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Yukawa Iron Casting Works: Crafting quality, embracing evolution

Article - November 30, 2023

A century-old company that specializes in first-class cast-iron products, Yukawa has flourished thanks to its ability to move with the times.

“Our company has attained such impressive longevity because we’ve stayed small and successfully transformed our business according to the current demands.”

Yoshiharu Yukawa, President, Yukawa Iron Casting Works Co., Ltd.

A Japanese company boasting over 130 years of history, Yukawa Iron Casting Works specializes in crafting premium-quality cast-iron products used by manufacturers in a variety of industries. Following a high-mix-low-volume business model, the Wakayama-based firm provides a bespoke service to every customer.

“All our products are customized to the specific needs of our clients,” says Yukawa’s president, Yoshiharu Yukawa. “This means that casting products designed for one company cannot be sold to another. Given the unique requirements and preferences of different customers, our strategy revolves around serving a diverse range of companies with varying needs.”

Founded in 1891, Yukawa has successfully stayed the course for over a century for two chief reasons, Mr. Yukawa says. “Firstly, by keeping our company small, we’ve navigated economic challenges by having the management team make individual investments in the business,” he explains. “Secondly, we’ve managed to adapt to the evolving needs of different times. We no longer make casting products that we initially had at the time of our foundation.”

Yukawa’s shift to niche products was a crucial point in the company’s evolution. “About 50 years ago, our competitors had garnered a majority share of the casting industry, prompting us to contemplate how to differentiate ourselves,” Mr. Yukawa recalls. “This led us to focus on specialized casting products, often produced in smaller lots.

“One remarkable example is our polisher for bearing balls. Manufacturing bearing balls involves an initial pressing step. The original shape formed through a pressing machine then has to be polished as a final step, using a grinding plate made from a special alloy. We embarked on a three-year journey to develop our polisher when one of our customers told us of their need for the product. This pursuit pushed us to venture into new industries, allowing us to thrive in unexpected ways.”

Yukawa’s exceptional longevity is also a testament to the firm’s ability to consistently meet the best-in-class quality demands of its portfolio of prestigious customers – a line-up that includes titans of industry such as MAZAK, FANUC, IHI, KOBELCO, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, and Toshiba Mitsubishi-Electric Industrial Systems Corp.

“Many of our business partners are larger companies that impose rigorous standards and requests,” Mr. Yukawa says. “Overcoming these challenges has been a valuable learning experience. We’ve managed to advance our technological capabilities to not only meet our clients’ demands, but go beyond them. Interacting solely with companies that have lenient standards wouldn't have spurred us on to grow and develop our expertise. We’ve achieved significant improvements by relentlessly chasing excellence in our efforts to overcome these demands.”

As Japanese population decline forces companies in the country to contend with a shrinking domestic workforce, Yukawa’s increasing international focus has led the manufacturer to look for talent beyond Japan’s borders.

“I believe securing human resources presents a substantial obstacle across diverse manufacturing sectors in Japan,” Mr. Yukawa says. “Only six of the 25 workers at our Wakayama plant are Japanese; the rest are from countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil and China. The factory’s manager is Indonesian. About 30 years ago, we began turning to foreign employees, all of whom exhibit remarkable dedication. It’s very hard to continue operating unless we become global.”

This goes for the scope of Yukawa’s business, too; after all, a falling population has also left Japan’s companies with a shrinking pool of domestic customers. In 1995, the firm opened an international production site in Xinxiang, China – a plant that has not only helped Yukawa to support other Japanese manufacturers’ overseas expansion, but also has a key future role to play in catering to international clients.

“One of the reasons we went to China was because we believe in the Chinese people’s deeply-rooted DNA for monozukuri – the dogged pursuit of innovation and perfection in manufacturing” Mr. Yukawa reveals. “My goal is to expand into the global market through the efforts of our factories in both Japan and China.”