Prise winners list

Development of an ultraprecision 'marquetry' technique based on laser technology

Kasukabe-City, Saitama Prefecture
Other award winners
Yuji Kondo, Shuji Nagashima, Shinobu Watanabe
Recommended by
Saitama Small and Medium Enterprises Development Corporation

Nagashima, Youichi  (62)

Doing the same works as those for expensive furniture. The products become "genuine" because they do not cut any corners in the manufacturing.

"Marquetry," which is an art of setting a material in another material to form a design, is one of craftworks in European countries and Japan. As for traditional marquetry, craftspeople finish every piece of work by hand. The company enabled mass production of marquetry by combining a laser engraving processing technique and a thin-film formation technique, which has appearance comparable to that of traditional marquetry and the cost is about 10 to 20 percent of traditional ones. The company developed new applications, such as setting a metal characters (logo) onto a resin surface, and making a unique illumination panel with a transparent base material. It is expected that the technique will be applied to various fields including panels for automobile interiors. A patent on the technique was applied for in the United States, China, Germany as well as Japan.


The future will be bleak if we get into a situation where we compete with Chinese companies.' They entered the field of marquetry motivated by the sense of crisis.

象嵌 (zougan = marquetry). I wonder how many people can read the kanji. Marquetry is a traditional craft made by abrading or scraping the surface of wood and filling the recessed portion with another material with a different patter n or color. Craftspeople are displaying their skills for expensive furniture or the like in Europe and Japan. Naturally, its mass production is not possible and the crafts are costly.
In 2004, the company, which mainly engaged in printing of resin wood-grain panels for automobile interiors, started a project for developing a printing technique for marquetry patterns.
"Our core technology is three-dimensional curved surface transfer system that enables gravure printing for any curved surface using hydraulic pressure. But the date on which the patent would expire was approaching. It was perfectly obvious that once the patent expires, companies including those in China would enter the field and we cannot avoid a price-cutting war."
When Mr. Nagashima was worried, wondering "Is there a measure to add extra value?" he received a proposal from an European car manufacturer, which asked if the company can replicate marquetry, which is sometimes used for European luxury cars, in printing.
Before long, the proposal was successfully implemented. The method was as follows: mask the portion for which the marquetry processing will be performed and perform printing on the whole area, and remove the mask and then print another color or pattern on the portion. The finished sample was just "like marquetry." The product was named "Artificial marquetry," but Mr. Nagashima was not satisfied.
"That was like a seal put on and it looked quite cheap. Honestly I felt that would not be a product sold well."

A fatal mistake, which led to a technique that attracts attention from major companies around the world.

We do not know how we reach a turning point in manufacturing. A film of 0.01 to 0.02 mm was used for the masking. After the first printing, the film on the marquetry portion was removed by laser. The operation was performed carefully not to damage the base material... But one day, an "accident" occurred. An engineer mistakenly "cut it too deeply so that the base material was damaged." That was only one sample the customer provided them.
When they finished the sample although it was damaged, however, they noticed that it looked as if a real one. In marquetry, there is a small gap between a base material and another material that is set in the former. You can see the base material through the gap, which give an exquisite three-dimensional appearance to it. At this time, the texture of the sample turned out to be extremely similar to that of real marquetry because the base material was cut. Actually there was a gap on the printing of the artificial marquetry too. The reason of the enormous difference between their appearance was that the human eye distinguished the "surface treatment" from genuine engravings.
They named the technique that broke down the wall "Laser zogan" this time and trademarked it. Not only they can mass-produce the products that resemble real marquetry at a cost about 10 or 20 percent of that for marquetry, but also you can apply the technique to others such as transparent panels in which the line around the marquetry pattern is considered as a watermark. Additionally, they also developed a technique for setting metal or the like in wood grain panels. It is the most suitable way for creating a high-class image when you put a logo of a company or product on there.
A patent on the technique was applied for in five countries including the United States and China as well as Japan, and the company is already well known in the world. A number of persons from major companies from abroad that they "cannot reveal their names now" have visited the factory at the headquarters in a residential area. Their objective is nothing more or less than the technique that they are interested in.
Mr. Nagashima says, "There must be various fields around the world that require the design that did not exist, in addition to the automobile interiors."
If you visit the factory of the company, you see a section where seven or eight persons working together. They perform sanding, which is a process in which they sandpaper coated products. They do not "polish" them. They "damage" the coated surface to tarnish it. Why do they do such a thing?
"A product is glossy after it was coated once. But if it is coated one more time, it becomes more glossy. We make the surface rough on purpose so that we can apply thicker coating. Although the material is plastic, we put the final touches to them using a method corresponding to that for expensive furniture. We perform marquetry processing on them so they become "genuine" ones."
The technique would not have been effectively taken advantage of without the careful hand working with honest effort.


Feb. 1972
100 million yen
40 (as of Dec. 2009)
Brief information:
The company manufactures automobile interiors with a three-dimensional curved surface transfer system. In 2005, a laser engraving machine was introduced. They developed a marquetry technique was developed by combining the above two.

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Metal on resin base materials, faces of marquetry clocks made of seashells. A variety of processing methods are available.


Finishing the products by "polishing" them as is the case in the manufacture of expensive furniture. So effective marquetry is made.