[From September Issue 2013]
Shion Limited Company
From precision parts used for airplanes and cars, to fountain pen nibs, Shion Limited Company in Mino City, Gifu Prefecture manufactures a variety of metal items. Particularly in the case of parts made for aircrafts and automobiles, it’s necessary to use specialized equipment that can only be operated by highly skilled technicians.
Drawing on their technological knowhow, the firm has produced a spinning top that can be spun on a fingertip. The spinning top was originally made not to be sold, but to be entered into the All-Japan Manufacturing Industry Spinning Top Battle. Coming top out of 200 participating companies, the company won the second ever contest held in February. On display in the entrance to their factory are the “spoils of war,” i.e. the spinning tops of conquered opponents.
The All-Japan Manufacturing Industry Spinning Top Battle is held so that small businesses, which make up the majority of Japan’s manufacturing industry, can showcase their technological competence. As long as the top is 20 millimeters in diameter or less, there are no other restrictions on materials, weight or shape. Tops are pitted against each other in a “ring” made of synthetic resin which is 250 millimeters in circumference. The rule is that a top wins if it either nudges the other one out of the ring, or keeps spinning for longer – even if it’s just by one second.
The company’s winning top “Zion” was chosen from over 100 prototypes. It was refined during in-house contests and regional trials. “The night before the final, I practiced spinning the top so much that the fingerprints on my right thumb and index finger were rubbed smooth,” says president YAMADA Ken, reminiscing about the intensity of the battle.
Zion is 19.8 millimeters in diameter. Characterized by its heft and low center of gravity, the top was made from durable metals like heavy alloy and tungsten, and is extremely tough. Speaking about the manufacturing difficulties they encountered, Yamada said: “We made holes to make the center lighter and made the tip slippery so that it wouldn’t get caught on the edge of the ring. Also we did our utmost to design a shape that would keep spinning for as long as possible.”
Zion not only has an unusual shape. An extremely thin substance – of a thickness of only 0.05 millimeters – called “skin gel,” has been applied to its outer edge. Because skin gel halts an opponent’s spinning top, any contact works in Zion’s favor. As long as the top meets the requirement of being 20 millimeters or less in diameter, it’s not against the rules.
“It’s easy to do projects that have predetermined production techniques and materials, but it’s not much fun. In this way, making spinning tops offers us the perfect opportunity to indulge in our enthusiasm for craftsmanship, as we’re involved in every step of the process, from brainstorming and designing, to producing and experimenting. Through this experience, many employees have come to realize that manufacturing is enjoyable and have become prouder of what they do,” said Yamada, who believes that the contest was also useful for employee education.
Text: ITO Koichi