Scientific workplace

The kind of work, employee engineers engaged in research centers and factories are hard to picture. Hence, we visited various firms to investigate. “Scientific workplace” varies according to different types of jobs and workshops. Please enjoy the tour of distinctive staffs working in diverse environments.

The Development of Advanced Machine Tools That Are Geared Towards Craftsmanship of the Future Such as the Metal 3D Printer Vol.68 Sodick Co., Ltd.

TODAY'S COMPANY

Sodick Advanced Research Center

There are many kinds of industrial goods around us. Machine tools are necessary in order to manufacture such goods. The term machine tools covers a lot of things. Tools include, Wire-cut Electrical Discharge Machine (EDM) (a machine that cuts metal by using discharge phenomenon caused by using wire as an electrode), High Speed Milling Center (machining center: a machining tool that manages specialized processing such as milling, boring, drilling, and tapping just in one machine), Injection Molding Machine (a machine that processes thermoplastic resin such as plastic), Food Machines, as well as the Metal 3D Printers that are attracting attention recently. Sodick develops and provides such machine tools that are necessary for factories that produces things both nationally and internationally. There is an original technical development capability that has obtained the validation of many industries including the automobile and electronics industries. The technology that is used in most of the company’s machines is linear motor technology. One of the advantages of using this technology is that you can actualize high efficiency and high precision processing. Not only that but the maintenance of the machine is made easier including space-saving by decreasing the replacement frequency of parts and simplifying the structure of the machines. Sodick aggressively incorporates advanced technology, “souzou (so)” creates, “jikkou (di)” practices, and “kurou/kokufuku (ck)” overcomes difficulties, which is the business creed and origin of the company name, and combines the experience and knowhow cultivated since its establishment. By doing so, Sodick has been continuing to grow as a company that provides better and improved products for their clients. This issue focuses on Sodick Advanced Research Center that tackles research about the up-and-coming, next generation technology.

Developing an Advanced System That Actualizes High Speed, High Precision, and Low Price

The Sodick Headquarters, or in other words the Advanced Research Center is located in Tsuzuki Ward, Yokohama City in Kanagawa Prefecture. The closest station is “Nakamachidai Station” on the Yokohama Municipal Subway. If you walk for around seven minutes along the railroad tracks, you will get to the entrance of the Headquarters. The neighborhood around the place was a quiet residential area with houses and apartment buildings surrounding the office.

The Advanced Research Center, as the name implies, is the base where the technological development for the next generation software and hardware is conducted. At Sodick, where globalization was implemented and prioritized early on, their research development system is also global. The development of the most advanced NC (numerical) control unit takes place across three bases, Sodick Shanghai, China established in 1991, Sodick America in Silicon Valley established in 2000, and Japan’s Advanced Research Center, as well as under the cooperation of the research development divisions of each department.

Mr. Yasushi Hayashi, the group manager of the 1G Advanced Research Center and Mr. Daiki Hamada from the same group introduced us to the workplace of the Advanced Research Center. The photo shows the workspace of the Advanced Research Center.

“At the Advanced Research Center, we do research and development of new technology that has not been introduced yet, that will come handy in the company’s future. There are five groups and the 1G group that I am managing is mainly responsible for the development of control systems such as motion controllers. Since our division works on the development of technology that has not been introduced yet, we do not have specific assignments or tasks like, ‘We want this machine to be able to be controlled a certain way,” handed to us. Such product development is done at the development division under each department. At our division, we focus on the development of more abstract and broad goals. For example, trying to achieve ways to ‘increase the speed,’ increase precision,’ and ‘bring down the cost.’ This can be done, say, by changing the electrical structure, or changing the movement itself. We develop by starting from nothing, coming in and examining through multiple perspectives.” (Mr. Hayashi)

Motion controllers are devices loaded in Sodick’s machine tools that control linear motors. At the company, they use linear motor technology when moving axes so that tasks can be done smoothly and quickly. The linear motor and the motion controller is independently developed in house by the company.

On the other hand, Mr. Hamada is responsible for the function development of Wire-cut EDMs.

“I tackle function development by talking to my team members, and thinking about what kind of functions to add in order to manufacture and provide a product that our clients will be happy with.” (Mr. Hamada)

“Control systems that I produced are implemented in most of the machine tools.” (Mr. Hayashi)

The photo shows the Metal 3D Printer “OPM250L.” This machine spreads metal powder evenly using a re-coating process and a laser processing operation scans and melts the powder multiple times, cutting with a rotating machining tool (High Speed Milling). By repeating this process and layering, it can create the workpiece. Of course, the OPM250L also adopts linear motor technology. The OPM250L has been awarded three awards. The “2015 Good Design Award” by the Japan Institute of Design Promotion, and two awards “2014 Main Award for Best 10 New Product Awards” as well as “45th Nippon Brand Prize for Machine Industry Design Award” sponsored by the Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun. The Best 10 New Product Awards is an organization that was established with the goal of increasing the overall technological level in Japan and creating an incentive for development of innovative and outstanding products. The Machine Industry Design Award has the objective to develop and promote the design of industrial products. The Good Design Award is awarded to “good designs” that help to make society and life better. Looking at these awards, it is evident that the company’s technology and performance is rated highly.

This is Sodick’s main model, the Precision Wire-cut EDM “AP250L,” that uses a linear motor drive. The key feature of this machine is that there is no decline in machine accuracy, which makes it different from the Wire-cut EDM that have existed before, that uses the ball screw drive method. This model has a 10 year warranty for its machine accuracy.

"Most of the day is spent in this laboratory,” says Mr. Hayashi.

In the laboratory, there are individual work desks and there are personal computers set up as well.

“Here we do programming, analyze test results, and put together documents and materials.” (Mr. Hayashi)

Here they are checking if the program they created is working the right way by using the circuit board. (The photo shows Mr. Hamada)

“We also create the electronic circuit board that we use for tests. We analyze, for example, the number of rotation times if it is a control program for a motor by operating it on a bare circuit. Once we coordinate and adjust it here, we can try operating it in an actual machine.” (Mr. Hayashi)

This is a scene from when they are creating a circuit board using soldering iron.

"At our company, when we are manufacturing products, we first buy parts and components from specialized manufacturers and create the products. After that, we start to self-manufacture main components, catering to the needs of the costs and functions demanded by our clients. And this is why we will come upon jobs that require us to do hands-on work such as making this circuit board. There are people who are cut out to create circuit boards, so people who are good at it or like creating it will usually do the job a lot of the times.” (Mr. Hayashi)

"I am not so good at it yet, so I get one of my group members to do it for me sometimes, when it is necessary.” (Mr. Hamada)

This photo shows Mr. Hayashi using the control board to make sure that the control program that was manufactured and loaded in the machine works and operates correctly.

“The deceleration control program is what is hard out of the control program. By this we mean the deceleration and acceleration. For example, when you're on a car and the car smoothly starts to move and is able to stop smoothly, the people in the car will feel safe. Similarly, how smoothly the machine is able to decelerate and accelerate becomes extremely crucial. We get and analyze detailed data and coordinate and adjust it in order to create such a program.” (Mr. Hayashi)

The photo shows “SL400G,” the High Performance Wire-cut EDM. This model is made of core-technologies that are developed in-house.

The development of the control system is done conjointly with the base. The photo shows a meeting held using a video conference system with the members of the Kaga Office located in Kaga City, Ishikawa Prefecture.

“We have meetings with the members of the Kaga Office the most. The Kaga Office is responsible and acts as a hub for the domestic production plants. At this office, they have people who are working for Advanced Research but also the research development division that applies these advanced technologies to products. We go about developing these next-generation technologies by communicating to these team members. On top of this, we also have meetings with members from the international bases such as Sodick America, Sodick Thailand, Sodick Amoy, and Suzhou Sodick. This is exactly how development is taking place in a global organization.” (Mr. Hayashi)

Working People

How to Correspond to Ever-Evolving Technology. Flexibility Is Key.

We continued to ask Mr. Hayashi (left of photo) and Mr. Hamada about the charm, the rewarding aspects, and the atmosphere of their workplace, “Sodick Advanced Research Center.”

Mr. Hayashi joined Sodick after graduating from Okayama University Faculty of Engineering Division of Mechanical Engineering in 2001.

“During my time at school, I was a part of research that looked at new processing methods of unique materials. We were using a Sodick EDM in the laboratory. I did some research and found out that the company does business globally. I chose Sodick because I thought that I would have a chance at succeeding and doing well overseas. My feeling towards working outside of Japan was much stronger than my desire to make or manufacture particular things.” (Mr. Hayashi)

On the other hand, Mr. Hamada joined Sodick in 2012, after completing Tokai University Graduate School of Science Division of Physics.

“My major during my college years was Physics. In actuality, I did not really know much about machine tools. I was thinking of working in Kanagawa which is my hometown. Therefore, I mainly looked at companies that had their headquarters in Kanagawa. I was taken away by the technological level Sodick showcased at a joint company information session that I participated in. That is when I felt that I would like to be a part of the development of machine tools.” (Mr. Hamada)

Mr. Hayashi says that “it is not all that rare” for there to be people who do not know much about machine tools just like Mr. Hamada.

“Technology is constantly evolving. Consequently, if you're working with scientific or mathematical knowledge as a base, what would be expected is how well you are able to correspond to the evolving technology. In this way, flexibility is the most important point to have. In actuality, the academic backgrounds of the people in our group varies and include mechanics, as well as electric, physics, and information technology backgrounds. If you have the positive desire to conquer and challenge new technologies, it doesn't really matter what major you were as a student.” (Mr. Hayashi)

“I did not have any knowledge about programming, and I learned everything about machine tools from scratch after being assigned to the position that I am at. It was really hard having to study simultaneously as I worked every day. However, when I see a product that I developed and manufactured operating, I am surrounded by happiness and it makes me forget about the hardships and struggles.” (Mr. Hamada)

Mr. Hayashi also says, “I feel an immense amount of fulfilment when I see the moment in which the program that I planned and designed operates. We work on the development of advanced technology. Therefore, every day is a new challenge. When those challenges go and turn out well, working is fun. It becomes my motivation to tackle the next challenge.”

Mr. Hamada told us that “it was really hard having to study while working every day.” On the other hand, when we asked Mr. Hayashi about his struggles, he laughingly told us, “It was the time I went to Sodick America for an overseas posting. Since I was not really proficient in English, I struggled getting around day-to-day. However, it was a great opportunity to experience a different culture.” There are a lot of things to study and learn. But he finds that enjoyable, so he’s never really felt troubled at work.

Lastly, we asked about the atmosphere and work culture of the Advanced Research Center.

"The founder of the company Mr. Furukawa who is the Chairman and Representative Director, and Mr. Kaneko, the President and Representative Director, are both engineers and technicians. Therefore this company holds a strong fondness towards technology. I think that for someone who wants to pursue technology, it is a really desirable workplace.” (Mr. Hayashi)

"The average age of the workers at the Advanced Research Center is around mid-30s. There are a lot of people that are around my age, and I get to do work in an enjoyable atmosphere and environment. Also, surprisingly, there is a lot of communicating done through drinking together (laughs). Therefore, we are able to let off steam and tackle our next assignment at work. It is a really pleasant workplace.” (Mr. Hamada)

A Cafeteria Where You Can Eat Affordable and Delicious Meals, a Showroom That Introduces Their Advanced Technology Intelligibly

This is the cafeteria.

“Most of the employees use this cafeteria. It is pretty popular; there is a good amount of options on the menu and it’s delicious.” (Mr. Koji Kamata, Personnel Affairs/Compliance Control Division, Human Resource Management General Manager)

This is a meal from the other day. Other than the daily special (420 yen), there is also curry rice (380 yen) and noodle of the day (330 yen). You can fill up your stomach without spending even 500 yen.

This is the tennis court. It is mostly used by tennis club members. There are apparently members who practice playing every lunch break. At Sodick, there are other clubs such as futsal, badminton, golf, and cycling, where it is an opportunity for employees to meet and interact.

This is the cafe corner. This space is mainly used by visitors. It is made so that you can have meetings with your clients in a relaxing atmosphere, where coffee can also be served.

This is the showroom. Main machines such as the Metal 3D Printer “OPM250L” is placed here. The hallway that leads to the showroom displays a rice grain that has around 100 letters carved into it to show the precision in engineering skills that Sodick possesses in a straightforward manner.

CHECK

Three Numbers Related to Sodick

Sodick provides and develops, both domestically and internationally, machine tools that are necessary in sites that manufacture things such as Food Machines, Injection Molding Machines, and NC Wire-cut EDM. What do the following numbers represent?

  1. 1. 1500 ampere
  2. 2. 100 percent
  3. 3. 40

» Check Answers

Text / Hitomi Nakamura (Translation/BIE Group Inc.)   Photo / Naoshi Usuda  Design / ITcore Corporation.

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