Promotion of Manufacturing Industry Reconstruction by the Organization
of Revitalization for Sanriku Region
of Revitalization for Sanriku Region
Incorporated National University Iwate University
Center for Regional Collaboration in Research and Education
Leader for Promotion of Manufacturing Industry Reconstruction
Organization of Revitalization for Sanriku Region
Here we look at an initiative using industry-university-government collaboration to create a new manufacturing industry that handles both the manufacturing and processing of hard-to-cut materials, construing the Great East Japan Earthquake not just as a crisis but also as an opportunity.
1. Supply chains slow to recover
The Great East Japan Earthquake of 11 March 2011 caused major damage to Iwate Prefecture where Iwate University is located. Some 6,878 people lost their lives, while damage to industry amounted to 600 billion yen and damage to public civil engineering facilities 260 billion yen. Sixty percent of the industrial damage was fisheries-related, but the manufacturing industry too was heavily impacted, with damage amounting to 90 billion yen. More serious than direct damage to buildings and facilities, however, was the interruption of supply chains between manufacturers and their clients which meant that goods could not be supplied for the period up until operations could be resumed. While there are differences according to the type of industry and mode of operation, apparently overall business is only back to around 60 percent of former levels.
A company manufacturing mobile phone parts that I visited this summer lost its entire factory to tsunami damage, so it built a new factory on higher ground and introduced throughout a new processing system that had been developed immediately prior to the disaster, launching its operations anew. However, with its clients now operating in a completely different business environment, it found that all its orders had gone. This is an extreme example, but there are many cases where companies have switched from dealing with one to multiple suppliers from a risk management perspective, resulting in major reductions in orders.
2. Manufacturing industries in the affected region
The Sanriku coastal region has always been blessed with subterranean resources. Kuji City flourished as Japan's premier steel manufacturing town as of the Edo era due to its abundance of iron sand, with Kawasaki Steel (now JFE Holdings) operating a steelworks there through to the late 1960s. In Miyako City, a mine and a refinery were operated by Rasa Industries, which manufactured copper and fertilizer before and after the war. Kamaishi City is famous as the birthplace of Japan's modern steel industry, while Ofunato City thrived as a cement and ship-building town. However, these smokestack industries which once underpinned coastal industry lost ground during the postwar high growth period, leading Kawasaki Steel and Rasa Industries to close their doors, and in Kamaishi, Nippon Steel (now Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp.) switched off its blast furnaces in 1989, leaving only a wire rod factory behind.
The region has worked to attract companies that will bring new industries in to replace these, but the shift in distribution from sea-based transportation to high-speed land-based transportation centered on expressways has placed the Sanriku coastal region at a locational disadvantage, with few companies wanting to set up operations there. The result has been ongoing economic stagnation and population decline. Kamaishi in particular has seen its population dwindle from over 90,000 in the late 1950s and early 60s, positioning it second only to Morioka in northeast Japan, to under 40,000 just before the disaster.
3. Iwate University disaster recovery efforts
Iwate University is a national university with roots tracing back to Morioka Normal School, established in 1876, and the Morioka Imperial College of Agriculture and Forestry, established in 1902 as Japan's first tertiary-level school of agriculture. From the time of its foundation, the university has aimed to stimulate local industry by supplying human resources to serve as community leaders, and in recent years we have channeled resources into local revitalization through partnership with local towns, cities and villages. In particular, we have concluded a mutual friendship and cooperation agreement with the coastal cities of Kuji and Miyako, Kamaishi, with which we have been pursuing industry-university-government partnership activities. Iwate University provided human resource development support for the emerging connector industry cluster in Miyako City, and in Kamaishi City we helped develop manufacturing technologies for the non-ferrous metal cobalt base alloy. Cobalt base alloy development in particular was a nine-year project that began in 2004 with the help of a large-scale research grant from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and just before the 2011 disaster, local companies were on the point of being able to manufacture a new alloy.
Responding to the Great East Japan Earthquake, on 11 March immediately after the disaster, the Iwate University Crisis Response Headquarters was set up under the leadership of our president to check the safety of staff and students and the extent of damage to buildings and facilities. Once we had roughly ascertained the status of campus damage, the Iwate University Great East Japan Earthquake Recovery Response Headquarters was set up on 1 April, organizing the whole university behind the region's early restoration and reconstruction from disaster. This was followed on 1 April 2012 by organization of the Iwate University Headquarters for Promotion of Sanriku Region Recovery, which, drawing on support from the government and private groups and companies, has been bringing in reconstruction support experts to help tackle a range of projects supporting the affected area.
In addition, because our campus is more than 100 kilometers away from the affected area, we felt that it was necessary to build new university bases closer to the coast. A satellite office was therefore set up in Kamaishi City in October 2011, followed by extension centers in Miyako City and Ofunato City, building connections between the university and the community.
4. Manufacturing industry reconstruction support
The only industrial support institution in the Sanriku coastal area is the Kamaishi-Otsuchi Regional Industrial Research Development and Training Center, jointly established by Kamaishi and Otsuchi Town, which was also a hub for cobalt base alloy development. However, the ground floor of the building was flooded by the tsunami following the Great East Japan Earthquake, and all the machinery installed there was destroyed (Photos 1 and 2), jeopardizing continued project support, not to mention support for the manufacturing industry along the coast.
Iwate University has been involved in cobalt base alloy development from the outset, and, taking this grim situation as a chance, decided to create a new manufacturing industry able to handle all processes from manufacturing to processing of cobalt base alloy and other hard-to-cut materials locally, primarily in Kamaishi. Coupled with the rebirth of the Kamaishi-Otsuchi Regional Industrial Research Development and Training Center (Photo 3), we introduced a five-axis machining center, a wire electro discharge machine, a coordinate measuring machine, a CAD-CAM system and other leading-edge processing machinery, along with specialist staff (Photo 4).
At the same time, to lift the level of the manufacturing industry as a whole, we have also been focusing on human resource development. Taking advantage of what the university has learned from the master craftsman development project (die and mold, minting and composite device master craftsmen) which we have been operating inland since 2007 in order to create a hub for the development of human resources who can contribute to regional rebirth, since 2012 we have been running a course for the development of advanced manufacturing human resources for the Sanriku region. Further, recognizing the need to foster entrepreneurs as well, we have been running the "Sanriku Livelihood Coaching School" with the support of the Institution of Professional Engineers, Japan, and seminars supporting women setting up new businesses, which are taught by university incubation managers and other specialist staff (Photo 5), working to develop a diverse range of personnel. As of 2013, our workshops on the newly-introduced leading-edge machinery and CAD-CAM system have also settled in (Photo 6), enabling us to pursue human resource development that combines classroom and practical learning.
Government support for promoting manufacturing industry reconstruction will end in March 2016, so support for human resource development, acquisition of processing technology knowhow and new business establishment has a limited timeframe, but backed by the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, the Institution of Professional Engineers, Japan and other groups and companies, the various projects are making progress, and we will continue our efforts with a view to the creation of a special alloy cluster in Kamaishi and the wider Sanriku coastal area.
(original article : Japanese)