Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding’s facility was a truly impressive place. One of the things that distinguished this factory from some of the others we’ve seen is scale. The main production building is a huge, 80 year old facility. All of the tools and workspaces are is much bigger than those we’ve seen to build cell phones.
The shipyard we toured uses 5000 tons of raw steel a month. The typical ship uses 5000 tons of steel to construct. It takes six months from steel cutting to delivery of the ship
To cut the steel, they used powerful cutting equipment plasma torches and lasers. Plasma torches can be used to cut through more steel and aluminum but laser cutters offer better precision. After the steel is cut it is bent into the proper shape using a combination of heat and water. This process requires great amount of skill. Of the 1000 workers at this factory, only 7 are qualified to perform this step. What is finally produced are a series of modules. These modules are sent to the drydock where they are put in place with a series of huge cranes then welded together and finally painted.
MES had two ships in the drydock we visited, a bulk carrier and the biggest aluminum ship in world. They were designing the latter as a catamaran which uses a special alloy to keep the weight down.
In dock they also had a Japanese Navy supply ship. We were asked not to snap any pictures of the ship but I did get a shot of the rising sun flag on its stern. For the Japanese Navy, MES works only on the superstructure, the US provides the weapon and sensor systems.
Our next stop was one of a pair of almost completed ships, a medium sized bulk carrier named Clementine. We got to walk across the deck and up the main superstructure to the bridge. They had quite a few sophisticated instruments including the helm. I got a few shots of the hold but I don’t think they gave the full idea of how big a space these ships hold.
After lunch we visited our friend from last night, Soba-san. He is in charge of manufacturing parts for the big diesel engines that the ships use for propulsion. The engines are so powerful that they are often used by MES’s clients for power production.
We saw among the part we saw in production were such items as the valves, fuel injectors, fuel pumps, special device that improves oil consumption, a precision driller that uses electric voltage to drill holes. All these parts are very expensive. Soba-san gave us some of their defective parts. We were told that the part Dr. Stapp received was worth $500, a very expensive paper weight. The machines in this part of the factor were highly automated requiring only 5 workers to maintain.
Much like Toyota, almost all workers in the plant were male, we saw only one lady working in the plant during our entire tour. In spite of that, Rebecca really wanted to work here. I told her that she needs to know how to swear, drink, and whistle and since we’re in Japan, she needs to know how to do kendo.
The final leg of our tour was their engine testing area. They were huge, immensely loud, and pumped out a lot of heat. I asked Kajihara-san what the differences were between car engines and the engines built at MES. He said that the scaling factor is basically the same as car engine except the cam is 98 cm wide.
After MES, Kajihara-san and our group headed to the ocean for the next activity of the day, a boat ride in the Seto Inland Sea. The Seto Inland Sea is a very shallow area of ocean between two of Japan’s main islands. The area is dotted with thousands of little islands and a ton of shipping goes through it. There is a series of huge bridges that connect two of the main islands, one of which we were told by Kajihara-san, was built by MES.
We first stopped at a small museum overlooking the sea to watch a short film about the area. After posing for several pictures in front of the sea and the bridge, we headed down to the boat. It was an older boat but it moved fast across the waves. Everybody was snapping pictures like crazy at all the beautiful scenery, the islands, the fish, the boats, and the bridges. The had been very warm and uncomfortable but once we got moving on the boat, we cooled down very quickly. The boat ride was about an hour long and over way to quickly.
We returned to the hotel to clean up and get dressed up for dinner with Kajihara-san and his wife Miki-san. Our meal was teppanyaki style with a wonderfully smooth salmon sashimi. It was delicious, of course, but a bit more undercooked than I’m used to.
After dinner we gave Kajihara-san the banzai treatment, throwing him in the air three times. Since this is the fifth or sixth year JSAP has visited, he was prepared. One of our group members saw him removing the items from his pocket before he came outside.
Since it was our final night by the ocean, some of us walked down the beach to a set of observation decks overlooking the sea. We had a great nighttime view of ships passing, the moon, some of the first stars I’ve seen in this country, and people shooting off fireworks from the beach below. We did get a little lost on and unmarked trail since we only had one small flashlight among us but it was a very nice night.
Tomorrow, “home” to Kameoka and maybe a bit of soccer.