President and CEO Yoshio Ito
“We have been working as a developer-type manufacturer since our founding 50 years ago. In Japan, production-type manufacturers constitute 95% of all manufacturers, while developer-type manufactures account for only 5%. We have been responding to the requests of our customers who say, ‘I wish I had something like this’ by translating them into drawings and bringing them into concrete shapes,” says Yoshio Ito, President and CEO of First Electronics Development Co., Ltd. From artificial satellite communication devices to wireless departure bells of trains and FM radio rebroadcasting devices at expressways, the technologies of First Electronic Development are utilized even in our daily life. Mr. Ito explains his love of monozukuri (manufacturing) that underpins the company’s high technological strength.
Timing equipment developed in collaboration with TAG Heuer
In 1967, Mr. Ito quit a major company where he had worked as an engineer, and started his own company. He founded the company of his own because he got turned off by the labor union movement that was in full swing at the time and wanted an environment where he could dedicate himself to making things. He did not intend to become a subcontractor and was determined from the beginning to become a developer-type manufacturer. “I enjoyed ham radio, and when I produced and launched an audio compressor which is one of the peripheral devices of amateur radio operation equipment, it sold 500 units a month and became a huge hit. However, it drew the attention of other companies, which started to release similar products. A minor enterprise like us cannot afford the legal fees, so I decided that competing by sales amount was not the right way. I came to think that selling 100 units per month would be good enough and changed the direction to make high-performance products and try to sell them to clients that would appreciate the value of the products properly."
At about the same time, Swiss Ski (National Ski Association of Switzerland) invited an open bid for timing equipment that can measure time in 1/1000 second, instead of 1/100 second as with conventional equipment, and transmit data wirelessly between the top and bottom of the mountain. Mr. Ito developed a product in collaboration with TAG Heuer and won the bid. He says that the success also boosted his decision to change the direction of the company.
A wireless train departure bell installed at the platform of JR Tajimi Station
Mr. Ito has developed various new products since then. As he excels at radio communication technologies, he has developed and produced, among others, a wireless communication system for satellite "Kagayaki" and an FM radio rebroadcasting system that enables people to listen to the radio even in the highway tunnels, wireless train departure bell equipment for JR (Japan Railway) with a system in which a departure bell rings and a destination display changes to the next train's one when a conductor presses a wireless button. Another unique product is an FM radio-type command sharing system which has been adopted by the Japan Self-Defense Forces. When 4,000 members of SDF march in a parade, they tend to be out of step with each other if they have to march to the drill commands that they can hear from speakers placed in various places. Therefore, he invented the device which each troop member can wear on their back so they can hear the commands simultaneously without delay.
“We have five employees, and each employee is responsible for the whole production process of one product. If the process is divided into several parts among employees and every one of them puts 100% into their work, when those 100% perfect parts are put together sometimes the combined product has defects precisely because of the 100% perfection and the lack of optimal looseness. If one person oversees the whole process, they can juggle their energy and time as needed, like putting 120% into one step and 30% into another. Through this method, we not only can save time but also improve the perfection of our products.”
Mr. Ito is currently paying attention to forestry and agriculture. Through collaboration between industrial and academic sectors, he is pursuing development by seeking possibility in utilizing his company's technologies in doing the work involving some dangers and risks in dealing with the vast nature.
Companies and organizations visited for consultation are diverse, and the content of the consultation also varies.
“When a client comes for consultation, if the level of conversation with me doesn’t match the client’s expectations, the client would think that I am just one of the old school of a small-town factory. You cannot be an equal partner with your client unless you have the same or higher level of knowledge as your client. That’s why I try to learn three times as much as my clients do. Regarding IoT, weather, measurement and others, learning is indispensable to respond to leading edge requirements.”
“The number of walls I have overcome to respond to the orders for more than 50 years since the company's foundation has raised the company's technical capabilities,” says Mr. Ito. The company's motto displayed inside the company's building reads, “Be cheerful and have fun, make use of experience, put needs into shapes. Never give up and there will be a way to success ahead,” which well expresses Mr. Ito's love of making things.