Japan may not be the first Asian country most manufacturers select for new production facilities, but for Ramsey, N.J.-based Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A. Inc., it's the ideal location to build a polymerized toner plant.
The company is investing 7.5 billion yen (US$62.6 million) to build its third plant in Japan, this one located in the mountains of Tatsuno-machi, Kamiina-gun, Nagano, for the high-end toner used in multifunction peripherals (MFP) and laser printers. The new plant is in response to increased demand for polymerized toner, which has nearly tripled for Konica Minolta since 2003, says Indy Nakagawa, senior vice president of marketing and corporate planning for Konica Minolta Business Solutions.
Construction of the third plant began in September 2005 and is scheduled for completion in September 2006, with production at the plant begining in December. Konica Minolta selected the site because it's near the company's other two toner plants and its research and development (R&D) base, allowing for the sharing of resources among the plants and the research department, says company spokesman James Norberto. The mountainous region, known as the Japanese Alps, also provides ample access to natural sources of water, which is necessary in the production of polymerized toner.
And although China and other Asian countries are known for cheaper labor, Norberto says labor costs don't play a major role in the company's investment. "It's not going to be a labor-intensive plant. There will be approximately 20 to 30 people on staff at this plant, so the investment is going to be on the machine as opposed to labor costs."
The new plant will be a production base for the company's Simitri Color Polymerized Toner, as well as its black polymerized toner. It will have an annual production capacity of about 7,000 tons, increasing the company's annual production of polymerized toner from 8,000 tons to about 15,000 tons.
For Konica Minolta, the polymerization process is preferable to more conventional methods because it produces a higher toner yield and is less costly to manufacture. The product also is beneficial to the end-user. That's because polymerized toner comprises uniformly sized particles that are more evenly distributed than traditional pulverized toner, resulting in high-quality images comparable to offset printed images. It's also considered more environmentally friendly than conventional toner production methods.
Ultimately, Konica Minolta hopes that by expanding its polymerization production, it will become the market leader in color MFPs. As part of that strategy, most of Konica Minolta's new MFPs and laser printers now employ polymerized toner. "The construction of the third Simitri Polymerized Toner plant is another step in our strategy to become No. 1 in customer satisfaction and the overall value leader in the industry," Shoei Yamana, executive director of MFP sales and marketing for Konica Minolta Business Technologies Inc., said when construction began in September. "The new plant will allow us to continue to meet the market demand and enable Konica Minolta to become the total cost-of-ownership leader in the marketplace."