Aiming for mold-less manufacturing with metal 3D printers and digital warehouse servicesIFUKUSEIMITSU Co.,Ltd
IFUKUSEIMITSU Co.,Ltd achieves "mold-less manufacturing" by combining advanced cutting technology that has been refined for half a century with digital data such as dies and metal 3D printers. The company is also working to improve productivity by converting its own factory into a digital factory. We spoke with Motohiko Ifuku, President and CEO of IFUKUSEIMITSU.
Fusion of metal 3D printer molding technology and cutting technology
SME manufacturers are burdened by the cost of storing and maintaining extremely small lots of molds that are used only once every few years and old molds that are held in case of emergency. IFUKUSEIMITSU has created a "Digital Warehouse Service" (patent pending) that converts such molds and products into 3D data and prepares them when necessary by using cutting technology and 3D printers—in other words, "mold-less manufacturing."
Metal 3D printers do not require molds, and have the advantage of one-stop manufacturing for modeled objects that are difficult to create by cutting or that require many steps. However, at present, metal 3D printers are inferior to cutting technology in terms of modeling technology and precision. This is where IFUKUSEIMITSU's metal processing technology is useful.
"There are many 3D printer service companies that entrust their customers with finishing products produced by 3D printers. However, IFUKUSEIMITSU offers finished products that can be used immediately. In addition to responding to detailed requests such as pin drilling and surface processing, our company assists our customers in with tasks such as providing materials to obtain certification and approval required in each industry, and disclosing design procedures."
Sake cup manufactured using a metal 3D printer. The outside reproduces the soft shape of bamboo, while the inside is expressed as a complex structure that is decorated in the traditional Japanese seigaiha wave pattern.
Enables storage and reproduction of 3D data such as molds
In the "Digital Warehouse Service", 3D data is created by scanning the objects or molds that you want to model, or by generating data from technical drawings." In addition to storage without modification, IFUKUSEIMITSU also offers "reverse engineering".
"After adjusting the acquired 3D data at our company, we make a prototype of the model using a 3D printer and conduct a practical test. We then save data that has been approved by the customer. We can start manufacturing with this data from a single unit. We will also share the data with customers to enable fast response and at a low cost; for example, when manufacturing overseas."
IFUKUSEIMITSU is currently considering a system in which the "Digital Warehouse Service" can still be used 50 or 100 years in the future. In cooperation with "Yamamoto Metal Technos Co., Ltd.", the company is jointly considering ways to simplify the evaluation method of modeled objects that are manufactured using metal 3D printers.
Recapturing the status of a manufacturing superpower by incorporating new things
The efficient utilization of digital data by IFUKUSEIMITSU also extends to the operation of its own factories.
"All the machine tools and other equipment in our factories have been networked so that the operating status can be monitored in real time. Moreover, we provide iPads to all of our employees. Easily manage processes, check the status of progress, and ascertain employee schedules. The next concept that we are considering is using RFID* tags to manage products. In this way, we are focusing on utilizing data that can be obtained without major infrastructure investment."
IFUKUSEIMITSU continues to propose a series of next-generation manufacturing methods by actively incorporating new tools while using the advanced technologies it has cultivated as its core. The goal of actively disclosing information (for example, accepting factory tours) is for Japan to recapture its status as a manufacturing superpower.
"I often visit advanced countries such as Germany and the United States to learn about 3D printers. However, even after 10 years, I believe that it will be difficult to provide the current high level of Japanese processing technology through highly-experienced factories overseas. However, we can reverse this prognosis by continuing to combine the latest information and tools from overseas. Prior to beginning full-scale competition with foreign companies, I would like to strengthen cooperation while sharing information with Japanese companies."
* Abbreviation for Radio Frequency Identifier. A system in which electronic information such as the name and manufacturing date is entered, an "RF tag" is attached to the product, and the information is read by a "reader/ writer".
Subject of Interview = Motohiko Ifuku, President and CEO
"Ifuku Kosakusho", the predecessor to the current IFUKUSEIMITSU Co.,Ltd, was established in 1970. Since then, the company has used a wide variety of processing and inspection equipment to manufacture prototypes and mass-produced products, to design and manufacture jigs and molds, to develop construction methods for difficult-to-process materials, and to operate a product measurement business. In 2007, the company received the Gold Prize at "the 4th Cutting Dream Processing Awards". In 2017, the Governor of Hyogo Prefecture certified the company as a "Management Innovation" business. In 2018, it was certified as a "Hyogo Expected Growth Corporation".
Coverage date February 18, 2020
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