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Rust Not, Fear Not

Nuts and bolts are not likely on your mind when riding across bridges and through tunnels. But your life depends on them. A company in Osaka takes care of safety by making sure its products are resistant to rust. And that attention to detail has made it one of the leaders in the field.

The factory is very much a nuts and bolts kind of place. Since its founding 80 years ago, the company has grown to employ 150 people. Those workers have helped it claim a 50 percent share of the global rustproof bolt market.

The Chairman knows, the small objects his company makes have great importance.

Hirotada Takenaka has devoted his career to high-quality manufacturing.

"Bolts are indispensable to all kinds of things. Without them, Japan would have no industry at all. I want our company to be number-one in the field."
Hirotada Takenaka / Chairman, Takenaka Seisakusho

Bolts, however, need to be made receptive to nuts. Years ago, Takenaka introduced a product that was just 3 centimeters thick. Even so, it was strong and precise enough to withstand more than 60 tons of pressure.

Despite the quality, sales dropped by half during the 1980s. The yen had grown stronger, making Japanese-made goods more expensive. Takenaka set out to develop a product that would add value.

Conventional bolts typically were made of metal-plated steel. They would rust as soon as moisture seeped into their cracks.

Takenaka came up with the idea of preventing rust by using the non-stick coating found on frying pans.

It sounded good in theory. But every time a nut was screwed on, the coating would come off.

A fluid prime coat showed promise in overcoming that problem. Heating it allowed the non-stick substance to stay in place.

After five years of trial and error, Takenaka had the coating he needed to hold off the rust.

The green bolt is a model developed by his company. The blue bolt comes from another manufacturer. A month and a half in salt water revealed the character of both. No rust on the green one.

An underground railway tunnel is one of the many places the products protect. The environment is humid, but the bolts resist the formation of rust.

A four-kilometer bridge also makes use of the bolts as does an expressway tunnel that runs beneath Tokyo Bay.

Rustproofing isn't the end of the line for the company. It's working to develop a coating that can withstand even more extreme conditions. The substance on the iron plate won't shake off, even after a forceful blow. It's made of carbon nanotube, a very strong carbon crystal.

Takenaka says he approaches business as a non-stop race. He aspires to run at top speed, so nobody can keep up.

"The concern is not so much about people copying our products. Rather, it's that we need to keep developing new products. Technology continues to move forward. I'm constantly trying to come up with ideas for products and ways to differentiate them from others."
Hirotada Takenaka / Chairman, Takenaka Seisakusho

Survival in this industry means holding fast. That's Takenaka's intention, regardless of whatever stresses the market may bring.

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