Visiting a country for the very first time can often leave a lasting impression. That was certainly the case when Dave Saltman headed for Japan to see the Maruyama operation at first hand. He came away equally impressed with the company's high manufacturing standards ... and not inconsiderable jet lag
It's fairly easy to explain my thoughts arriving in Tokyo for my first visit; the overwhelming impression was one of absolute cleanliness and efficiency. There was no litter, anywhere, and everyone that I spoke to was incredibly polite.
Arriving in a blizzard - the worst snow storm that the capital had encountered in forty-six years - our group of Mark Dyos (Maruyama US), Jacques Shelton (DMMP Ltd) and myself hailed a taxi for the journey into downtown Tokyo. This turned out to be fairly arduous and added a few more hours to an already long journey. However, with a brave taxi driver and fearless passengers, we made it to our hotel.
With bags safely dropped in the hotel room, a late dinner was sought and this we found in a nearby business bar. The next few hours enabled us to unwind completely with a continuous stream of exquisite Asian taster dishes, local beer and hot and cold saki. Fully replenished, we made our way back to the hotel at 4.00am local time. However, my body clock had given up on which global timezone it was in, having travelled from Dallas the previous morning and the UK three days before that.
We had been met at the airport by our host, Takaharu Uchiyama, grandson of co-founder Ryoji Uchiyama, who had started the business of building fire extinguishers with Yasuji Maruyama in 1895. Much later that day, Takaharu took us for an afternoon whistle-stop tour of Tokyo, before treating us to an excellent evening with a specialist Tempura chef who, in front of us, delicately prepared and cooked dish after dish of fish and shellfish.
The real work for me though followed the next day, starting with a visit to the Maruyama headquarters in Tokyo to meet the export team and Takaharu's father, Haruo Uchiyama, Chairman of the company.
We then travelled by train an hour north east of the capital to Togane, where a number of the Maruyama factories form the Chiba facility. This facility was accredited with the ISO 14001 certification in 2001.
The culture in Japan is one of respect and courtesy for others; even handing over or receiving a business card is a mini ceremony that needs to be performed correctly. This deep respect for others is clearly instilled in every working person's ethics and it's very apparent as to why household names such as Canon, Fuji, Honda, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Nintendo, Nissan, Sony, Toyota (and so many others) are renowned for quality. During our factory visit, guided around the various machining and assembly lines, it's simple to understand why Japanese manufacturing is envied the world over.
The attention to detail is with every component and every process, from the basic tooling of casings to the packaged finished products ready to be shipped out. What is impressive is that every component required in production, with the exception of the world class Walbro carburettor, is made by Maruyama, ensuring that their quality control remains in-house and fully controllable.
In every building we entered there was a special notice board. On these boards, each employee must contribute a weekly improvement to their working day, whether it's an idea for a new part, machine or simply moving their work station around to be more efficient. This helps to keep the teams empowered and, therefore, focused and help build employee/employer relationships, which, in turn, improves productivity and quality.
Within Maruyama's business philosophy it reads; "We believe strongly in the importance of maintaining a harmonious relationship between people and the environment. The core principle, to produce products that meet the needs of our customers. By focusing on the fundamentals of customer satisfaction, we are able to deliver products that are trusted by the users, as well as concentrating on developing new and better systems. We continue to contribute to society by providing products that are trusted, using state-of-the-art technologies that help people use precious resources, such as water, more effectively."
Aims and objectives that we would all like to aspire to, and a philosophy that breeds engineering excellence.
The reason for my visit to the company facilities was to look at the manufacturing of their range of outdoor power equipment. Strimmers, hedgetrimmers, chainsaws; machines that I, like most of us, have enjoyed a love/hate relationship with over the years. Loved because of the raw smell and noise of the two stroke machinery as it waded into the jobs in hand, hated because these machines often wouldn't start and I'd spend inordinate amounts of time and a growing frustration trying to get them going.
Little did I know that Maruyama are also a leading global pump manufacturer, something they became a market leader in soon after the Second World War. At the end of the war, they were left with a large stock of unused artillery shell cases in the factories, so they used the housings as pressure vessels to manufacture their pumps into forcibly activated flat valve system sprayers. From there, they developed the world's lightest forced-valve high-speed power sprayer called 'Hope'.
In fact, the famous water fountain display in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas is powered by a series of Maruyama produced pumps. Another interesting fact is that nearly 90% of the car wash pumps in the US are also powered by their pumps. The core business for Maruyama is pump technology and their systems are used in wide ranging industries, including landscape, sports and agriculture. In horticulture the development of 'Cherry', was the world's first backpack power sprayer back in 1961.
In 1979, the company started to install automated systems and industrial robots to carry out the moulding, drilling and welding required on the various product ranges. Today, successive machines have automated tool changing and wear adjustment sensors, enabling tolerances to be measured to 10,000ths of an inch. The equipment is considered 'worn-out' if it doesn't measure up, and is quickly replaced. The tooling equipment and robotics are made by, you probably guessed, Japanese giants such as Okuma and Hitachi.
While automation means that parts are precisely manufactured, human touch is still required for inspection, hand-finishing and, of course, assembly of the parts.
In the last twenty-five years, the factory has produced more than 5 million engines; now at a rate of nearly 350,000 per year.
The entry into the market of their own brand 2-stroke machinery came quite late though, in fact, not until the mid-eighties, although Maruyama had been manufacturing some equipment for other companies previously. The development of their cutting edge 2-stroke equipment has been rapid ever since, with their patented fuel efficient and noise reduced equipment meeting even the strict Californian emission control standards.
For instance, the CER and Venom series 2-stroke engines offer the revolutionary HERE (High Efficiency Recirculator Engine) technology.
These engines comfortably meet or exceed current Tier3/Phase3 CARB and EPA engine regulations. The CER models use fewer components and a proven, less-costly single-venturi rotary carburettor. The most significant change though is internal; a pair of recirculator grooves across the exhaust face of the piston. This allows the engines to produce excellent power and torque characteristics with fuel economy as much as 50% lower than prior models.
It should also be noted that Maruyama are still producing their range as 2-stroke engines that consistently outperform their competitors who have had to move to 4-cycle equipment to keep within the new legal guidelines on emissions. This enables the equipment to remain lighter and more efficient than similar, competitive models.
The reason for the high quality builds is more widespread than just this, as already touched upon above; the entire manufacturing process is carried out within the factory complex, allowing quality control to function efficiently throughout the process. From the tooling of the crankshaft casing, the five step system of tooling, polishing, coating, chroming and re-polishing of the crank helps to produce an engine that has seamless joints and two piston ringed cylinders. When each machine leaves the production line, it offers the end user a durable and robust life of reliability, something that Maruyama US are so confident about that they offer a 5-year commercial warranty on the engines.
My historic issues with 2-stroke machinery (usually purchased from the better known brands) were generally engine and carburettor led, although other bits would invariably fall apart as well. As a contractor, I would price in my 2-stroke machinery requirements based as annual consumable items, since they would usually have been run ragged by the end of the season and be in need of replacement.
I wasted many days of my life pulling starter cords to get engines going and, whilst it certainly improved my physique in my younger days, it certainly did nothing for profitability!
The stringent manufacturing process and diligence in quality control gives Maruyama the confidence to say that their machines will start time after time and year after year with no more than a second pull. For any 2-stroke user, knowing that the equipment is reliable and capable of tackling the job, without downtime and delay, has to be a key point in the decision to purchase. Couple that with ultra low emissions, reduced vibration and noise, without losing power and torque and you have a range that is perhaps now, second to none.
So, whilst it is currently a relatively unfamiliar name in the UK, it is worthy to note that Maruyama has been an 'A' listed company on the Tokyo stock market since 1977 and enjoys a global network of dealers.
They say that it's always the braver person that takes the step to come away from products and machinery they've known and used but, as existing users of this equipment will advocate, once you take that step you'll never switch back.
There are few places in the world that are more volatile, in terms of geology, than Japan. Around 1,500 earthquakes strike the island nation every year. Minor tremors occur on an almost daily basis. We felt one in the hotel the second morning we were there, for around six seconds. Deadly quakes are a tragic part of the nation's past, the most recent Tsunami in 2011, caused by an earthquake under the sea, brought devastation to the east coast, decimating towns and killing more than 10,000 people. Japan sits alongside part of the infamous 'Pacific Rim of Fire', right in the middle of four tectonic plates that are constantly shifting.
Tokyo itself sits in the shadow of the currently dormant, iconic, snow clad volcano Mount Fuji, but Japan is home to around 10% of the world's volcanic activity and other volcanoes on the island and offshore are regularly spewing out lava.
Just last September, a new island was formed south of the mainland as a new volcano erupted and emerged out of the sea.
Given the potential cataclysmic natural disasters that this proud nation has to live under constant threat of, it is perhaps a clue as to why they are so courteous to each other and their guests. There's certainly a great deal that can be learned from their general demeanour, as well as their focused business ethics and modus operandi, which are absolutely impeccable.
Sadly, my visit to Japan was only for three short days. My hosts, and the people I met, made it an unforgettable experience. Now I have a real taste for their culture, I hope to visit the country again in the not too distant future.