TOKYO -- Sumitomo Heavy Industries will switch to assembly line manufacturing at a domestic factory to speed up production of small injection molding machines by 40% and reduce required manpower by 10%.
The company currently uses cellular manufacturing to construct these machines, which are used to mold smartphone cases and other small plastic components. The Japanese heavy machinery maker plans to invest several hundred million yen (100 million yen equals $975,600) to install conveyor belts and renovate its Chiba plant in order to begin line production in fiscal 2017.
Injection molding machines and machine tools are made to custom specifications, so they typically are assembled via cellular manufacturing, where small teams of workers take responsibility for the complete assembly of individual machines.
In line production, workers at various stations assemble different parts onto the same product as it moves at a fixed speed on a conveyor belt.
Time management is more rigorous with line production, so Sumitomo Heavy calculates that it will be able to complete the assembly of individual injection molding machines in three days, down from the five days needed at present. The company plans to cut the number of assembly workers by more than 10% to around 210 and reassign the freed-up employees to different duties.
Sumitomo Heavy battles for the top domestic market share against Fanuc, but it faces weaker demand for small injection molding machines, the company's strong suit, and fierce competition with makers in China. The world's largest maker, China's Haitian International Holdings, assembles 27,000 units a year, nearly 10 times the domestic output of Sumitomo Heavy.