29 Apr 2020

We talked with Tokai Kasei, a Japanese company that produces automotive interiors and sound deadening parts, about the future of the automotive sector and the more than thirty-year relationship with Cannon

The future trends of the automotive market seem clear: cars will be connected, autonomous, shared and electric.

What is not equally clear, however, is how the automotive industry will organize itself to follow up on these trends. Automotive companies have already begun to invest in this future, looking for new partners to obtain new skills, or strengthening old relationship with the already set suppliers, to whom they request more flexibility and global support.

We asked some questions about this topic to Mr. Nishiyama and Mr. Yabu, production process developing engineers of Tokai Kasei, a Japanese company which produces automotive interior parts, like headrest and armrest, and sound deadening parts, using mainly polyurethane.

Tokai Kasei was established in 1968. Today the main shareholders are Sumitomo Riko at 80% and Toyota Boshoku at 20%. Sumitomo Riko is today part of the larger Sumitomo Group.

Mr Nishiyama and Mr Yabu, thank you for this interview. Let’s talk about polyurethane: how long have you been processing PU foams in your business and how do you see the evolution of this material into the automotive industry?

“We have more than 50 years of experience in PU processing: since the very beginning of our activity, our production has been focused on polyurethane. And even if, due to the evolution of the automotive market towards lighter vehicles, the concept laying at the base of the design of vehicle is going to change, we think that the interior parts, in terms of materials, won’t be affected by great changes and PU will keep playing an important role.

Of course, two trends are having an impact on interiors: the research of even lighter vehicles, and the use of different materials. In the first case, we have already tried to reduce the foam density (and chemical costs, too) of our products, using fillers. In the second, instead, we specialized in the production of the same car components with inserts in materials other than PU.”

How do you think the automotive market will be in the future?

“We imagine that in the future passenger vehicles will be divided in luxury models and models for general public, including a significant portion of shared cars. While the former will require materials with high performance, the latter will require robust and cost-effective materials.

This dichotomy will impose different ways of producing and also products specifically designed for machines belonging to one or the other category. So we have already started, for instance, to develop dedicated sound deadening parts for both these two different targets.

But actually no one knows what will happen in the future.”

And, given these two targets, the luxury and the cheapest one, how do you cope with them with your production? Do you assign different products to different production lines or not?

“Well, depending on technical features of the products, requirements of our machines are also different. Generally speaking, we can say that we have dedicated production systems for meet the requests of these two segments of market”.

Cannon visiting Tokai Kasei

Talking about chemical formulations: we suppose that every product requires a specific chemical formulation, isn’t it? Do you prepare them by yourselves or do you buy them from raw chemical suppliers?

“Yes, we are using about 40 different chemical formulations for our productions. For what concerns the isocyanate, we buy it from the market. Polyol, instead, is self-formulated: depending on customer requirements, we create our own recipe.”

So in this sense, it seems important for your production lines to have some sort of flexibility, in order to manage different formulations, maybe through special mixing heads. Is this so?

“As we said before, every product requires a specific chemical formulation, and as you can imagine, every formulation needs the change of the machine configuration: so plants are reconfigured for the production of each component.

In some cases we modify the equipment we already have, in some other cases we have to buy new ones.”

Now let’s go through the history of this long-lasting relationship with Cannon. When did you buy the first Cannon machine?

“We bought the first Cannon machine 30 years ago: it was a small carrousel with one high pressure dosing machine, that we bought for producing PUR components for air conditioning systems (I’m not talking about automotive market); products that are now no longer in Tokai Kasei portfolio.

After the first good experience, we bought a second machine for dashboards back foaming. Today we have here in Japan more than a dozen of Cannon machines and a couple of carousels in operation. And other Cannon machines are installed in other Tokai Kasei sites outside Japan.”

When did you purchase your first plant for overseas?

“Poland was the first plant overseas, installed in year 2000 by Cannon. Soon after, we bought another plant in Tennessee, USA.”

Thank you for your trust in us…

“Well, Cannon global presence allows us to buy Cannon products with the same configuration all over the world and, at the same time, to receive a prompt support in case of anomaly.

Furthermore, we are very satisfied by the performance of your equipment, especially of the mixing quality of your heads: compared with other mixing heads, in fact, Cannon mixing heads are quite small with a good shot accuracy. They are perfect for Tokai Kasei production of smaller sound deadening parts and headrests.”