Investing in Japan
Success Stories Prismadd Japan Co., Ltd. (Motoharu Teranishi)
The French company Prismadd, noted for next-generation 3D printing, and Yamaichi Special Steel Co., Ltd. in Nagoya are paving the way to new markets through their joint venture. While the former engages in developing metal and plastic parts by 3D printer for the aeronautics, automotive and other industries, the latter supplies high-grade special steel for the same industries with its renowned technologies in high-precision machining, heat treatment and measurement. JETRO interviewed President of Yamaichi Special Steel Motoharu Teranishi, who conccurrently serves as President of Prismadd Japan Co., Ltd.
Establishment of a Japan-France joint venture corporation
In January 2016, a French and Japanese joint venture, Prismadd Japan, was established in Nagoya, in central Japan. Prismadd, the parent company on the French side, makes full use of next-generation 3D printers and manufactures metal and plastic materials for industries such as aeronautics and automobiles. Its Japanese counterpart, Yamaichi Special Steel Co., Ltd., supplies high-tech products ranging from high-grade special steel materials to processed and finished parts to customers in the same industries. The new company was named Prismadd Japan Co., Ltd.
Prismadd was launched in September 2014 to offer products focused on additive manufacturing (AM)* of metal and plastic materials to be supplied to key growth industries such as aerospace, nuclear power, defense, energy and automobiles. It was jointly formed by three French companies: Farella, a metallic precision machining maker; Rhonatec, a provider of special powder materials; and Creatix3D, a 3D printing integrator. Having accumulated leading-edge 3D printing technology, the company now provides global services to Airbus, Safran and other aircraft makers as well as auto manufacturers like Volvo. Integrating the knowhow of each company in its group, Prismadd provides services at all stages of the manufacturing process from the selection of powder suitable for AM to the support of topological optimization of designs for AM products and turning out finished AM parts.
* AM: Additive manufacturing (commonly known as 3D printing). In high-grade AM for industrial use, three dimensional parts are built up in two-dimensional layers of melted metal or plastic powders using lasers.
Meanwhile, Yamaichi Special Steel is a special steel distributor which will celebrate its 90th anniversary in 2017. Primarily in regard to supplying high-grade special steel to automotive makers, the company offers integrated solutions as a "factory mall" from materials to quality assurance with an excellent reputation for precision machining, heat treatment and high-precision measurement. Regarding how this integrated production system was introduced, President Motoharu Teranishi explained, “During the years of rapid growth, Japanese manufacturers increased production and the trade of special steel enjoyed a steady expansion. However, the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 deprived us of job orders in an instant. While makers were focusing their investment on their core business, we at Yamaichi Special Steel were required to renovate our business model. We decided to bid farewell to our traditional ‘purchasing and selling only’ system and introduce a ‘factory mall’ function for special steel. That is, to meet the needs of our clients in a one-stop service, from materials to quality assurance, we provide the shortest process, fastest response and optimal proposals at all stages of the manufacturing process.”
Motoharu Teranishi, President of Prismadd Japan and Yamaichi Special Steel
“We hit it off right away!”
From the outset, Prismadd was planning to extend its reach beyond the European market to more international platforms. To establish a production base in the Asian market, it started to look for a trustworthy partner. Its attention fell on Yamaichi Special Steel due to the Japanese company's handling of special steel and one-stop services for heat treatment, precision machining and measurement assurance, which are important functions from the perspective of AM. Philippe Riviere, President of Prismadd, soon flew to Japan and visited Yamaichi’s factory. He said to President Teranishi, “We're going to launch a 3D printing company. The inaugural ceremony for my presidency is in January 2015. Would you care to come?”
By that time, the 3D printer had been drawing the media spotlight in Japan as well. Mr. Teranishi was very much interested in its impact on the special steel business. He said, “In the field of special steel production, we always face the volume issue. For mass production, we had to rely upon the mold. However, certain products that we deal with are difficult to process. The production volume of such products is very small but high precision measurement is required. We kept wondering if there was a middle way. Can we manufacture cheaper but better products by molds or should we produce them one-by-one through machining? We wondered if this 3D printing might offer such a middle way.”
Mr. Teranishi attended President Riviere’s inaugural ceremony at the head office of Prismadd in France and spent five days with him, discussing how the business should be innovated in a new era and the two shared their business philosophies. He looked back on the time, saying, “I had never met a business leader with such a burning passion. Intuitively, I felt I could trust him.” Two months later, Mr. Riviere visited Japan again to look for his partner company. The first company he paid a visit to was Yamaichi. Upon being reunited, President Teranishi lost no time persuading him, saying “You don't have to waste time by visiting other candidate firms. We are here!” The top two shook hands right away.
For many client makers, the products to be manufactured by 3D printing are confidential parts or parts still in development. In order to reduce the risk of information leakage, clients find it safer to deal with a factory that is capable of offering a one-stop service like Yamaichi Special Steel.
At the same time, in Yamaichi’s eyes, Prismadd was an attractive partner with its state-of-the-art 3D printing technology. Moreover, it had experience delivering its products to leading aircraft manufacturers as well as an extensive business network. President Teranishi said, “For small and medium-sized companies, financial and human resources are limited. Various prerequisites are inherent to 3D printing, from the selection of adequate powders to fabrication knowhow. You cannot manufacture products automatically just because you have a 3D printing facility. So, it is impossible for a company of small to medium size to takes on the challenge alone.”
“The foremost attractiveness of Prismadd was that its parent company is one of France’s largest special steel makers with expertise in metallurgy and which manufactures powder materials and is specialized in material analysis technology. Furthermore, among its partners is a company that has leading-edge design simulation technology. All these factors are integrated in the Prismadd group.”
Prismadd Japan’s role within the Prismadd group is to offer "post-processing," the strength of Yamaichi, for AM products. Mr. Teranishi, who assumed the presidency of the new joint venture, explained the role of his company as follows: “Yamaichi has the competitive edge in heat treatment, precision machining, measurement assurance and reverse engineering. Instead of the traditional way of creating technical drawings to manufacture a product, a product comes first. The product will be reversely decomposed into drawings for mass production. All these processes contribute to the 3D printing operation. The post-processing conducted after forming a shape is essential for 3D printing metals.”
But Prismadd's reason for concluding a partnership with Yamaichi was not limited to the latter’s technological edge in post-processing. “We are a medium-sized company so we can make decisions swiftly. What Mr. Riviere valued most was the speed of our business decisions,” said Mr. Teranishi.
Upon founding of the joint venture corporation, the French parent company extended various support and was eager in sharing its knowhow. “When it comes to the topic of joint ventures in general, many are concerned about the balance of power based on the capitalization ratio. However, President Riviere has been very fair in dealing with us on even ground. From the time of shaking hands, he shared all information with us and has been very cooperative. We now have a plan to dispatch one of our staff members to the French head office to let them study frontline design simulation technology.
President Riviere shows us a very positive approach,” continued President Teranishi.
Future business expansion in Japan
The AM market in Japan is behind that in Europe or the US. Therefore, Japanese manufacturers are running to catch up, promoting research and development in earnest. Prismadd Japan has been in contact with those Japanese makers and several business talks are under way for specific development schemes. They have also received several inquiries from not only Nagoya, but also across Japan.
3D printing technology has enormous potential to bring about innovation in Japan’s manufacturing. President Teranishi was enthusiastic in stating, “AM is capable of manufacturing at a high yield rate with materials difficult to use in machine processing. It also enables complicated structures which traditional manufacturing methods cannot produce. Let’s take the example of the very expensive material titanium. Before, we processed titanium ingots by machining. Since titanium is very difficult to process, it took a long time to shape from the ingot and the yield rate was low, which means makers tended to avoid it as it led to higher costs. However, once you employ 3D printing, the yield rate becomes nearly 100 percent and the manufacturing time is shortened. The 3D printing technique enables fabrication of titanium parts at a low cost. Now makers are tempted to use titanium for products to which they never before dared apply.”
Mr. Teranishi is eager to contribute to Japan’s new stage of manufacturing, as exemplified by the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ), a domestically produced jet-engine plane, in addition to the conventional automotive industry.
At present, Prismadd has four production sites in France and plans to open two more. Japan is the only country where it has a locally incorporated entity outside of France. President Riviere, who plans to set up production bases in Germany, the UK, Spain, India, the US and more in the future, said, “By 2020, we will invest at least €40 million (about 4.6 billion yen.)” Going forward, the French company plans to employ 250 people across the world. (Source: on-line L'Usine Nouvelle posted March 28, 2016) Prismadd Japan’s immediate goal is to carry out even one continuous run of mass production through AM. President Teranishi stated, “Even if our sample parts are appreciated, it just means that we have the 3D printer. We are not content with just producing prototypes. We want to mass-produce parts through 3D printing. So, once mass production of AM parts gets into gear, we will feel that we have achieved success or overcome a barrier.”
Prismadd has achieved rapid growth by building a 3D printing value chain and offering total solutions as a result of incorporating various companies with their respective areas of expertise. Setting up a joint venture company with Yamaichi Special Steel was one example. On the part of Yamaichi, it has created a foothold for a global market by introducing 3D printing.
“Imagine, for example, parts manufactured by us flying in airplanes in the sky, or being used for important functions in cars. We would actually be able to say, ‘We are proud to serve the world.’ The motivation of all of us would be elevated. As a company dedicated to manufacturing, this is our dream and would be our truest joy,” concluded President Teranishi.
(July 2016 Interview)
History of Prismadd (French parent company)
|October 2014||Founded in Montauban, southern France, to commence additive manufacturing operations|
|January 2016||Fourth production site in France opened in Isere jointly with OMG|
|January 2016||First overseas production site opened in Japan jointly with Yamaichi Special Steel|
Prismadd Japan Co., Ltd. (Japanese subsidiary)
|Establishment||Establishment: January 2016|
|Business||Providing total solutions for materials, designs and post-processing in additive manufacturing|
|Parent company||Yamaichi Special Steel Co., Ltd. (Japan) and Prismadd (France)|
|Address||2-146 Oneyama, Midori-ku, Nagoya-shi, Aichi Prefecture 459-8007, Japan|
Yamaichi Special Steel Co., Ltd. (Japanese parent company)
|Establishment||August, 1948 (initiated in August 1927)|
|Business||Trading company specialized in high-tech products from special steel materials to precision machining, heat treatment, high-precision measurement and finished parts|
|Number of Employees||200|
|Paid-in-capital||80 million yen|