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SENDAI NIKON

Mr. Katsuyuki Inomata is an engineer at Sendai Nikon Corporation, a major producer of Nikon flagship SLR cameras including the F5 and D1-series. He spoke to us about what it takes to manufacture such highly advanced cameras.

INOMATA, Katsuyuki
Parts Manufacturing Group Leader,
Imaging Division,
Sendai Nikon Corporation
PROFILE:
Mr. Inomata joined Sendai Nikon Corporation in 1977, was assigned to what was then the Mechanical Department, Manufacturing Division, and was engaged in manufacturing F3 camera parts. He went on to plan camera parts processing, design commissioned processing tools and develop methods to improve productivity, before assuming his present position in 2001. His favorite camera is the Nikon FE. "It was the first camera I bought soon after I joined the company and is still precious to me. I use it mainly at family events such as field days and vacations."
102
The first floor of Tower 102 is for processing operation of bayonets and CCD brackets, while the second floor is for assembling the F5, D1X, D1H and D100. In the picture is the machine for processing bayonets.
104
Tower 104 has only one floor where the main units for the F5 and parts for the F3 are manufactured. The picture shows the machine for processing F5 main units.
105
The first floor of Tower 105 has a clean room for precision instruments that are easily affected by dust. The second floor space is for attaching base plates to cameras and checking finishes. In the picture is a "Mounter" machine that allows high-density attachment.

We take pride in being responsible for Nikon flagship models.

What is the role of Sendai Nikon, among Nikon group companies?

Inomata, Katsuyuki:

Sendai Nikon is one of the main producers of Nikon SLR cameras. Nikon development division gives us requests about new cameras they want in terms of drawings, etc. Accordingly, Sendai Nikon looks for suitable materials, makes production plans, and selects manufacturing machines to create actual products based on these requests.

What models do you manufacture mainly?

Among film-based SLR cameras, we deal with the F5. Among digital SLR cameras, we deal with the D1X, D1H and D100.

I see. All are advanced models, aren't they?

Right. We deal with Nikon flagship models and take a lot of pride in that responsibility.

Other than the F5, all are digital cameras. Does this mean your main operations have only recently dealt with digital camera manufacturing?

In a few years, at a stroke, digital cameras have become our main products. Factory facilities have changed drastically, too. For example, we replaced all old machines with cutting-edge machines. We also get rid of conveyor belts.
As our main products are digital cameras, we actively cope with changing technologies. Needless to say, assembly of digital cameras is different from that for film-based cameras. Also, parts for digital camera are totally different from those for film-based cameras. The CCD is a good example of a part that is unique to digital cameras.

We shifted from line to cell production methods for the "lower-volume, multi-product production era"

Are production methods changing with time?

Yes. Line production using conveyor belts used to be mainstream, but now we employ cell production--a production system in which one unit, or cell, of several workers takes charge of manufacturing one part or one product. Mass production was required when we used conveyor belts, so a convenient system was one in which manufacturing flowed with one person in charge of a few production processes and another person in charge of the next few production processes. But these days, new products are introduced in quick succession, in order to deal with changing market demand, which causes drastic changes in production term and volume. The cell production method is indispensable for such a situation, as it adapts easily according to changes in products and production volumes.

Manufacturing line of cell production system. Working table can be separated, which makes it easy to change manufacturing lines. Compared to the line production system, one person's range of operation is wider, so each operator's technical skill is fairly good.

Is your operation line easy to change?

Yes. For smooth changeover of the line layout when the production plan changes, our working tables have casters. With conveyor belts, manufacturing lines can only be linear, but with cell production, manufacturing lines can be curved and flexible, so that we can easily accommodate any change in production volume.

Digital cameras are delicate. Dust or static electricity can disable them

Anti-electrostatic wristband (blue band). Even a little static electricity can damage electric circuits, so comprehensive countermeasures are required to prevent such damage.

Is any exclusive technology needed for digital camera production?

High-density attachment is an important technology that makes it possible to attach many small parts to a small base plate. As cameras become more advanced, the number of parts that are attached to one base plate increases, so this technology is crucial.

Is there any challenge unique to digital camera manufacturing?

Well, we take great care about minute dust particles. CCDs are easily affected by dust, so it is essential for us to take measures against dust. And an electric circuit is easily affected by static electricity, so we apply various measures against the intrusion of static electricity in the manufacturing process.

I see. It's quite a comprehensive approach.
What, then, is key to efficient manufacturing, whether making digital cameras or film-based cameras?

All commissioned processing tools for manufacturing the F5 body. Commissioned processing tools are combined for successive processing, reducing the time required for processing.

Machine tools customized to suit personal tastes are important. The quality of work, as well as the time and cost required to finish it, depend completely on the quality of these commissioned processing tools.
It's interesting that each of these tools reflects the character of the person who customized it. Using such a tool, you can identify who customized it. This person's artisanal spirit makes the tool easy to use and the tool renders such spirit timeless.