TMEIC Aims for World No. 1 in PV Inverters, Taking Advantage of New Factories (2)

Globally develops Japanese knowhow on 'manufacturing'

2017/12/09 15:05
Kenji Kaneko, Nikkei BP Intelligence Group, CleanTech Institute
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Continued from TMEIC Promotes Local Production Aiming for World No. 1 Share in PV Inverters (1)

Toshiba Mitsubishi-Electric Industrial Systems Corp (TMEIC), which boasts by far the top share in large-capacity PV inverters for domestic mega (large-scale) solar power plants, has been accelerating its overseas strategy.

The company started operation of new PV inverter factories in the US and India in August and October 2017, respectively. With the momentum of the start of the new factories, the company aims for roughly 26 billion yen (approx US$229 million) in total sales of power electronics products, with a focus on PV inverters, in 2020 in the two markets.

The production process of large-capacity PV inverters, which are the most advanced high-tech products, is complicated and requires extremely accurate operations. Therefore, it is not easy to locally manufacture the products.

How did the company win the trust of local employees, take root in the communities and realize the same quality and reliability as the products manufactured in Japan? We visited the local TMEIC factories where "cell production" and "line production" are incorporated depending on the needs.

TMEIC has been expanding its local production in the US and India responding to the need for short delivery time and is aiming to improve the trust in the company to take root in the regions. Also, in the background lies the increasing pressure on companies to generate jobs by manufacturing products in the country where they are sold, which became more apparent following the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the US.

Key components supplied from Japan

Although products "made in USA" or "made in India" are advantageous in sales strategies, customers will not be satisfied if the quality of products declines due to local production.

Regarding this point, the company succeeded in maintaining the quality "by exporting key devices from the factories in Japan to prevent degradation of the products manufactured outside Japan," as Frost & Sullivan evaluated.

As for control circuit substrates mounted with power semiconductors called IGBT (Insulated-Gate Bipolar Transistors) and the MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) function, the products manufactured at a factory in Japan are used at the new factories in the US and India, and locally procured parts are also used for assembly.

"The quality of the PV inverter products is the same as the products manufactured in Japan by procuring the key components from Japan," TMPE President & CEO Makoto Yoshimura said (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: 1MW units are manufactured by line production at the new factory in India. (source: Nikkei BP)

TMEIC has Toshiba Corp and Mitsubishi Electric Corp as its parent companies and can develop control circuit substrates collaborating with the two companies, which have proven global track records in the development and production of power semiconductors, from an early stage, which is the strength of TMEIC. These advantages are maintained because the key components are designed and manufactured in Japan.

TMEIC positions the production site in Fuchu City, Tokyo as the "mother factory," and the production process and production control at overseas factories are based on the systems incorporated by the Fuchu Factory, in principle.

Mass production systems are roughly classified into the "cell production system" and the "line production system." In the "cell production system," a small team of workers handles the processes from assembly to completion of one product while workers on both sides of the production line handle respective processes by moving the product along the "line production system."

The "line production system" is generally suitable for improving productivity in mass production because the number of operations handled by each worker is limited. Meanwhile, the "cell production system" is suitable for production of various models in small volume because it is easy to respond to the needs for reduction of in-process products and change of production plans when the system is incorporated, although the number of operations handled by each person increases.