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A Look Inside Canon

IPG got a rare opportunity to visit Canon's Tokyo headquarters, see some up-and-coming technologies and watch new imageRUNNERs being assembled.

July 2012 By Bob Neubauer
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The sea of blue caps seemed to stretch to the horizon. Beneath each one of them, a Chinese worker quietly, meticulously popped a paper roller or other part into place—parts that, when fully assembled, would form a Canon image­RUNNER ADVANC­E printer.

That was the scene that greeted IPG and a small group of U.S. editors and analysts last month when they toured Canon's largest MFD manufacturing facility in Suzhou, China, more than an hour west of Shanghai. It was the second stop on an exclusive tour of Canon's operations in the Far East, which included a visit to Canon Inc.'s Tokyo headquarters. There, they met with several Canon executives, including Chairman and CEO Fujio Mitarai, to learn more about Canon's global strategy.

Seeing imageRUNNERs being built at the Suzhou manufacturing facility, though, was the most impressive part of the trip. The vast 188,368-square-foot building was filled with hundreds of employees, some working side by side, others in stations 10 or 15 feet apart. They worked silently, occasionally looking up at the small group of visitors moving through their plant, while automated delivery vehicles crept slowly down the aisles, bringing parts (and keeping those visitors on their toes).

The manufacturing plant is part of a 3,659,730-square-foot campus that employs 8,594 workers in Suzhou, a city of more than 4 million, laced with picturesque canals and famous for its classical gardens. Chairman and CEO Kazunori Katayama explained that nearly all of the parts for the imageRUNNERs are manufactured on site (drums and toners excluded). He pointed out the large injection molding machines used to create plastic molded parts for the machines, such as paper trays and the machines' exteriors. Making the parts in-house, he said, assures tighter quality control and saves money, since Canon avoids paying transportation costs for delivery of parts.

Katayama explained the quality assurance testing his facility conducts of the final products, which includes listening to them for "irregular sounds." No defective products are allowed to leave the plant, he insisted. All told, the plant produces between 700 and 1,000 units a day, he said—models such as the imageRUNNER ADVANCE C5051, C2030, C9075 and 8105. They are then shipped all over the world.

Katayama confided that his greatest challenge is the increasing cost of labor. Workers wages are higher than China's minimum wage, he said. To cut costs, the facility is trying to increase efficiency and decrease workers.


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