Factory VisitSodick Thailand Plants

Sodick Thailand Plants Interview with Sodick Thailand President Hideki Tsukamoto

Almost 25 years passed for Sodick Thailand operation.
The Thailand Plants have developed into Sodick’s main factories, accounting for some 40% of the company’s overall production.

We spoke with Sodick Thailand President Tsukamoto, who knows a lot about the plant’s history, to find out what has led to its growth. We also asked him about his perspective on working with the local employees from Thailand along with his experience there during the 2011 flood.

ソディックタイ工場 塚本英樹社長

First of all, please tell us about some of the distinguishing strengths of the Thailand Plants.
The Thailand Plants employ a workforce of over 1,000 Thai citizens, and engage in integrated production processes from design to assembly.
We make a total of 24 different machine models, including 11 wire-cut electrical discharge machines (EDM), nine die-sinker EDMs, and four injection molding machines. Our machines are exported to the U.S., Europe, and Asia, including Japan.
Output from the Thailand Plants now accounts for some 40% of the unit production volume of the entire Sodick Group. What is it that has enabled you to achieve this sort of growth?
We initially established operations in Thailand with the intention of producing low-priced machines for the American market in a location promising low exposure to risks involving foreign exchange rates. However, we ended up gradually increasing the number of models under production so that we would not be overly susceptible to economic cycles, which would otherwise be the case if we were to serve a single market. We also ratcheted up our manufacturing capacity with the aim of achieving consistent levels of production, and began targeting a wider geographic market extending from the U.S. to Europe and Japan. Pursuing such aims is what helped fuel our growth. Manufacturers based in different countries, particularly those from Japan, previously gravitated more toward machines made in Japan, but over about the last ten years they have become more open to the idea of purchasing machines produced in Thailand. It was around this time that we were able to boost our production to over 100 machines per month.
Why is it that you have been opting to handle almost all component production and assembly work in house since first establishing operations in Thailand?
When Sodick first set foot in Thailand some 25 years ago, we handled a range of tasks on our own because at the time there were no companies that we could turn to for outsourcing. In other words, we had no choice but to do things in house. However, nowadays we produce items that we would be unable to manufacture without turning to outsourcing.
We try to produce things in-house, and outsource only where possible. This strategy enables us to monitor costs and while avoiding situations where other companies steer our prices. Moreover, we have managed to avoid the need to reduce our workforce as a result of having secured volumes of in-house production work irrespective of business cycles. This mode of maintaining integrated operations in-house enables us to take a more flexible approach in various respects.
Apparently quite a few of your Thai employees have been with the company for many years.
How do you create a pleasant and productive workplace environment that enables you to retain employees as you have?


First of all, we placed utmost importance on communication. People in Thailand tend to place a lot of emphasis on hierarchical relationships. For instance, supervisors most often take a unilateral approach in telling their employees what needs to be done. Although this approach might work in a company that have firmly-entrenched operations, companies like ours which are gearing up for expansion need to ensure that rank-and-file employees contribute their opinions on a range of matters, otherwise the flow of communication is apt deteriorate. It used to be that we would find it hard to tell if the employees truly understood what they were supposed to do from the outset. Therefore, we persistently asked employees if they had truly comprehended the instructions given. Also we have been recently attracting employees who have industry knowledge, unlike the situation we faced back when the factory was launched. Still, with the aim of creating an efficient workplace environment, we are creating job categories and clearly specifying work associated with those jobs. I think this approach will make it easier for our staff members to perform their work.
In 2011 there was a massive flood and the first factory in Thailand was also damaged.
Please tell us what you faced back then.

After the flood / Recently

The first factory manufactures printed circuit boards, and is the only Sodick factory that handles such production. We had envisioned a very tough times given the likelihood that Sodick manufacturing operations in other countries would be adversely affected should our deliveries fall behind schedule. Fortunately for us, however, the facility’s second floor, where our printed circuit board production takes place, did not incur direct damage in the flooding. On top of that, veteran manager Mr. Sompol spearheaded efforts to hoist large electric generators onto a raft and get them to the factory, even though the entire area was by then inundated with muddy water from the flooding (* Mr. Sompol was featured in our interview of local members of Sodick Thailand's workforce). At the time, we had to deal with the problem of the generators on the rafts moving progressively lower as the water levels receded day by day.
Fortunately, our Thai workforce again provided firm support by taking initiative to come up with a series of solutions, all while the Japanese staff members, who normally would have been in a position to provide guidance, thought about what needed be done.
Also on another front, we completed construction of our second factory in the following year, which will help us hedge our exposure to such risks in the future.
Finally, could you tell us what developments lie ahead with respect to the Thailand Plants?


After having manufactured EDMs over many years, both the first and second factories began producing injection molding machines in 2013. Also, although levels of machinery demand vary depending on the market, we don't expect any sharp volume increases in sales of our mainstay EDM products down the road, given that we have already captured the largest share of that market. As such, we need to put extensive thought into the matter of what we can do with the facilities at the Thailand Plants, rather than merely trying something new.
In that regard, we need to become involved in something that is beyond the capabilities of other companies. For instance, I would like to see us pursue opportunities that entail quick turn-around times in supplying specially designed machines at low cost. The notion of improving quality and increasing efficiency, for instance, may seem a bit low key, but it is an area where we should steadily channel our efforts.