Broadcast on August 5, 2019
Available until August 5, 2020
Rheon Automatic Machinery makes machines that automate the process of wrapping dough around filling for foods like steamed buns, stuffed pastries, and filled gnocchi. The company head talks food tech.
Welcome to Direct Talk. Our guest today is Yasunori Tashiro, president and CEO of Rheon Automatic Machinery, a leading manufacturer of encrusting machines.
Encrusting machines automate the process of wrapping dough around fillings and stuffing to make foods such as Chinese-style steamed buns, Russian-style stuffed pastries, and Italian-style filled gnocchi. The company's machines are used by over 14,000 clients across 124 countries and territories worldwide. We asked Tashiro about how its workhorse was developed, and what the technology is capable of.
There are lots of different ethnic foods around the world that are wrapped or encrusted and we make most of them. The global population is growing considerably. By providing these machines, I believe we can contribute significantly to feeding the world.
This is a 134-year-old confectionery shop. It offers about 60 types of traditional Japanese sweets. Most popular are these deep-fried manju, buns that consist of sweet red bean paste wrapped in a brown-sugar dough. They make as many as 20,000 a day. All of that is made possible using one of Rheon's encrusting machines.
They're really good. I love the crispy outside.
It's difficult to scale quality. So I think it's great.
This machine increases productivity. We couldn't do without it. Before, five of us would work all day and make 2000 to 3000. This machine can make 3000 to 4000 in an hour.
These machines can make all kinds of different ethnic foods like boiled dumplings from Europe, mooncakes from China, and shortbread pastries from the Middle East. And they help address food scarcity worldwide.
For example, among our clients in Egypt is an organization called WFP that is working to curb food shortages. They use our machines to make food. By using machines you can supply food in many situations where it would not be possible if you were doing it all by hand. Machines allow you to produce quantity to provide for those in need. We want to help in any way we can.
The company's encrusting machines are simple to operate- just put dough and the filling into the receptacles on top, and press the start button on the touch panel. The dough is then squeezed out of a nozzle as a thick continuous stream which is then cut into clean spherical pieces. Each piece has been neatly stuffed with filling.
The dough and filling are fed into concentric tubes with the filling in the center and the dough around it. The two come together at the exit. A shutter cuts the cylindrical mass of dough and filling, closing it off at the top in the process. The ratio of dough to filling can be freely adjusted as required. The company can also configure a single machine to produce a range of foods.
With Chinese steamed buns, you can pleat the top as it is encrusted, but if you want to change the shape of the pleats, we also have a machine that automates the pleating process.
There are certain handmade skills that artisans possess, but it's becoming harder for them to find successors. And when you're making it by hand,
it's very difficult to repeatedly make products that are uniform. Sometimes handmade is better, but if you want to go beyond, and bring stability to the equation, I think it has to be done by machine.
The company's founder Torahiko Hayashi, a traditional confectioner, began development of the versatile encrusting machine in 1950. He felt that his confectionery tradition would not be passed on and that the number of artisans would gradually die out. But he wanted to pass on the tradition of manju—sweet buns with red bean paste filling.
From what I've heard, the people thought the idea of making a machine to do the work was nonsense; they didn't think it was possible.
Hayashi left it to his wife and apprentices to run the store so he could focus on the machine. Then the store ran into financial difficulties and went bankrupt.
But Hayashi took out loans and continued to develop his machine. Over many failed attempts, he came across rheology—the study of the flow of matter.
This is footage of a factory that processes natural rubber.
Rheology is a science used in manufacturing to handle viscous materials such as rubber. Hayashi had the innovative idea to apply the same principles to food processing.
Food can be gooey and sticky—it's hard to handle. It sticks to your hands and it's difficult to shape them into equal-sized pieces that aren't sticking to each other.
So he struggled through a process of trial and error to find the right taste,
and he studied rheology to figure out how to manipulate the dough,
and what kind of dough would flow just right. He calculated the best angle for the two cutting discs and fabricated them. The edges of the discs are unevenly shaped so that as the dough is pushed out, it gradually comes together, is closed off at the top, and is finally cut off.
In 1963, after a development period of more than ten years, Hayashi completed an encrusting machine that could make 3,000 pieces per hour without damaging the dough or filling. When he started selling the machine, he received an influx of orders. The company name, Rheon, was taken from rheology.
Yasunori Tashiro joined the company in 1970. He came to notice a certain flaw in the machine that Hayashi had developed.
When I joined, the machine used these two cutting discs, so it lacked stability. The dough would sometimes stick to one side and the manju would come out messy, stopping the whole process. So at the time, operability was a challenge—keeping the cutting discs stable and spinning so that the dough wouldn't be pulled in one direction. I thought that it would be great if we could make an encrusting machine that was reliable and easy to operate. So I started developing a shutter in secret. In the past people had considered using a shutter-style cutter, but they couldn't figure out how to make it work.
Tashiro began working on a shutter that would achieve clean cuts and stability.
However, development didn't go smoothly, and Tashiro experienced a string of failures. Then one day, Hayashi found out about the secret shutter project. Tashiro's actions at the time had broken a company rule: "no development without permission from the founder."
It was still a work in progress, not at the stage where it could produce cleanly cut and wrapped pieces. I figured I would submit a proposal when I'd worked out the kinks to a degree, but then a colleague tipped him off and he found out. Normally, that would have been grounds to be fired—and he was very angry—but when he saw the device he said, "Get on this, immediately." From that point, it took me a little less than half a year.
So the dough with filling inside goes into here, the shutter closes like this, cutting the flow, and at the end it's fully shut. Normally the dough would stick to the shutter, but the machine cleans the shutter as it closes, so you get a clean cut. With this, you can encrust viscous fillings like sesame sauce in rice flour dough and you can make a variety of prepared foods. It's really expanded the machine's scope.
After it went on sale, we got new clients, plus old clients who wanted to replace their old machines. We sold close to 1,000 machines that first year. The development process was a challenge, and after we released the product, there were some hiccups. But we kept improving on it.
The shutter made it possible to configure the machine to make meat patties stuffed with cheese. As the company began selling its machines overseas, it began developing a new machine.
When you look at croissants being made, it takes a lot of time and effort. They're expensive and precious. I wondered if there was any way to bring them to the masses. So, we started working on a croissant-making machine.
At the time, croissants were considered high-end pastries in the U.S. Looking to make croissants more widely available to general consumers, the company began developing a machine in the 1970s.
The most important part of making croissants is the dough. Butter is folded into dough, which is flattened out using a roller and folded into thirds like a letter. This process of flattening and folding the dough is repeated a minimum of three times in order to create layers of dough and butter. By creating these layers, the resulting croissant is light and fluffy.
It was very difficult to design a machine that could fold the butter into the dough. First, we devised a way to flatten out the dough as evenly as possible, then we designed a device to fold the butter into the dough, and in that way we gradually developed the machine.
We had to make layers and layers—clean and even. But simply using a roller to apply pressure results in uneven layers. The dough has to be flattened neatly and evenly. It was difficult to make sure the butter and dough stayed intact throughout the process. We were the first to make a machine that could continuously feed the dough and butter, and then fold the dough into many layers.
In the U.S., the company's machines made what were considered high-end pastries into a popular food. Every year, 700 food manufacturers from Japan
and overseas visit the company to observe how it's revolutionized food culture around the world.
Regardless of whether prospective clients buy a machine or not, the company gives careful, detailed explanations of its machines, and even prototypes new machines to meet client requests. It also periodically holds training workshops for confectioners in Japanand proposes new recipes for use with its machines.
With our clients, we are open about our technology. We even provide recipes.
We hold training sessions and research workshops where we show what kind of food products are selling well. We make samples of potential foods we think would work well and offer them to our clients.
Clients are looking for food products that they can get behind and sell. We look to propose some ideas that can hopefully inspire them. For us, the end goal isn't to sell machines. We want to build a long-term relationship where both the client and our company experience mutual growth.
"Do you have any words to live by?"
Be enterprising, be bold. What I mean by that is go forward with resolve. Conceive of new ideas and bring them to the table. That's at the heart of our approach to development. But it's also important to keep moving forward.
Our founder...he failed time and time again but never gave up. That attitude continues to be part of our company DNA. It's important, and even necessary,
for our company to be unafraid to fail and to keep boldly moving forward.