Recovering from the Great East Japan Earthquake
Spotlight on Affected Companies (1)
Spotlight on Affected Companies (1)
Vice-President and Managing Director
Institute for International Studies and Training
The Tohoku economy is recovering steadily from the damage caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake, thanks to the unflagging efforts of companies recovering from the disaster. I visited affected companies to ask them about the recovery and rehabilitation process and the lessons they have learned.
Hayashi Seiki Seizo Co., Ltd., headquartered in Sukagawa City, Fukushima Prefecture, was founded in 1921. The company’s areas of expertise include high-grade watchcases and precision metal processing, plating and surface treatment for watch parts and other products. Hayashi Seiki’s high level of technological skill is borne out its receipt of the Fukushima Manufacturers’ Award Grand Prize in February 2011, just before the Great East Japan Earthquake. The March disaster wreaked massive damage on the company, including the destruction of a three-storey building at its main Sukagawa plant. I asked company president Akihiro Hayashi about the recovery process.
Q: What was the situation on the day of the disaster?
A: When the quake struck, I was at a meeting at another plant. I couldn’t reach our headquarters by phone, so I climbed into the car to go and check the situation, but the roads had subsided and would suddenly drop away, making the area around the company impassable. The usual 15-minute journey turned into three hours before I finally got there via a very roundabout route.
The three-storey building that contained the factory and our office was destroyed. I couldn’t believe it. Apparently it wasn’t because the building wasn’t strong enough, it was because the ground had warped. We had 128 people at work there that day, but fortunately there wasn’t a single casualty because all the big machinery on the first floor stopped the roof from collapsing on them.
After the quake, a fire broke out on the second floor. Because the building had collapsed, ordinary fire engines couldn’t get water in that far. On Saturday, the day after the quake, we borrowed heavy machinery with a concrete cutter attached from a company in Koriyama and cut through the concrete to make a hole so that we could finally put the fire out. The Sukagawa plant accounted for around 60 percent of our business, so the damage to the company was enormous.
Q: How did you start out toward recovery?
A: If our company doesn’t make parts, our customers can’t make products. To ensure that the manufacturing chain wasn’t broken, we needed to resume production as quickly as possible. At first it was impossible to ascertain the exact extent of the damage, so we made up an operations sheet with “best effort” targets. To meet them, there were three big issues we had to overcome.
First, we had to find somewhere to work from. We asked one of our clients, Seiko Instruments Inc., if we could borrow a factory that they weren’t using. They gave us the go-ahead straight away. Finally it seemed like there might be some light at the end of the tunnel in terms of getting operations back up and running.
Second, we had to work out how to move across the machinery needed for metal processing. More than 300 machines had to be shifted. Immediately after the earthquake, labor was short, as were trucks and gasoline, so asking a specialist firm would have taken too much time. We assembled a team of 40 from factory maintenance staff and other employees, and began moving the machinery ourselves.
Some of the machines weigh several tonnes, so we had to disassemble them before they were moved. Using forklifts to load and unload, we finally managed to restart part of our production line on 15 April, over a month after the quake. On 15 June, we managed to get all our manufacturing operations back on line.
Third, and most importantly, there was the issue of whether there would be any work for us when we re-launched production.
When we originally made our operations sheet, we thought it would take five months to get back into operation. When we showed the sheet to our clients, they advised us that it would have to be three months or there wouldn’t be any work. Fortunately, we managed to get everything back up and running in three months. Because some parts are built into our clients’ supply chains, we couldn’t hold on to those orders, but the fact that most customers waited for us to resume production is, I think, testimony to the relations of mutual trust that we’ve built up over the years.
Q: Did you have a business continuity plan (BCP) in place?
A: We were looking at it, but we hadn’t got as far as formulating one before the quake struck. BCPs are good things to have, but what we learned from this experience is that the most important thing is relations of mutual trust with your customers. Even with a BCP, we could well have got our operations back underway only to find we had no work if it hadn’t been for those relationships.
Q: What are your plans now?
A: Medical equipment looks to be a strong growth area in the years ahead. Fukushima Prefectures is also putting a lot of resources into developing the medical equipment industry, so we would like to work with universities and other partners toward establishing medical equipment-related work as a new plank in our business three to five years from now.
Hayashi Seiki Co., Ltd. was originally established in Tokyo. It was damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923) and then moved to Fukushima Prefecture during the Pacific War, overcoming these two major difficulties to achieve its current position. The company will take the third major trial of the March 2011 quake in its stride as well, and go on to even greater things. President Hayashi is clearly committed not to a simple recovery—a return to the status quo—but rather a rehabilitation that positions the company to make further advances.
(original article : Japanese)