Utilizing an original, round-the-clock system to create new value through the ultimate collaborationHILLTOP Co.,Ltd
Headquartered in Kyoto, Hilltop is a long-established metalworking manufacturer which continues to make remarkable progress in both Japan and Silicon Valley, USA by digitizing craftsmanship and utilizing an original system that enables round-the-clock operation. We talked with Mr. Masahiro Shizumoto, the current Tokyo branch president who joined the company 38 years ago when the company turned to the data-driven standardization of operations, and has continued to support the company's development.
Achieving quick delivery and high accuracy with fully automated operation
When people are involved in the manufacturing workflow, rest is essential. Normally, manufacturing must be stopped while this person is resting. Moreover, if the work requires “craftsmanship” that only a certain person can perform, the situation becomes more dire. The company's original Hilltop System is the ultimate system to solve the above-mentioned challenges of many modern manufacturing SMEs.
"With the Hilltop System, you can operate production equipment 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with just the required action on your PC. In addition, simulations can be performed on the system without using a real machine, further shortening delivery times. Moreover, the basis of this system is segmentizing craftsmen's skills and compiling them into a database over 30 years, so I am confident in the completion precision."
The company also opened a site in Silicon Valley, USA where the world's most advanced companies gather. The high speed and accuracy are attested by the fact that production requests arrive almost every day from renowned organizations and companies such as NASA and Tesla.
In addition, modern manufacturing companies faced with a shortage of human resources and handed down skills cannot ignore the "digitalization of craftsmanship." Moreover, the Hilltop System can be linked to any manufacturing machine. The company will potentially also collaborate with manufacturing companies in production sharing projects that effectively utilize machines that operating at a reduced rate in slack periods.
Machining simulation on a PC using the Hilltop System
A dream that began more than 30 years ago
The construction of the Hilltop System dates back to 1983 in the period of high economic growth.
"At that time, metalworkers were able to sell as much as they could make, but intellectual labor was only needed to create the initial prototype. All subsequent mass production is routines. Oily and covered in soot from head to toe, I mused with the current vice president Shosaku Yamamoto about replacing more of the tasks with intellectual labor so that we wouldn't have to do this our whole lives."
Dreams should be achieved, not talked about. The company acted promptly. The company started with visualizing daily tasks including craftsmanship.
"It's inefficient to redo everything from beginning to end for the same or similar orders. So, first of all, we started recording the details of each order in detail. In addition, the differences in the approaches of craftsmen such as the type of machine used for each machining pattern, the number of revolutions, and the location on the metal where the blade is applied are recorded. We explored and standardized the most efficient way to make each product. There were no PCs at the time, so we wrote them all in a notebook."
Unusual for ironworks at the time, the company hired systems engineers and moved ahead with developing its own original system. In 1991, production with the Hilltop System started. Since then we have continued to digitize new information on craftsmanship techniques and upgrade the system in line with the progress of IT and machinery.
"When we tried to break away from mass production, our manufacturing friends wondered why we would stop doing something profitable. But we wanted to focus on the meaning and reward of working in the manufacturing industry rather than making money. We still have that feeling. We want to lift up the industry as a whole and increase its appeal for young children."
We want to collaborate with visionary companies
The company has been working on accelerating the development and speed of the industry as a whole by welcoming other companies on tours and publicizing its own technology and operations. One way to more aggressively pursue this approach is the sharing projects mentioned earlier.
The Hilltop System is not for sale, but we are already in the verification phase for the creation of a sharing project that connects the system with machines from another company's factory, and we operate the machines. If this project gets off the ground, I expect both improved productivity from optimizing machine use, and also help in preventing the loss of skills that comes from not training the next generation."
The company has outlined the outlook for the sharing project as follows:
"The Hilltop System can be connected to remote factories. Moving forward we are considering global expansion. Operating factories and machinery around the world would make Hilltop quality the global standard."
Apart from sharing, the company is also looking for partner companies to undertake mass production.
"Our company concept is to not do the same thing twice, so we are not going to do mass production. However, since customers do ask for mass production, we are always looking for partner companies to undertake this part."
So what do they look for in these partner companies? When we asked Mr. Shizumoto that, he told us about his enthusiastic ideas that remain unchanged from 30 years ago.
"We want to collaborate with other visionary companies. And we want to focus on person-to-person encounters rather than those between companies. We believe that each person's individuality is the driving force for creating new businesses and creating new value, whether it be employees or outsiders. We really want to together create new value that will raise the level of the manufacturing industry."
Subject of interview = Masahiro Shizumoto, Tokyo Branch President
Established in 1980 as Yamamoto Seiko Co., Ltd. The heart of the company is aluminum processing, covering all fields such as space, robotics, medicine, and biotechnology. The profit margin is more than 20%, far exceeding the average of ironworks. Customers include major domestic construction companies, the US Walt Disney Company, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and many other world-leading companies.
Coverage date September 26, 2019