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In October 2011, I became aware of Terry Yamazaki's death. The chairman of Yamazaki Mazak Corp., his obituary (he died September 15, 2011, at the age of 82) was carried on Mazak's website and in the October issues of many North American metalworking magazines.

Teruyuki Yamazaki started out sweeping floors in his father Sadakichi's shop, Yamazaki Machinery, which made equipment for weaving tatami mats. Established in 1919, the company began manufacturing lathes and mills in 1927 and started an organized sales department in 1939.

Sixty years later, on the occasion of the now-global Yamazaki Mazak Corp.'s 80th anniversary, I made the trip to Nagoya and Mazak's world headquarters to see that year's new equipment and to interview Terry Yamazaki. Prime among the many impressions I've had of him over the years has been the breadth and depth of his thinking.

Mazak equipment, for example, pioneered such now-familiar innovations as multi-tasking, but Yamazaki's vision for continued production improvement not only went beyond metalworking machinery (the company also is a leading producer of industrial lasers), it often went beyond the idea of machines themselves.

"We are at a point where you cannot realize large improvements in productivity simply by installing faster machines or using the latest tooling and fixtures,” he told me. "The key is reducing production lead time to increase inventory turns. The result is improved cash flow, which obviously leads to more profitability. Such thinking improves every phase of business management.”

His solution, driven by his company's Mazatrol-PC-Fusion CNC, was to network the entire company and factory floor so that every machine had the ability to both send and receive data to PCs. "What we call the Cyber Factory can considerably reduce lead time by making concurrent manufacturing techniques a reality,” he said. "It used to require tremendous costs and high-level skills for introducing such IT technology. Now almost anybody can afford to do so.”

At the Oguchi plant, the initial Cyber Factory improvements were stunning. Prior to the Cyber Factory concept, Oguchi was producing approximately 800 different parts per month on 81 units of production equipment. After, the results were 1,400 kinds of parts on 61 machines - more output, less equipment. Less time as well - lead time for finished parts dropped from three weeks on average to under 1.5 weeks.

This was the seed of Production on Demand, the pull-manufacturing make-to-order system established at Mazak's North American plant in Florence, KY. Indeed, each Mazak plant has grown not only to be a showcase of Mazak machines making Mazak machines, each is an aggressive laboratory seeking continual improvements for manufacturing customers.

This also carried over into the fabricating and sheet metal arenas as well. Improvements in laser technology drove the concept of kit production, where all components of a product are cut and transferred to downstream processes as a kit. "To realize this production philosophy, turret punch presses cannot be used at all, as their purpose is to process a large number of parts with the same shape using hard tooling,” Terry said. "Only a system of laser-processing machines equipped with automatic material-handling equipment together with an automatic sorting system can do so.”

And if Mazak wasn't establishing plants around the world, they were establishing technology centres for training, field service, and customer support, including its Canada Technology Centre in Cambridge, ON, which opened in 2007.

In 1999, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers granted Terry its highest honour, naming him Honorary Member. His acceptance speech was vintage Terry. He spoke of economics. He spoke of education. He spoke of improvement. He wasn't Japan-centric, manufacturing-centric, or even Mazak-centric. He spoke like who he was, a citizen of the world and a leading man of business. And he delivered it in English, in deference to the audience and occasion.

He was rich in many ways. His collection of 18th-to-20th Century French and European paintings is housed in the Yamazaki Mazak Museum of Art in downtown Nagoya. He lived to see the leadership of his company pass in succession to the next generation - a company that continues to grow in customers and admirers around the world.

One memory among many is particularly vivid. A number of trade magazine editors were on the 1999 trip to Mazak headquarters. We all had prepared small tokens of our appreciation to present to Terry prior to our individual interviews with him. I remember being particularly jealous of one editor because not only was he chief editor of a respected publication, he was a former Mazak customer and was receiving a lot of attention from our hosts. Presenting his gift, he also complimented Terry on the reliability of Mazak equipment: "We have a turning centre from the 1960's still making parts,” he said.

Terry didn't hesitate. "Shame on you,” he said. "There have been so many improvements since then, the company is losing out on the chance to be more efficient.”

He chastised him, not wanting to be recognized for yesterday's accomplishments. Kampai, Mr. Yamazaki. You will never be forgotten.

Ray Chalmers is the principal at Chalmers Industrial Communications Inc., based in Canton, MI.

Top image: Tereyuki Yamazaki, centre, flanked by his brothers and various trade magazine editors, in his office, circa 1999. Your author is at the far left.

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