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Back and Forth to the Future of Manufacturing

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

Regular readers might remember my December column, “Clues to the Future of Manufacturing,” which described a trip to Japan with Mitsui Seiki. I was back in Japan a few weeks later, this time to visit Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Group, the Japanese manufacturing giant. With global operations in power systems; industry and infrastructure; and aircraft, defense and space, MHI’s footprint includes 83,000 employees, $35 billion in annual revenue, and 300 companies—with 54% of its sales from outside Japan.

The headline refers to MHI’s role in the birth of Japanese manufacturing, three decades after US Admiral Matthew Perry forced the opening of Japanese ports to American trade, in 1852. MHI was founded as a shipbuilder in 1884 by leasing the Nagasaki Shipyard from the Japanese government.

Today, MHI looks back to its long history, with a fascinating company museum in Nagasaki, while planning new, advanced projects, such as a regional passenger jet and a next-gen rocket (launch vehicle). It also has a big presence in North America. With headquarters in Houston, MHI’s US operations focus on energy, power systems, industrial machinery, commercial aviation and transportation. The US is now MHI’s largest sales region outside Japan, with 7000 employees and $6.1 billion in revenue.

On our tour, we saw turbochargers, steam turbines, gas turbines and launch vehicles being made. For me, though, the best part was seeing giant sections of liquefied natural gas (LNG) ships being made. The six-year-old in me was amazed to see mammoth welding machines and cranes moving enormous parts around as if they were Lego sets.

MHI’s products include gas turbines greater than 250 MW in output; an oil recovery system in Texas that captures 1.4 million tons of CO2 annually; an expected 11 million turbochargers in 2018; offshore wind turbines; and the new 70–90 seat Mitsubishi Regional Jet (as well as components for Boeing, Airbus Helicopters and Bombardier). It also makes the H-IIA (H2A) and H-IIB rocket launch vehicles and is developing the next-gen H3 vehicle, slated to launch in 2020.

From making Japan’s first steel steamship in 1887, the Yugao Maru, to developing the H3 to head to outer space, MHI is a big part of the history—and future—of Japan.

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