs for which design specifications are unified to ensure that the production lines are uniform and homogenized in pursuit of operability, workability, and security. KIRIU is cultivating a sense of unity throughout the entire company, including its plants outside Japan, by establishing an internal system to report cases where issues at plants were solved and recognize that carried out excellent initiatives. KIRIU is growing globally.
Ikki Seisan mindset, a passion for manufacturing
KIRIU is characterized by Ikki Seisan. Literally meaning “completing production processes all at once,” Ikki Seisan refers to an effective production system that covers everything from planning and design to production and shipment, including in-house manufacturing of molds and processing equipment, and uncompromisingly eliminates waste. KIRIU is one of the few manufacturers that develop production processes in-house. Another strength of KIRIU is its ability to provide carmakers with proposals based on its unique design and development capability, which is one of the best in the industry. Currently, KIRIU is supplying brake discs and brake drums to almost all passenger car manufacturers in Japan.
I was surprised by the fact that right now KIRIU’s parts can be found in one out of every 10 cars in the world. The figure implies that KIRIU’s high-level technologies are appreciated in the industry and that KIRIU is indispensable to today’s motorized society.
I also found it interesting that the Ashikaga Plant dared to hang on to certain analog elements. While the production status of both the pre-process of casting and the post-process of machining can be checked with monitors, the planned production volume for machining is written by hand on a whiteboard. As persons in charge of processes come to check the whiteboard, they talk to each other, which promotes communication.
KIRIU values safety above all else. What is to be most avoided at any production plant is an occupational accident. KIRIU has set up an Anzen Dojo (*) in a corner of its plant. Employees, both new and experienced, take training programs regularly to develop their sensitivity to danger. Additionally, executives conduct regular plant diagnoses to see if there are any problems with the machines and if work is carried out based on the rules.
*Anzen Dojo: A facility where employees can learn the importance of safe work and receive sensory education to develop their sensitivity to danger.
Local-oriented to create a future with the local community
KIRIU places importance on its relationship with and contribution to the local community. KIRIU voluntarily participates in a monthly cleanup of neighboring roads and an annual cleanup of the Watarase River, and co-sponsors local fireworks events and festivals. Since 2019, it has also sponsored Utsunomiya Brex, a Tochigi-based professional basketball team playing in the B.LEAGUE, to revitalize the local community. KIRIU also exchanges opinions with local people on a regular basis.
The automotive industry is undergoing a massive, once-in-a-century change, which includes developments like MaaS and autonomous driving. Brakes, which are responsible for the function of stopping safely, will continue to be indispensable parts for automobiles and will require high-level technologies. The technologies and experience in manufacturing that KIRIU has acquired over a century are big advantages. I have no doubt that KIRIU will continue to support vehicle safety.
(Bonus) Why is KIRIU based in Ashikaga?
Some readers may wonder why KIRIU is based in Ashikaga City in Tochigi Prefecture, and not in Kiriu City in Gunma Prefecture, as the name suggests. In fact, KIRIU used to have its head office and plant (machine division) in Kiriu, Gunma, and another plant (parts division) in Ashikaga, Tochigi. Later, the head office and the plants were consolidated and relocated to Ashikaga. That is why it is named “KIRIU” but located in Ashikaga.
I heard the history from Yuki Sekine, a third-year employee seconded to KIRIU’s head office to work on the front line. He and three other Sumitomo Corporation employees are told me about their passion for their work on-site. “While based locally, KIRIU operates its business globally,” says Sekine. “It is valuable to have a chance to work on the front lines of its business. From here, I would like to contribute to the further growth of KIRIU and Sumitomo Corporation.” I look forward to witnessing his further development.
- Transportation ＆ Construction Systems Business