Exclusive Interview «Switzerland is Unique»
Nakamura-Tome is the Porsche of machine tools. In an exclusive interview for SMM, S. Nakamura, Senior Executive Director of Nakamura-Tome, says what he thinks of the Swiss manufacturing industry.
SMM: You have visited several Swiss manufacturing companies recently. What are your impressions?
Shogo Nakamura, Senior Executive Director Nakamura-Tome: Based on the impressions I have gained through our partners Walter Meier (Fertigungslösungen) AG and from visiting several Swiss clients, I would describe Switzerland as a very diversified location for manufacturing technology. For one thing, many companies have specialized in the production of smaller batch sizes, but also produce large series. In addition, there are a number of companies that process both large and small series. Moreover, the product life cycle has become shorter in all segments. In the watch industry in particular, one of Switzerland’s core industries, changes of models every one to three years have become normal. Therefore the demand for flexible fully automated manufacturing solutions will increase.
You have closely cooperated with Walter Meier for 33 years. What in your opinion do Japan and Switzerland as manufacturing locations have in common?
S. Nakamura: I think that the high «craftsmanship», as we call it in Japan, is one of the pillars of high-grade precision manufacturing in both countries. Both countries have highly-qualified employees who have perfectly mastered production with fully digitalized and interlinked manufacturing islands. I think, that topics such as qualifications transfer and the efficient application of human resources and, last but not least, the handling of automation in modern small serial production, are constant challenges and incentives both in Switzerland and in Japan.
What strengths do you see in Swiss companies?
S. Nakamura: Their strengths in the turning range certainly lie in automated manufacturing from the bar. The expertise of specialists who can confidently program and operate multi-axle machines such as 2 or 3-turret machines is remarkable. That is anything other than self-evident. With this, Switzerland is in the lead. Apart from that, Swiss companies almost continuously use CAM systems to be able to program in parallel and thus reduce the times when machinery is idle.
Where do the differences between Japan and Switzerland lie?
S. Nakamura: That is not easy to say. I think the differences between Japan and Switzerland are relatively firmly founded in the industrial branches. In Japan, the automobile industry is a driving force of production. Automobile production traditionally involves large series and the optimization of serial production. Process optimization is being driven to perfection, and some production lines have special machines tailored to a specific spectrum of parts. The focus is on productivity, less on flexibility. Nevertheless, in Japan too we see an increasing trend towards greater flexibility. More multi-tasking machines are being used in the automotive industry. Another reason is that the series are becoming smaller and processes have to be adjusted during production. But there are also similarities with production technology, because both in Switzerland and in Japan we are concerned with the automation of manufacturing processes without a loss of flexibility.
Mr. Nakamura, your father became general manager of Nakamura-Tome in 1988. What developments in the machine tool sector over the past 30 years would you highlight?
S. Nakamura: For almost forty years we have employed the multitask concept of turning and milling centres, and are trying to boost their acceptance on the market. The key determining factor with multitask machines is process integration. When the strengths of multitask machines are fully exploited, they are some of the most efficient machine tools for complex components, from individual parts manufacture to large serial production.
Nakamura-Tome is regarded as a technological pioneer of turning and milling centre with counterspindle for complete processing. What is the importance of complex turning and milling centres in modern manufacturing?
S. Nakamura: In my opinion, process integration is crucial. After all, due to our tradition, our machines are excellently suited to the integration of several production processes. An example: A client needs two turning machines and two processing centres in order to manufacture a turned-milled part. The same part can be produced on a single Nakamura-Tome multitasking machine. That gives the advantage of higher productivity due to the reduced effort of adjustment, and the parts logistics between the turning and milling machine disappears. Moreover, there is much less need for transformation. The less transformation, the greater the parts precision. In the end, less space is required for machines. All this together boosts productivity and quality and, ultimately, reduces costs.
How flexible are multitask machines?
S. Nakamura: Generally, they are highly flexible. On the other hand, they are highly productive. They are suitable for the manufacture of a broad range of workpieces. They are excellently designed for the Swiss market, regardless of whether batches are large or small or whether a simple turned-milled part or a complex component is being made. Everything can be made.
This is an abridged version of the interview. The complete interview can be read here.