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Takai works to provide innovative products

Advanced Textiles, Features, Marketing, Perspective | December 1, 2008 | By:

Junko Takai’s dedication to providing products that make a difference rests on a conservative fiscal foundation.

“Sometimes when companies make a lot of money, they invest that money into stocks—they invest profits into something other than their own businesses—
we reinvest our profits into our core business,” says Junko Takai, president of Hivix Co. Ltd. in Mizuho-city, Gifu, Japan. Takai began working at Hivix, a company manufacturing inflatable products for the healthcare, sports and industrial industries, sixteen years ago. She began working in purchasing and information technology, and in 2001 became president of the company.

Safeguarding the company’s interests is as important to Takai as it was to her father, who preceded her as president of Hivix. In fact, it was her father who taught her the value of reinvesting profits back into the company. “In Japan, about 10 or 15 years ago, we had a [financial] crisis,” Takai says. “Other companies ended up in trouble, but because of my father, Hivix didn’t.” Her father resisted the conventional wisdom of investing profits elsewhere, and during the Japanese stock market crash of the early 1990s, the company remained stable. Takai feels strongly about the wisdom of this kind of conservative fiscal approach to business. “Because of my father’s handling of the business, we can keep it for other generations so they can take over,” Takai says.

Takai balances her conservative fiscal approach with the belief that in order for the business to flourish, its leaders need to entertain the need for change, and look for the best places to make those changes. The company, then called Hioki Vinyl Co. Ltd., started as a vinyl manufacturing facility in 1951, offering products, including rain coats and umbrellas. The company name was changed to Hivix in 1990 at around the same time that it expanded its product line to include inflatable medical/healthcare, sports and industrial products.

Predicting customer needs

The decision to include medical and healthcare products to the company’s product line was far from incidental; it emerged out of personal experience—experience that revealed to Takai’s family a need that their company had the ability to meet. When Takai’s grandmother experienced a stroke that left her unable to care for herself, the duty and honor of caring for her fell to the family—and Takai and her mother realized firsthand the difficulties that accompany being a caregiver. “My mother worked very hard to take care of my grandmother,” Takai says. “I would help, so I know just how hard it is for the patient and for the family or caregivers. We decided then that we wanted to make something to reduce the burden [of caregiving] for people.”

That “something to reduce the burden” turned out to be inflatable products for healthcare needs, including air-pressure mattresses to help prevent bedsores, post-operative air pressure leggings to prevent blood clots, and inflatable basins for giving bed baths.

The company also produces inflatable sporting goods and industrial products, and Takai is dedicated to making sure the company stays on the leading edge of technology and product development for all their products, beginning with design. “We develop designs with our customers.” Takai says. She points out, however, that sometimes customers give them a drawing for a product that just wouldn’t meet the demands of the application, when taking into account points of pressure and flexibility requirements. But the designers work with the customers to come to a solution that satisfies their expectations and performs to the company’s standards. “As far as I know, we are the only company in Japan that can work to develop designs with our customers [for these types of products],” Takai says.

Deliberate innovation

The process of finding fabric that meets the specifications for the end product is an ongoing challenge, according to Takai. “We don’t buy standard material from suppliers; we always order custom-made,” she says. “We are always thinking about how to work with fabric suppliers to design materials so the content of the material will fit the application.”

At times, new materials call for new welding techniques. Currently, Hivix uses mostly RF welding, but also uses heat-sealing welding depending upon the application. Finding the appropriate welding process for each application can be difficult, according to Takai, and she expects the market to continue to expand. “Welding is a challenge,” she says. “Each type of welding has its limitations, and with new materials coming out, we will need different [welding] machines to do the job.” Takai traveled to Charlotte, N.C., in the United States in October to attend IFAI Expo 2008 for this purpose—to explore the latest fabric innovations and welding options that could be used in her company’s products.

For Takai, exploring timely options extends beyond innovations in fabric and machinery. She recently traveled to Viet Nam to consider if opening a manufacturing plant there could reduce costs while maintaining product quality. “We researched costs in shipping the materials from Japan, labor costs, land, electricity, etc.,” Takai says. “Even though labor costs are lower there, considering all the expenses involved, we decided at this time not to pursue opening a plant in Viet Nam.”

Thirty years earlier, her father faced a similar decision: to move manufacturing to China as so many other companies were doing or keep production in Japan. He, like Takai, decided on the latter. It is a cautious and thoughtful approach, exploring the options, weighing the risk and proceeding in a manner that will protect the business capital.

“I want to do my part to keep this company going for the next hundred years,” she says.

Sigrid Tornquist is a freelance author and editor based in St. Paul, Minn.

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