Metallic Conduits Finer Than
Hair Maintain Convenience
in our society
"Semiconductors (electric circuits made using semiconductors)" function as a brain in smartphones and computers. Through electronic appliances and cars, semiconductors sustain convenience in our lives, yet because they are installed internally, we do not have many chances to see them.
The metallic conduits, called "contact probe superfine conduits", used to test the conductivity of the semiconductors are manufactured by Nippon Tokushukan MFG Co., Ltd. They succeeded in the manufacture and sale of metallic conduits through a mass producing superfine conduits with a minimum outer diameter of 0.1mm and making deals with many semiconductor inspecting companies.
We would like to take note of their metallic conduit manufacturing technology, which is used in countless "unseen, but necessary" items, such as semiconductors.
To the site that went along with the times and gave birth to
the high-precision metallic conduit
Nippon Tokushukan MFG was established in 1952, in Matsubara City, Osaka. They manufacture a variety of small-diameter conduits made with copper, copper alloy, and more.
They started with the production of nozzles for fire extinguishers and began development of the copper capillary tubes used in refrigerators in 1957. Their products were used in roughly half of all domestically produced refrigerators.
As time progressed, they began manufacturing superfine contact probe conduits and specialized tubes for stents, which are used in the medical field, always adapting to meet the demands of each generation.
Their metallic conduits are made using a technique called "drawing". They set thick pipes which are used as a material into the drawing machine, and stretch it out until it is long and thin.
Most of the equipment used in their factories are made in-house, including the drawing machine, the "die", a tire-shaped jig which straightens the exterior of the pipe, and the rod-shaped "plug", which smooths out the interior of the pipe.
Pipes that have been drawn out are straightened with a straightening machine; some of their products are then checked to make sure that air flows properly through the pipe, which is then cut to the ordered length. After cutting, they at times additionally coat them, conduct a careful inspection, and then ship them out.
We heard from Mr. Junpei Iguchi, section chief in the Osaka sales division, and Kei Mori, section chief in the engineering section.
As we toured their first factory, which has manufactured their conduits for several years, through to their third factory, which handles their superfine contact probe conduit manufacturing, we noticed that the atmosphere changes vastly with each factory.
In the second and third factories, where they produce their superfine conduits, there are more female staff members who are good with delicate work, and you can tell that they are creating a wide variety of conduits to meet the needs of their clients.
"I don't think there is any other company in the world that makes small diameter conduits on the scale that we do. Going back 70 years to our establishment, there were times when conduits were needed an masse for refrigerators and air conditioners, and currently, superfine conduits used for electric discharge machining and semiconductor inspection are becoming our primary focus. I think we were able to maintain stability in part thanks to not restricting the type of conduit we manufactured. We are putting more effort into technological development to keep up with the times." (sector Chief Iguchi. pictured to the left)
"We currently have 8 staff members in the Technology Section, each of whom have been given a theme, which they study day and night.
We have also conducted research together with a university, which we used to develop new products; developing the next generation of product is our mission." (Section Chief Mori, pictured to the right)
Through progressing their research, implementing the latest technology, and investing in development, they have created conduits not seen anywhere else in the world. They say that their secret to survival is in their success at developing a star product every couple of years, and continuously challenging themselves to create new products.
Manufacturing techniques that leave the competition in the dust
Their technology is put to its greatest use in their super fine conduit, which has three major characteristics. They can make them as fine as 0.05mm in diameter. This is astonishingly fine, as a strand of hair from the average Japanese person has with a thickness of 0.08mm in diameter; it is difficult to imagine a pipe with a hole in it like a macaroni being so fine.
The next characteristic is its thinness. They can make the pipe thinner, bringing the diameter down to its limit. In the pipes that have an external diameter of 0.05mm, the internal diameter is 0.02mm, and the pipe is only 0.015mm thick.
The last is the smoothness of the pipe's interior.
"In the case of contact probes, you cannot inspect a semiconductor unless all of the numerous parts move smoothly. If the interior is shaky, the parts catch on the inside of the pipe. Also, in the case of mass flow sensors, which are pipes that modify flowing gas, the roughness in the interior of the pipe will affect the gas flow. You can polish the inside of a pipe, but it is very costly. As we do not need to polish the inside of our pipes, we are able to cut costs, which is something that pleases our clients." (Section Chief Iguchi)
All of these characteristics require a high level of technical skill, and they say that no other company in the world can manufacture pipes so fine, thin, and smooth. Furthermore, their strict observance of quality management contributes to the high reviews of their piping.
"The final inspection is a visual inspection done by humans. This process takes time, and it can take up to two years to be able to inspect the complicated products by yourself. It is an enormous task simply handling the superfine conduits. The inspectors are from another world, sometimes I can't even tell why our highly skilled staff have decided an item can't be used. We set our cut off to three weeks, regardless of the product. One of the reasons we are so well trusted by our clients is because we are able to dispatch staff to them when there are quality issues." (Manufacturing Division Vice Director Utaka, pictured)
Confidence that their products will be chosen
Most orders from overseas are for the superfine conduits. Their conduits are highly acclaimed, and it is said that if you want to make quality contact probes, you have to use them; they are receiving increasing inquiries from foreign semiconductor manufacturers.
"The percentage of sales made overseas is going up every year and is approaching 50%. In order of sales figures, we sell the most to Korea, America, China, Thailand, Taiwan, and Germany. We receive orders from airplane engine manufacturers in America and Germany, and for semiconductor inspecting devices from the Asian countries; we are able to see the major industry of each country through our sales." (General Affairs/Accounting Division Chief Director Kashiyama, pictured)
They began making exhibits with Alibaba.com three years ago and had exhibits in Vietnam, Germany, and China last year. They are working to create opportunities for foreign companies to become acquainted with their products.
This is a great method for their products, which cannot be seen directly in a manufactured product.
Creating an affluent lifestyle that helps society by challenging cutting edge fields and contributing to the local community
It seems like things are going well, with the increase in overseas sales, but they are struggling with the increased costs facing the manufacturing industry. They plan to put more effort into developing and manufacturing more added value for the future development of their business.
"We would like to put more energy into products used in the medical field, as well as semiconductors. Our developmental goals include making specialized tubes for stents, which go onto the end of catheters and widen arteries from the inside. They are used in treating cardiac infarctions, angina pectoris, and require superelasticity. We have finally begun to see success in our years-long research making them out of nickel titanium, a metal that is extremely difficult to manipulate. I believe that we can contribute to the medical field by furthering our research and providing them at a realistic price" (Technical Division Section Chief Mori)
Another important aspect of the company is that they keep in mind the revitalization of their local community as they operate.
"We have baseball, golf, and tennis fields on our grounds, making it a good environment for employees to get to know one another, and provide a healthy work environment. On the weekends, we sometimes let local youth baseball teams use our baseball field for practice; our grounds have become a part of the lives of the locals." (Section Chief Iguchi)
They have cozy grounds where they conduct company events such as flower viewing in the spring, and barbeques in the summer. The workers looked us in the eyes and greeted all of us while our interview team took a tour of the grounds. It is a workplace filled with gratefulness. The metal pipes produced here are changing the world.