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Interviews with foreign-affiliated companies in Kansai (Caterpillar Japan Ltd. (HEDC))

Last update:October 14,2014

【United Status】 Caterpillar Japan Ltd. (HEDC)

Founded: November 1963
Address: 1106-4, Shimizu, Uozumi-cho, Akashi-city, HYOGO, 674-8686
Line of business: Construction equipment manufacturing business
Website: Caterpillar Japan Ltd.



Caterpillar Japan Ltd. is a 100%-owned Japanese arm of Caterpillar Inc. (Head Office in the U.S.) which supplies construction equipment, such as hydraulic excavators, wheel loaders, bulldozers, etc., to more than 180 countries around the world.
The Hydraulic Excavator Development Center (HEDC), which is located in Akashi city in Hyogo prefecture as a hydraulic excavator development center of Caterpillar Inc., is currently preparing additional facilities in order to further enhance its research and development capabilities.  For this project, HEDC is utilizing the 2014 Subsidy Program for Projects Promoting Foreign Direct Investment, Site Location and Regional Development in Japan (Project for Site Location for Global Companies).
We interviewed Mr. Numata, Operating Director, Technical Services Manager HEDC Excavation Division, and other members of staff involved in the project.

Business Overview

On our Akashi campus, which is approximately five times larger than the Koshien Stadium, the Akashi Plant is our manufacturignfacility and HEDC is our development facility, which are located side by side.  The Akashi Plant is the plant that produced the first hydraulic excavator in Japan.  The Plant incorporates a parts plant, a structure fabrication plant, an assembly plant, etc. and currently produces hydraulic excavators of various sizes ranging from 11t class to 90t class in an integrated manner.  The Akashi Plant has established its status as the mother plant for hydraulic excavators among all the Caterpillar businesses around the world.
As the sole development center in the world of the hydraulic excavator business unit of Caterpillar Inc., HEDC provides all designs and drawings to the Caterpillar hydraulic excavator plants around the world.  By creating all the base designs here in Akashi and using them as Worldwide One Designs, we believe that we are demonstrating our strength.  Further, we customize the designs in accordance with standards and requirements in the countries where our products are used, and also are promoting research and development activities to develop next generation hydraulic excavators that can respond to diverse requirements around the world.
The Akashi campus is equipped with a complete set of functions, including design, prototyping, testing and production, and the fact that those functions are fully integrated on one site is a strength that we are proud of.

Reasons why Caterpillar continues development activities in Japan (Akashi)

Caterpillar Inc. historically started out in the tractor business, but then hydraulic excavators started being widely used in response to growing demands in urban civil engineering.  Since Akashi already had a long history of development and production at that time, Akashi was chosen as the development center for hydraulic excavators.
HEDC has development facilities that use virtual reality technologies and can instantaneously simulate any work scenarios for various types of hydraulic excavators, from their operational conditions to detailed maintenance procedures.  With these facilities, we can directly incorporate customers’ feedback into our product development cycle.  Further, we have a vehicle testing site for hydraulic excavators near our Plant.  On site, our products go through a series of stringent durability tests, including a prolonged continuous digging test, a rough road driving test, a vibration test, etc., and in this way, we make sure that we are always developing products that have the best quality and performance.
Moreover, most importantly, Japanese suppliers have outstanding manufacturing excellence.  This is also a strength for us, since we can take advantage of strong cooperative relationships with those excellent suppliers.  We, members of staff in charge of development activities, visit one of those suppliers in Japan at least once a month and exchange information and opinions with them to understand what kind of products are in demand in the market, what kind of technologies are available in the industry, and so on.

Subsidy Program for Projects Promoting Site Location for Global Companies

Energy-saving, productivity, operability, etc. are all simultaneously required for hydraulic excavators.  Following the evolution of mechanical control into electronic control, hydraulic excavators need to be controlled appropriately in accordance with various situations, based on information regarding lever operation signals, engine speed, pressure from the hydraulic pump and so on.  Consequently, it has become necessary to develop complex devices and systems and software for controlling the devices and systems.  Usually, a great amount of time and manpower is required to test whether those devices, systems and software function properly on actual equipment.
Hence, at HEDC, by utilizing the Subsidy Program for Projects Promoting Site Location for Global Companies, we are introducing new facilities that make it possible to efficiently perform indoor software evaluation tests without using actual machine when we develop a hydraulic excavator.  In addition, we are planning to establish a new base that will enable us to monitor and analyze, on a real-time basis, a vast amount of information regarding the complex measurement of control signals for various systems that have been developed to deal with more advanced electronic and complex vehicle systems.  By utilizing these facilities, we shall fulfill our mission to develop next generation hydraulic excavators.
As the only development center of hydraulic excavators in the world and also as the mother plant for hydraulic excavators, we are truly proud of being at the center of the hydraulic excavator business of Caterpillar Inc.  But, Caterpillar Inc. is always looking for the best option and is always assessing our operations while constantly asking themselves such questions as whether it is best to develop hydraulic excavators in Akashi or whether it is efficient to produce hydraulic excavators in Japan.  Depending on changes in the external environment, they may think that it is better to move the development center to the U.S., where the Head Office is located, or to India whose strength lies in software.  To firmly establish the positon of the Akashi Plant within Caterpillar Inc, we are determined to continue to strengthen our development capabilities and to contribute to the accumulation and development of technological capabilities in Japan.

Attractions of Kansai

Many top executives of Caterpillar Inc., including the current Chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman, have experience of working in Japan, and also several Caterpillar Inc. employees dispatched from its head office, etc. are currently stationed at HEDC.  Kobe, which is located within a commutable distance from Akashi, is very popular among foreign nationals.  As excellent educational institutions are offered for youngsters from overseas in this area, there is no need to worry about children’s education.  Further, this area has historically accepted people from overseas and there is a culture that is open to the outside world.  Since this area is so attractive, there are even some foreign employees who ask to be stationed in Akashi for a second time.
In addition, when we export hydraulic excavators from our plant, it is very convenient as we have the Higashi Harima Port nearby as well as the Kobe Port and the roads to the ports are all maintained very well.  Even though the Higashi Harima Port is small, as large ships can be docked at the port regularly and as we have facilities to directly load our products onto the ships, we don’t have to keep any excessive inventory storage space within our plant and can export our products speedily.  The fact that there is a port nearby which can satisfy the needs of companies is a huge advantage for the manufacturing industry.
In Akashi, there is an association of suppliers named “Meikyokai” in which highly competent suppliers, including large and small and medium-sized companies, are promoting various activities.  The reason we can manufacture products that are customized based on various types of applications and requirements from our customers is that we have suppliers that can deliver parts, etc. to our plant in a just-in-time fashion.

Showing Akashi’s Strength to the World

Hydraulic excavators of Caterpillar Inc. are currently manufactured in seven countries around the world.  We have been conducting research into working habits, etc. in various countries around the world, and we have been developing production methods that are suited to the characteristics of those respective countries.  In addition, when we receive any trouble information or an improvement request from any of the plants around the world, we make a trip to the plant to attend to the trouble or the request, for example, by directly providing instructions or training and so on.  In this way, we are fulfilling our responsibility as the mother plant.
One of the values upheld by Caterpillar Inc., which has its Head Office in Illinois State in the U.S., is “Integrity.”  Special emphasis is put on human resource development, and the Company is training candidates for future top executives based on the motto that is “local people should be led by local people.”  Further, through the organization named Women’s Initiative Network, the Company is actively promoting recruitment of female employees.  Based on our values, Integrity and Teamwork, we will continue to promote research and development activities for next generation hydraulic excavators which show improved environmental friendliness and safety, and can respond to the ever diversifying needs of customers around the globe, and can meet the demands of high productivity and fuel efficiency at the same time.

Contact Information

Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Kansai Bureau
International Investment Promotion Division
Address: 1-5-44 Otemae, Chuo-ku, Osaka, 540-8535
E-Mail:invest-japan-kansai@meti.go.jpMail (mail client will launch)