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No. 361, October 1999

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Japanese Companies in the US


Just two months shy of the tenth anniversary of operations in Gainesville, Georgia, KUBOTA MANUFACTURING OF AMERICA CORP. doubled its capacity to manufacture lawn tractors. The expansion, which cost some $19.4 million, covers both the T Series of 12.5-horsepower, 14- hp and 17-hp lawn tractors, which the company has made since 1995, and the TG Series, an 18-hp lawn and garden tractor that was added to the production line in 1997. With the extra capacity, the wholly owned KUBOTA CORP. subsidiary hopes to boost lawn tractor output to $60.2 million in 2000, about twice the level projected for this year. KMA, which is close to employing 600-plus people, was set up to make front-end loaders. It now turns out 2,000 such units a month. It also produces backhoes, a 1990 addition, and roll bars for tractors.

Fifteen months after the Glendale Heights, Illinois marketing subsidiary of machine tool builder IKEGAI CORP. tied up with MITSUI MACHINE TECHNOLOGY, INC. in an attempt to move its business beyond the sale of one or two CNC (computer numerically controlled) lathes and machining centers to a job shop here and there, the company has won its first big contract. ZOLLNER PISTONS LLC of Fort Wayne, Indiana ordered 29 of Ikegai's TC26 two-axis, chucker- type CNC lathes in a deal worth roughly $1.9 million. Most of the machines will be delivered in 2000. Ikegai is estimating its U.S. sales at $18.5 million in 1999.

Although best known for its midsize and large CNC lathes and machining centers, big machine tool manufacturer OKUMA CORP. is trying to develop the low end of the American market with made-in-Japan models. A recently formed division at OKUMA AMERICA CORP., the company's Charlotte, North Carolina production unit, is spearheading the drive. Twelve of Okuma's 40 U.S. distributors now handle low-end products. The firm believes that it can sell between 10 and 20 less expensive CNC lathes and MCs a month despite the fact that this part of the American market has been soft so far in 1999 and the yen's strength makes exports less competitive.

Market newcomer TOYO MACHINERY & METAL CO., LTD. of Hyogo prefecture is introducing through an unnamed distributor its three-model Si Series of computerized plastic injection molding machines. Available with a clamping force of 50 tons, 150 tons or 280 tons, these ultraprecision machines are capable of molding products as thin as 0.08 millimeter with no irregularities in the surface, thanks to automatic adjustment of pressure and resin amount. Moreover, with two motors, the injection speed is double that of conventional plastic injection molders.

The first direct imaging press for the book printing market is the initial objective of a development alliance between press maker AKIYAMA PRINTING MACHINERY MANUFACTURING CORP. and PRESSTEK, INC., a supplier of digital imaging and printing plate technologies for the printing and graphic arts industries. They will bring digital imaging to the Tokyo company's J Print, a compact, multicolor press with a unique linear transfer arrangement that permits printing on both sides of the sheet in one pass. The new J Print DI press will use the Hudson, New Hampshire partner's digital plate media. It is expected to debut in 2000.

KAWASAKI HEAVY INDUSTRIES, LTD. licensed its patented tungsten carbide nozzle for water-jet cutting machines to Latrobe, Pennsylvania-head-quartered KENNAMETAL INC., the North American leader in consumable tools for the metalworking industry. Designed for machines that combine ultra-high-pressure water and fine abrasive powder to cut such hard materials as metal, glass and ceramics, the KHI technology yields nozzles that are 10 to 20 times more wear-resistant than ones made from traditional cemented carbide.

In its first such deal, the U.S. production unit of bearing manufacturer KOYO SEIKO CO., LTD. contracted with AMERICAN AXLE & MANUFACTURING, INC. for three forged products. The two rotating wheel hubs and a wheel spindle will be made at AAM's Tonawanda, New York forging facility and shipped to Koyo Seiko's wheel bearing plants in Orangeburg and Blythewood, South Carolina. Annual production volumes for each part range from roughly 200,000 units to double that amount. One of the rotating wheel hubs is for the BMW Z3 Roadster; the other goes into the Nissan Quest/Mercury Villager van. The wheel spindle is made for the Ford Lincoln LS sedan. It is used as well in Jaguars.

An exchange rate of ¥108=$1.00 was used in this report.

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