Headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, The Japan Steel Works, Ltd (JSW) is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of high-performance extrusion lines. In 2017, the TEXenter technical center was opened in the Düsseldorf Benrate district, just ten kilometers from the European headquarters of Japan Steel Works Europe GmbH. Extrusion reporters recently visited the facility to speak with JSW Europe Managing Director and TEXenter Technical Center Director Jun Kakizaki, as well as his staff, Hayato Hobo, Sales and Marketing Director, and Makoto Tojio, chief technology officer, about the company’s success story and plans for future.

– JSW operates worldwide. Which countries and regions are the most important for the enterprise in terms of individual technologies?

Hayato Hobo: Our company has two main areas of activity around the world: steel production and mechanical engineering, primarily the manufacture of plastic processing machines such as extruders, injection molding machines, hollow blow molding machines and flat film production lines. For JSW Europe, all 47 countries in Europe are of interest, especially the 28 EU member states. Among them are Germany, France, Italy and Spain, which are very important sales areas for us. If you look at the world as a whole, the Asian market (especially Japan, China and India), and then the countries of the EU and America (here primarily the USA) are of great importance to us.

– How many people currently work at the JSW?

Hayato Hobo: Around the world, the parent company employs 2,300 people. 5300 people – in total, including branches, seven of which are in Dusseldorf and belong to Japan Steel Works Europe. Currently, three of them are responsible for the direction of extrusion.

– What is your company focusing on extrusion technology today?

June Kakizaki: Our philosophy is to solve technological problems of the customer and to develop new promising methods together with him. Therefore, the JSW extrusion department concentrates on narrow application problems, research and development of extrusion processes, compounding, chemical reactive technology, dehydration, degassing, granulation – that is, including technologies preceding plastic processing. At present, we have a stable situation with the demand for tests at the TEXenter technical center, despite the deterioration in the situation in Central and Western Europe caused by the discussion on environmental pollution by plastics, brexit and the like. A noticeable increase in the number of requests for the creation of original recipes for materials and special engineering plastics. This helps to expand the range of services of the TEXenter technical center.

Hayato Hobo: To receive an order from a client, we must be prepared to solve any specific problems here at TEXenter. We can assess the situation by how the number of test series in the TEXenter technical center, which we opened in 2017, changed. From this point of view, we have a quite stable market position. Last year, we conducted a total of 17 test series at TEXenter. For us, this is a very good result, given that in the technical center in Overpelt in Belgium for the period from 2011 to 2017, that is, for 6 years, we were able to conduct only 11 episodes. In March of this year, TEXenter conducted the first testing of materials in collaboration with a customer from Spain. Currently, five test series have already been reserved for 2019 for European customers from Germany and Belgium, as well as one of the leading global manufacturers from the Middle East. We used to sell our extruders to Japanese customers with subsidiaries in Europe. Now, slowly but surely, commercial activity is unfolding with European customers.

– Do you use intermediary services to sell extrusion lines in the EU?

Hayato Hobo: We have not yet recruited any sales and service representatives for the extrusion manufacturing business. We do everything on our own in Dusseldorf, for example, at the TEXenter technical center in Benrath, which is our most important platform for serving the European market. June Kakizaki: However, there is reason to attach external representations to us. Unlike the production line of JSW injection molding machines, which cooperates with representative offices, our requirements for third-party employees are more stringent due to the specificity of control systems and their complexity. Being able to sell extruders is not enough. The most important prerequisite for our customers is the availability of special knowledge in the field of production technology and technical service experience. But we would be glad to find third-party specialists who share the philosophy of our company and the associated methodology of the production process, are quite capable of negotiating on equal terms with demanding customers and jointly developing measures and approaches to solving technical, rheological, chemical and physical problems.

– Can you tell us more about the technical center in Dusseldorf? What prompted your company to open a branch here?

Hayato Hobo: We have not yet recruited any sales and service representatives for the extrusion manufacturing business. We do everything on our own in Dusseldorf, for example, at the TEXenter technical center in Benrath, which is our most important platform for serving the European market. June Kakizaki: However, there is reason to attach external representations to us. Unlike the production line of JSW injection molding machines, which cooperates with representative offices, our requirements for third-party employees are more stringent due to the specificity of control systems and their complexity. Being able to sell extruders is not enough. The most important prerequisite for our customers is the availability of special knowledge in the field of production technology and technical service experience. But we would be glad to find third-party specialists who share the philosophy of our company and the associated methodology of the production process, are quite capable of negotiating on equal terms with demanding customers and jointly developing measures and approaches to solving technical, rheological, chemical and physical problems.

June Kakizaki: The Japan Steel Works branch of steel has been operating in Düsseldorf since 1969, as North Rhine-Westphalia is a highly developed steel industry. In 1980, the first extruder experts from the Japanese parent company JSW, experts in the field of extruders for granulation of polyolefins, arrived in Dusseldorf to organize the marketing of this equipment in Europe. Currently, the market for granulating extruders for polyolefins is divided among themselves by three suppliers: Coperion (formerly Werner & Pfleiderer), KOBE and JSW. For JSW, proximity to the market is important. In addition, at that time, JSW management decided to enter the compounding market. The then leadership found a suitable experimental workshop in Overpelt (Belgium), in the center of the region with a developed industry for the production and processing of plastics. However, we needed to move to the new TEXenter technical center in Benrath (Düsseldorf, Germany) in 2017, because the coordinated work of the Düsseldorf office and the experimental workshop in Belgium was hindered by certain logistics and personnel problems. Therefore, we gathered all types of activities on one site. Today, the advantage of this solution is obvious: many plastic manufacturers, that is, our potential customers, are in close proximity to us.

Hayato Hobo: Our customers and interested enterprises confirm that this is a convenient and optimal solution in terms of infrastructure. We plan to continue to build staff capacity to meet the growing needs of the industry. While we often use the help of each other. During the tests, together with the customer, we quickly move from theory to practice: our production engineer Makoto Tojo becomes the operator, the general manager June Kakizaki controls the comparison of products with the sample, and I supply the extruder with material.

June Kakizaki: We are confident that with a larger number of employees, such as technologists, we will further optimize the testing process. If necessary, we can sometimes seek support from the technology of the parent company, but this is very expensive. The TEXenter technical center is equipped with three laboratory extruders of the TEX25αIII, TEX30α and TEX44αIII models for the experimental production of a wide variety of types of plastics and materials. When a customer comes to us with any compounding of the compound, for us its testing does not present any problems. The most difficult series of tests that we have performed so far has been working with a chemical reaction in an extruder with powder, liquid components and / or flakes in various proportions for the production of a new polymer material.

– What new products for this sector is JSW ready to offer today?

Hayato Hobo: At K-2019, our products were presented on an exhibition area of ​​225 m2. A TEX25αIII laboratory extruder was exhibited here, which was displayed together with an injection molding machine and an installation for blow molding of hollow products.

Makoto Tojo: The TEX25αIII is an updated version of the extruder, primarily in terms of management and control software. The advantage of the model is the ease of operation using the touch screen. The operator needs to enter only two values: the required productivity and the number of revolutions of the screw – and the software will automatically and efficiently transfer the extruder to the installed capacity. So we imagine the optimal launch of the production line.

– Are you satisfied with the results of the 2018 fiscal year?

Hayato Hobo: Yes, Japan Steel Works Europe believes the fiscal year 2018 is successful. The real and expected situation with orders, with the already mentioned 17 series of tests with customers, absolutely satisfies us. I would especially like to note the order received in April 2018: a new client from France replaced an existing machine that did not meet the power requirements with medium production extrusion line TEX77αIII. The usual prejudice about the relatively remote location of the technology’s origin – Japan – was replaced by respect for the results shown by the TEX44αIII extruder at the TEXenter technical center, and the highest degree of satisfaction with the commissioning of the acquired production line and the quality of after-sales service. Despite the higher initial costs compared to other European manufacturers, without the availability of our TEXenter technical center, a successful sale would have been impossible! Sometimes the longest path is the shortest.

– Can you talk about the prospects for work for 2019?

Hayato Hobo: We plan to further develop our marketing activities and attend specialized exhibitions and other events to make the JSW brand more famous and demonstrate the capabilities of the TEXenter technical center. Another component of success is the cooperation within the framework of the MMAtwo project, which is coordinated by Heathland from the Netherlands with financial support from the EU. It was launched in October 2018 and is designed for four years. The MMAtwo project employs 13 partners from six different countries. Its goal is to develop a new innovative method for the recycling of PMMA industrial waste and recycled MMA (methyl methacrylate) secondary products. One partner is JSW Europe.

– The Economic Partnership Agreement (WPA) between Japan and the EU entered into force on February 1, 2019 and led to the abolition of import and export duties. Will the situation with equipment sales in the EU improve now?

Hayato Hobo: Before the agreement entered into force, the customs duty rate on machines of heading 8477, including extruders, was 1.7%. With the start of business in Europe, the abolition of customs duties in conjunction with other measures to facilitate export significantly facilitates the operation of JSW.

– What role does Industrie 4.0 play in JSW Europe?

Makoto Tojo: As already mentioned, the TEX25αIII extruder is equipped with new control and monitoring software. Thanks to the new regulatory system, communication requirements within the framework of the digital plant concept are fully implemented. One of the reasons that prompted us to develop new software was the criterion of the concept of Industrie 4.0: the uniformity of interfaces with conventional IT enterprise management systems. Using remote maintenance technology, diagnostics of customer’s production lines can be performed remotely: from Japan or from the TEXenter technical center.

– Did Brexit affect your strategy for doing business in the UK, and if so, how?

June Kakizaki: The UK share of the turnover is relatively small compared to the general JSW trade in Europe. Our competitors have the same situation. So we calmly look at Brexit. And our company, of course, wants British customers to deal safely with the consequences of Brexit.

– Currently, economic growth is slowing down, primarily in France and Italy. How does your company react to this?

Hayato Hobo: Yes, trade conflicts with the USA, China, worsening conditions in France and Italy, Brexit, discussions on environmental issues related to plastic waste – we see all these problems that inspire uncertainty. But at the same time, we are taking retaliatory measures: first of all, we are preparing for the most important exhibitions, as well as additionally strengthening marketing activities, increasing the competitiveness of our products, services and assortment.

– Thank you for the conversation and wish all the best to your company!