The 20% devaluation of the Japanese Yen against the US Dollar since the end of 2012 has resulted in a much improved business environment for many Japanese companies, including those in the PM industry.
Mitsubishi Materials Corp. (MMC) reported an increase of 16% in consolidated group net sales for the first quarter of its new financial year (2013/2014) ended June 30 to Yen 423 billion ($4.4 billion). This is largely due to the 13.5% rise in cement sales and a 13.8% rise in sales of the metals division. MMCs ‘Advanced Materials & Tools’ division, which includes Diamet Corp, Mitsubishi Materials Tools Co., Ltd. and MMC Superalloy Corp, continued in negative territory in the quarter with a 1.7% decrease in sales to Yen 36 billion ($369 million). However, operating profit for the Advanced Materials & Tools division increased by 15.1%. There were reported increases in sales for cemented carbide tools as a direct result of the depreciation of the Yen, but sales of PM parts decreased due to the end of eco-car government subsidies in Japan.
Sumitomo Electric Industries (SEI) also reported buoyant first quarter sales to June 30 with an 11.4% increase to Yen 587.4 billion ($6.02 billion). Group net income improved by 13.8% to Yen 15.9 billion ($163 million). The ‘Industrial Materials & Others’ division at SEI, which includes the production of cemented carbides (hardmetals), PM parts, and the fully owned A.L.M.T. subsidiary which produces W, Mo, heavy metal, thermal management materials, ceramics, diamond tools and hardmetals, reported a 4.4% increase in division sales to Yen 72.2 billion ($740 million). Sales of structural PM parts increased by 3.3% in the quarter to Yen 12.2 billion ($125 million), whilst hardmetal (cemented carbide ) sales increased by 7.1% to Yen 19.5 billion ($199.8 million), and sales at A.L.M.T. increased by 10.3% to Yen 9.6 billion ($98.4 million).
SEI launched its new mid-term management plan in April 2013 called VISION 2017 which aims to match last year’s record earnings or to reach even higher levels through prior investments in capital assets and research and development in the sectors covered by its divisions. VISION 2017 targets consolidated sales of Yen 3 trillion, operating income of Yen 180 billion and ROA of 9% by the financial year ending March 2018.
The ‘Industrial Materials & Others’ division is reported to have spent Yen 6.8 billion ($70 million) in R&D over the past year. The division plans to increase sales of cutting tools to newly emerging markets such as Brazil, Indonesia and Turkey. SEI recently started full-scale production at its new hardmetal factory in Hokkaido where Hokkaido Sumiden Precision Co Ltd has introduced super high-efficiency production lines to meet global demand for hardmetal tools. These production lines have doubled output per employee and increased productivity per unit of space by 30%. Production lead times for cemented carbide indexable inserts have been halved from previous levels to 6 days.
In the sintered parts sector SEI has established a manufacturing and marketing joint venture with WLK Group and Santini Group, both industry leaders in Indonesia. SEI states that it is committed to developing new PM products using soft magnetic iron powders which have excellent magnetic properties in the high frequency range, as well as high performance soft magnetic powder materials to support EV and HEV applications.
A.L.M.T. is also accelerating new product development and marketing in the electronics field, including precision diamond tools for semiconductor nano- and micro-processing. The company has developed a high-hardness nano-polycrystalline diamond made from ultra-fine grains of several tens of nanometers using a new ultra-high voltage technology and a proprietary new manufacturing process. The SEI Group is also developing technology for recycling of tungsten and cobalt powders.
Hitachi Chemicals Ltd reported that sales in its ‘Functional Materials’ and ‘Advanced Components & Systems’ divisions increased by just 1% to Yen 119 billion ($1.2 billion) for the quarter ending June 30, 2013. Sales in the Advanced Components & Systems division, which includes structural PM parts and PM bearings, decreased by 2.2% to Yen 53.7 billion ($550 million) compared with the same quarter in 2012. The decrease was attributed to a decline in sales of industrial batteries and systems. However, operating income for the two divisions at Hitachi Chemicals increased by 10.6% to Yen 7.5 billion ($76.9 million) in the quarter.