ANN ARBOR, MICH. - Assembling injection molding machines in the United States will help Ube Industries Ltd. offer midsize presses, significantly expanding its market in North America, according to an Ube executive. Ube, which had shipped machines from Japan based on orders in hand, also will use the new Ann Arbor assembly factory to build standard machines that it will stock at the plant and in a warehouse in Detroit, said Toshiaki Kaku, president of Ube Machinery Inc., Ube's U.S. unit.
Kaku also confirmed that Ford Motor Co., Ube's largest U.S. customer, encouraged the Japanese company to perform assembly in the United States.
About 200 customers, suppliers and local government officials attended a July 24 open house in Ann Arbor. In a Japanese ceremony, they raised square wooden mugs of sake to toast the 48,000-square-foot assembly plant.
Ube has sold about 300 injection presses in the United States since it began sales here in 1984. Most have been very large, with clamping forces of 1,500 tons or more, sold for automotive molding.
Having U.S. production means Ube will become a more well-rounded supplier, Kaku said in an interview after the ceremony.
``One purpose of building this facility is to increase the sales of under-1,500-ton machines, using American components,'' he said.
In Ann Arbor, Ube will make machines as small as 500 tons.
``Under 1,500 tons, we will try to make it as standard as possible, with some optional equipment,'' Kaku said.
Ube invested $5 million in the plant, which will manufacture 30-40 injection presses a year at first and 70-80 machines by 2000. The plant should turn out about 20 presses the rest of this year, he said.
It will take 15-20 days to make a machine at the Ann Arbor plant, said Pat Berry, production manager.
Nearly every component is U.S.-made. The controller is from Allen-Bradley Co. Inc. of Milwau-kee. The screw supplier is Great Lakes Feedscrews Inc. of Tecum-seh, Mich. Kaku declined to disclose other suppliers.
The only major remaining non-U.S. components are large metal castings, such as platens and machine bases. But Ube officials are trying to find a North American source for those parts.
``Before we get U.S. sources of any equipment, we have to make sure the quality will meet our standards,'' Kaku said.
Ube officials said U.S. manufacturing and parts sourcing will help offset the strong yen. Although the yen forced most Japanese injection press makers to raise prices in recent years, Ube has not raised prices, Kaku said.
Kaku also acknowledged what has been an open secret in Detroit plastics circles - that Ford pushed for Ube to build machines in the United States. Kaku called it a ``very understandable request.''
``Ford requested us to be a full-service supplier, also a global supplier. Their intention is to use the equipment which has more American components, which are familiar [to] Ford's operators and maintenance people,'' he said.
Ube currently employs 42 in Ann Arbor. Daniel O'Keefe, national sales manager, said the factory soon will undergo audits for ISO 9000 and Ford's Q1 quality designation.
In a speech at the open house, Maomi Nagahiro, president of Ube Industries in Tokyo, said plant size eventually will be tripled to 150,000 square feet.
Nagahiro said several states courted Ube, including Kentucky, Ohio and Georgia.
Ube picked Ann Arbor, where it already had U.S. offices, because Michigan is close to customers and has a skilled work force, he said.
Kaku, who led the ceremonial sake toast, became president of the U.S. operation in May. In Japan, he was global general manager of injection press sales. His predecessor in Ann Arbor, Ryusuke Nakamura, returned to Japan to head sales of plant engineering and environmental control equipment.