From a distance, drivers heading toward Florence, Ky., can see the city’s water tower that reads, “Florence Y’all,” which originally read “Florence Mall.” Because the commercial use of the water tower was deemed a violation, the community resoundingly agreed to give the M in Mall a quick paint job. And with that, the Florence Y’all sign was there to stay, greeting visitors and passersby with a memorable welcome to the city ever since.
About a year before the water tower got its new branding, Mazak Corp. had opened its world-class factory to design and manufacture machine tool solutions, producing more than 100 models of turning centers, multi-tasking machines and vertical machining centers, including 5-axis models. Since then, the company has opened and maintains eight technology centers across North America, including Mazak Optonics Corp. in Elgin, Ill.
Mazak’s home in Florence, however, is a long way from its beginnings when, in 1919, Sadakichi Yamazaki founded Yamazaki Machinery in Nagoya, Japan. The company initially manufactured and sold machines to weave straw mats.
Less than a decade later, the company began producing its first commercial machine tools and the rest is history – a century of it, to be exact. In 2019, Yamazaki Mazak is celebrating 100 years in the machine tool industry. And this is the story of how it evolved into a leading CNC machine tool producer.
Making a mark
It was in 1927 when Mazak first began manufacturing machine tools. The first product sold was a lathe delivered to a sewing machine manufacturer in 1928. Subsequent increases in orders for machine tools led to full-scale production of machine tools in 1931.
After the war, the company was led under founder Yamazaki’s sons. In September 1962, Teruyuki Yamazaki became president after Sadakichi Yamazaki passed away. By 1963, the brand was officially created that remains today. Over the next few years, the company established itself as an exporter to the American market. Soon thereafter, the company would make a big move.
In 1968, Mazak Corp. arrived in Long Island, N.Y., to make its mark in North America. It began to establish a larger onshore presence in the United States, including starting operation of the U.S. manufacturing facility in Florence, Ky., in 1974 to build machine tools. This led Mazak to grow into one of the most important companies in the machine tool market in the United States and globally.
Over the next several decades, Mazak developed several landmark industry and technical innovations. And in 1981, Mazak began using FMF unmanned operation at its plant in Oguchi, Japan, to considerably improve factory utilization. The event was covered internationally – from media in Japan to the United States, Europe and beyond. Mazak has promoted the automation and networking of plants ever since.
Also in 1981, Mazak developed the Mazatrol T-1, the first conversational CNC system. This revolutionary CNC automatically determined required tools and cutting conditions for machining, making it possible for inexperienced operators to quickly and easily make programs. The conversational programming method was welcomed by many small factories that had problems due to the shortage of skilled employees.
Through the rest of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, the company transformed the industry again and again with breakthrough solutions such as 5-axis machining and multi-tasking machines.
Building on its machine tool success, Mazak started engineering laser technology in 1983 with the first integrated resonator-based laser cutting machine design. It also released its first CO2 laser processing machine, the Laser Path 4040. The following year, Mazak was the first laser manufacturer to implement factory automation.
Mazak lasers were brought to the United States in 1987, introducing a machine designed for laser production from the ground up. Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, Mazak continued to improve laser cutting technology through constant beam-based laser delivery systems, one-pass load/unload automation systems, parts sorting and completely automated setup functions.
One example is the first 3-D Fabri Gear laser processing machine, the Fabri Gear 300, which was released in 1999 for automatic 5-axis cutting of long pipe and structural material. High accuracy cutting of the complex contours required for tight pipe joints significantly reduced the time required for processing structural material.
Also during this time period, Mazak was the first to offer automated functions such as automatic torch changing. Mazak implemented its intelligent functions, as well, starting with HyperGear. These functions have become an industry standard for automated setup and monitoring and cutting functions.
Optonics in America
In 2005, Mazak Optonics was established as an independent subsidiary. Today, it’s located in a technology center in Elgin, Ill., where it continues to innovate new laser cutting technology through the company’s direct-diode laser (DDL) technology, increased power ranges and the continued availability of compact, flexible and expandable automation systems.
It was in 2008, back in Japan, however, that Yamazaki Mazak Optonics Corp. completed a revolutionary underground factory dedicated to the production of its high-speed, precision laser processing machines. The building set a new level for plant design, layout and cleanliness. Built 36 ft. below ground, the plant is isolated from the outside environment. This provides the facility with better air quality, stable temperatures and less vibration, which is important for the production of the precision optics and components that go into lasers.
As for machine developments, in 2011, the flagship OptiPlex 3015 Fiber was released. The OptiPlex is the most successful laser cutting machine series for Mazak globally. Just in 2018, the latest OptiPlex version was released with 10 kW of power.
In 2017, the first Mazak laser processing machine equipped with a DDL resonator was released. The OptiPlex 3015 DDL machine provides cutting performance exceeding that of the fiber laser, and the quality of the cut surface of intermediate to thick plates is equivalent to that of CO2 laser machines while the energy conversion rate is four to five times higher than that of CO2 laser machines.
Focus on IoT
More recent developments from Mazak include a focus on communications, security and the Internet of Things (IoT). Kicking things off in 2014, Mazak introduced its Mazatrol SmoothX CNC system. Equipped with new hardware and functions to increase machining speed and improve the quality of machined surfaces as well as an enhanced network connection, the system significantly raised the productivity of machine tools around the world.
In 2017, Mazak released the PreviewG CNC for laser processing machines that shows real-time cutting and maintenance data. The PreviewG control incorporates Smooth Monitor AX, which utilizes the MTConnect communication protocol. The control, being IoT connected, provides a real-time visual of the factory floor allowing for potential improvements to be addressed immediately.
Released in 2016, the SmartBox is a launch platform for easy and highly secure entrancing in IoT. SmartBox ensures cyber security for a safe and reliable network connection of plant equipment, allowing companies to convert their plants into smart factories. In 2018, iConnect was introduced, which is IoT-based comprehensive support, as an advanced and expanded version of connected services.
In 2017, the Mazak iSmart Factory debuted at the Oguchi plant at Mazak’s headquarters in Japan. The plant realizes even more efficient manufacturing by making use of the company’s automation technologies and expertise on plant control accumulated over many years of operation.
In 2000, company founder Sadakichi Yamazaki was honored with his inclusion in the American Machinist’s Hall of Innovators as both a founder of a world-renowned company and as an innovative person of the early twentieth century. His leadership and forward-thinking will always be considered integral in shaping the manufacturing environment that we know today.
In June 2001, President Teruyuki Yamazaki was appointed chairman and CEO; Yoshihikp Yamazaki became senior vice chairman and Tomohisa Yamazaki became president. In 2019, Tomohisa Yamazaki became chairman and Takashi Yamazaki president.
Mazak and the Yamazaki family hope to continue what was started 100 years ago. For the next hundred years, Mazak is planning more innovated success. From its roots in Japan to its place in the United States, the industry looks forward to seeing what Mazak brings to the table in the next decade and the next 100 years.