Focusing on quality and productivity has made Yaskawa Electric America, Inc., the world’s largest supplier of AC servomotors, AC inverters and robotics for factory automation, as April Terreri discovers.
You might think of this company as the high-octane fuel that powers other high-performing manufacturers. The company is Yaskawa Electric America, Inc., of Waukegan, Ill. Its products are used by major manufacturers of automotive components, machine tools, packaging equipment, semiconductor chips, shipping cranes and power distribution systems — to name a few.
Original-equipment manufacturers continually survey the manufacturing landscape for outsource companies like Yaskawa, which are capable of delivering the highest-quality products in the most cost-effective manner. Yaskawa built its reputation by offering automation products of unsurpassed quality to OEMs for use in manufacturing their products. While it sells under its own worldwide name, Yaskawa has brand-labeled certain products for years. Chances are that customers who bought inverters and servomotors from OEMs such as Motoman, MagneTek, Saftronics, IDM, EMS and Omron have Yaskawa products working for them.
Yaskawa is the world’s leading supplier of AC servos, AC inverters and robots, and is building its business in motion controllers and other products. Yaskawa products help manufacturers improve their productivity through automated process and product control. In business for about 86 years, the company opened its first U.S. office in 1967 in Oakbrook, Ill.
Push for Productivity
“Our products are designed and manufactured to exceed industry reliability standards,” says Dennis Kostrzewski, marketing director. Kostrzewski adds that Yaskawa targets a base mean time between failure (MTBF) that is always far above industry standards. Yaskawa products deliver the highest performance levels and the greatest reliability factors in the world.
“The heart and soul of our company is motion and when companies need to increase their competitive edge, they come to Yaskawa where we push performance in every category of product we make,” says Kostrzewski. “Many companies using our products experience as much as 400 percent to 600 percent productivity gain without any other mechanical redesign.”
The company’s four major business segments include mechatronic components, mechatronic systems, industrial electric components and industrial electric control systems. Mechatronic components include AC/DC servomotors, inverters, servo controllers, motion controllers, programmable controllers and numerical controls used in a wide range of factory automation applications. Mechatronic systems are industrial robots used in a variety of factory automation applications. The manufacture of semiconductor wafers and other products require special clean-room robotics produced by Yaskawa.
Industrial electric components include motors, generators, switch gears, drive systems, breakers, contactors and specialized electromechanical devices. Industrial electric control systems include a group focusing on the Asia-Pacific region in a Japanese joint venture with Siemens to provide turnkey systems for waste treatment plants, integrated steel mills, refineries and water purification plants.
One of Yaskawa’s newest products is the Legend, a digital torque amplifier, which controls AC servomotors in torque mode. “It offers the highest performance specifications and the most competitive sales price of any other product in its class out there today,” says Kostrzewski. Another recent product launch is Yaskawa’s linear motors. “We are moving linear motors out of the custom business into more standardized modules,” says Kostrzewski. “These new products will simplify our customers’ machines mechanically, offering higher performance and, therefore, increased productivity.”
“People who are going to succeed in competing on the value, performance and reliability of their equipment are prime candidates for partnerships with Yaskawa,” says Kostrzewski. He also notes that the ISO 9001-certified company received the Deming Application Prize in 1984. “It is the most prestigious award for quality in the world, and Yaskawa is the only company specializing in industrial electronic equipment to have earned the prize,” he says.
Quality is known by the company it keeps and Ford Motor Company has recognized Yaskawa. “We were the first and, to my knowledge, are the only factory automation supplier with the highest reliability and maintainability rating at Ford, called the Green Status rating,” says Kostrzewski. Ford’s program focuses on the entire cost-of-ownership cycle, from product selection to reliability to maintenance in the plant. “The program incorporates very severe criteria,” he says. “We were awarded Green Status only after a full review of our installed base, our service, our applications engineering support and our ability to support large programs.”
Yaskawa uses total quality management (TQM) in its management style and strategy, which is consistent with its heritage of supreme quality. “Quality is very important to us,” says Kostrzewski, who also notes that the company’s warranty costs, as a percentage of sales, are only one-tenth of that of its competitors. This means that few Yaskawa customers take advantage of their warranties — simply because they don’t have to. “Some major automotive plants with our products in their equipment have been running that equipment up to 12 years without ever having to open the doors to service the equipment,” he says.
Operating headquarters in Germany, Japan and the United States, Yaskawa maintains facilities around the world to better serve its customers. Its three major U.S. locations total more than 300,000 square feet, including the West Carrollton, Ohio, robotics manufacturing plant; its Buffalo Grove, Ill., plant, which manufactures servos and inverters; and the Columbus, Ohio, facility, which is dedicated to systems manufacturing. In addition, its Synetics Systems business in Portland, Ore., and its headquarters and research and development facilities nearly equal the total manufacturing space.
Partners in Value
Quality-, performance- and technology-driven, Yaskawa offers its customers a greater return on investment through more productive uptime, which delivers more parts per hour. In the United States, the company markets its products through direct sales and a distribution network of application solutions centers (ASCs). Throughout the rest of the world, it markets according to the most effective channel strategies present within each particular country. Also, partnerships through which the company develops advanced value-added services are increasingly important to Yaskawa’s progress. “The benefits of an ‘open architecture’ depend largely on closer relationships than ever before with our customers, suppliers and those we might have called competitors,” says Kostrzewski.
It’s been a long but successful journey from the coal mines of southern Japan, where Daigoro Yasukawa founded Yaskawa Electric to supply electrical motors for water pumps, ventilation systems and equipment to mine and remove the coal. Today, the $2 billion company employs 8,000 people worldwide (more than 500 in the United States).
Yaskawa’s 2000 revenues grew by a phenomenal 30 percent. The company is thus sound financially and prepared to offer a bright future to its customers. “We plan to continue to maintain our leadership position in quality and reliability by offering innovative technology-based products that will align with our customers’ changing needs,” Kostrzewski vows.