An inside look at the recovery for Japan-based dental companies [VIDEO]

June 1, 2012

On March 11, 2011, a devastating earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan. Millions of people were glued to the images of the maelstrom that ensued. Few maintained that level of interest as the Japanese started on the less glamorous path of recovery.

On March 11, 2011, a devastating earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan. Millions of people were glued to the images of the maelstrom that ensued. Few maintained that level of interest as the Japanese started on the less glamorous path of recovery.

But it is in the days since March 11 that we get a more fuller and richer picture of the type of country Japan truly is. The government’s response to the many challenges it faced in terms of infrastructure and caring for those dealing with extreme loss-of loved ones, of homes, and in many cases, basic necessities-demonstrate its discipline and dignity.

The challenges facing the country were mirrored on a micro level by the challenges facing Japan-based dental companies: Are our people okay? How does this affect our standing in the global community? How do we move forward, responsibly?

In spite of the nation’s circumstances, production and innovation continued. Here, the companies tell their stories about coming back, moving forward and continuing a tradition of leadership.

An interview with GC Corporation President and CEO, Makoto NakaoWhere were you on March 11, 2011, when the earthquake and resulting tsunami first hit?
I was at the opening ceremony of GC’s new headquarters building in Tokyo; we had many people in attendance including members of the Japan Dental Association (JDA) at the ceremony. The headquarters quickly became a central location and a task force was established for everyone to turn to after the earthquake.

What were some of the initial problems the company encountered?
Due to the outage of electricity, we had to change the schedule to a flexible production manufacturing system. We tried to organize the system so that it would not affect the production demands and it would allow us to maintain manufacturing products. Quality was our main priority.

When was the “RESTORE Japan” concept first discussed?
After the earthquake happened, there was an overwhelming response by all GC associates as well as management to provide some type of relief. It was immediately incorporated into GC Management Policy for overseas operations. Support Reconstruction of the Dentistry in Japan was embraced by the GCA Associates and GCA’s marketing department. Plans for a campaign started immediately. Time was of the essence.

   Quick Facts   

Established in 1921
Headquartered in Tokyo
Manufactures more than 600 types of products sold in more than 100 countries around the world

Why was it important to GC to spearhead that kind of effort?
As GC Corporation is based in Tokyo, Japan, it was an honor for GC America to take on this activity. There was no question that GC America wanted to provide assistance and create awareness to the dental industry of the RESTORE Japan campaign. In the philosophy of Semui, we commit ourselves to our customers. Every day we follow the principle of Semui, our traditional corporate philosophy, as a successful basis for our work. Broadly speaking, this represents a combination of selflessness, pure objectivity, charity and great wisdom.

What has the response been from the dental community?
As this earthquake had a magnitude of 9.0, many understood that this was not typical. The dental community responded positively and thoroughly embraced the concept of RESTORE Japan. GCC is most appreciative of the support received across the globe. The GC group of companies were able to make a total contribution of $300,000 to the JDA to aid in the relief funds.

What would be your message to U.S. customers on the anniversary of Fukushima?
GC Corporation is dedicated to support organized dentistry and will continue to do so with even more vigor; we commit to continuously providing the highest quality and innovative products. Not to forget the lesson learned from this Tsunami and nuclear accident (that natural disaster threats hold a special place in the pages of history and we deal with the possibility of them all the time), we will do our very best to supply products, services and information at all times.

Watch our exclusive interview with Makoto Nakao, GC President and CEO:

An interview with NSK President & CEO, Eiichi NakanishiWhere were you on March 11, 2011, when the earthquake and resulting tsunami first hit?
I was at Kanuma City, Tochigi Prefecture, where NSK Headquarters are located. We experienced very big shock, which was the biggest earthquake I’ve ever experienced, but fortunately, NSK had almost zero damage. NSK is located on very firm ground.

Where are NSK headquarters in relation to the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant?
NSK is 100 miles away from Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

Without question, people’s thoughts would go first to friends and family. As the head of a major company, what were some of your initial concerns regarding the potential impact on NSK?
First of all, I confirmed employees and their families’ safety. NSK has a lot of employees all over Japan, including North-East part of Japan. And some were on their business trips, so we had a difficulty confirming everyone’s safety, but we did. After confirming their safety, we also confirmed the safety of our partner companies. Fortunately, we could confirm that nobody was injured. Then we started checking the damage of the factory, and found that nothing serious happened.

   Quick Facts   

  • Established in 1916

  • 26,334 employees

  • NSK operates 65 locations in Japan and 141 production sites and sales locations (excluding representative offices) as well as technical service locations in 27 countries around the world

What were some of the initial problems the company encountered?
Due to power shortage triggered by Fukushima Nuclear Plant accident, NSK was forced to stop our manufacturing 3 hours every day. Later in summer season, NSK had to cut the usage of power 15% compared to previous year. NSK purchased power generator equipment, and could handle this emergency.

What has the response been from the dental community?
NSK received numerous words of encouragement, anxiety and prayer from our business partners, doctors and even from the competitors. I knew that nobody was injured and no severe damage to the factory, so I requested our sales team to contact and inform our customers that NSK is okay.

What, if any, negative messages did you deal with after Fukushima?
In fact, NSK did receive the concerns, ‘Aren’t NSK products polluted by radiation?’ NSK is a medical device manufacturer, we cannot ship the products that will do harm to human body. So we purchased the radiation measuring device, and checked 100% before the shipments. As a result, no radiated product was found. We also attached certificate issued by a third-party inspecting institution that no NSK products are radiated, for those who requested this document.

Since the incident, has NSK been forced to change, or willingly adapted any of its processes?
NSK manufactures 90% of the components in-house. NSK didn’t face any supply chain problem, and no major process change has been conducted, either.

Sometimes, disaster can be the catalyst for innovation. Are there any examples of this with NSK?
NSK is trying to take every moment of daily operations as an opportunity for innovation and improvement. In that meaning, we don’t take the disaster as a special occasion.

A commitment to quality has always been a hallmark of NSK products. How did you continue to demonstrate that to patients after this event?
Thanks to high in-house production ratio, NSK didn’t have to use the components which quality is not fully proved to be stable. Product quality has not been affected at all by the disaster. NSK will continuously ensure the delivery of reliable products by checking all manufactured products thoroughly.

What, as a company, do you feel you’ve learned over the past year?
I have reconfirmed NSK employees’ strength and diligence. NSK had to do manufacturing activities under a tough situation, but individual employees understood the situation, thought what they can do, and they did their best. I’m very proud that NSK has a lot of excellent employees.

What would be your message to U.S. customers on the anniversary of Fukushima - what main things do you want them to know about how NSK is doing?
Including USA, Japan received a lot of sincere words, donations and support. On behalf of Japan, I really appreciate all your support. NSK will be making best efforts so that we will continue to provide the U.S. customers with the products that will exceed their expectation in terms of quality and cost-effectiveness.

Watch our exclusive interview with Eiichi Nakanishi, NSK President and CEO:

An interview with President and CEO of J. Morita Corp., Haruo MoritaWhere were you on March 11, 2011, when the earthquake and resulting tsunami first hit?
I was in Tokyo on that day. Right after the earthquake, I set up a disaster response headquarters for J. Morita employees.  First, we checked on the safety of employees and their families by email and telephone.  We had a video conference the next day to find out the latest news for all our sales offices and factories. Our experiences after the Hanshin-Awaji (Kobe) Earthquake in 1995 helped us to move quickly to provide support wherever it was needed.

Where are J. Morita headquarters in relation to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant?
Our corporate headquarters facility in Osaka and our manufacturing facility in Kyoto are both located over 550km southwest of the power plant and did not receive any direct impact from the incident. We have 6 sales offices in the Tohoku region and they were all damaged to some degree.  In Fukushima, we had to close the office and move the employees to a safer area.

Without question, people’s thoughts would go first to friends and family. As the head of a major company, what were some of your initial concerns regarding the potential impact on J. Morita?
First we had to find out everything we could about the severity and extent of the disaster. Then we started checking on all our employees and their families who may have been affected and considered ways to provide them with whatever support they needed.  We had to make sure our employees were safe and able to work before we could start helping our customers to recover.  Therefore, we considered how to deliver food, water, and other necessities to our employees and their families.  Then we sent our people with relief supplies to affected areas.

   Quick Facts   

  • Founded in 1916 in Kyoto, Japan by Junichi Morita and remains a family owned, family operated business

  • Corporate headquarters in Osaka

  • J. Morita employs a massive engineering and R&D staff of 196

What were some of the initial problems the company encountered?
For the first few days, it was hard to find out how bad the disaster was, and the transportation system was exceedingly disrupted so our biggest problem was figuring out how to deliver relief supplies. Except for the coastal regions where the tsunami had caused massive destruction, most communication and transportation was restored in about a week so we were able to start helping our customers to recover relatively quickly. Many dentists had evacuated, and the Japan Dental Association worked hard to find out what had happened to them. Sometimes it was very difficult to do anything because of the lack of gasoline, electricity, and other necessities. Also, because of planned blackouts, our factories had to operate outside of normal working hours.

What has the response been from the dental community?
The Japan Dental Association is helping those dentists who lost their clinics, and they have provided people in evacuation centers with oral health care products and supplies. They have provided the necessary equipment and materials to identify corpses.  They have also sent dental treatment buses and other mobile units to devastated regions to substitute for the clinics that were destroyed.

What, if any, negative messages did you deal with?
To the contrary, our efforts at identifying the deceased and promoting oral hygiene have been greatly appreciated and highly praised. Even though radioactive contamination has been limited, foreign countries are understandably concerned about products coming from Japan.  So now all exports including Morita products must be inspected for radioactivity.

Sometimes, disaster can be the catalyst for innovation. Are there any examples of this with J. Morita?
We have clearly seen how important it is to always be ready for disasters and be able to find out if people are safe.  It’s essential that panorama x-ray units, treatment units, cabinets and other large and heavy pieces of equipment be securely fix to the walls and floors.  Computer data can often be restored after power failures or even after computers are immersed in water.  However, data is frequently lost if a computer is immersed in saltwater.  Therefore, we need to consider how to save data from destruction by using other systems such as cloud-based servers.

A commitment to quality has always been a hallmark of J. Morita products. How did you continue to demonstrate that to patients after this event?
We have manufacturing and distribution facilities in both the eastern and western regions of Japan.  If one region suffers massive destruction, the other region can serve as a backup.  The most important thing is that our customers are confident in the high quality of our products because of their past experience using them, and I believe that they will continue to trust us under any circumstances.

What would be your message to U.S. customers on the anniversary of Fukushima?
Japan was damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake. People are still suffering every single day. Japan’s manufacturing spirit, however, has not been lost, and we regenerated completely in an economic sense. Also, concern for others is back in the mind of the Japanese people. I am convinced that Japan is going to be a stronger country than ever before.

Morita’s talented R&D department and strict management of quality control have resulted in some amazing, unique patents and products for the dental industry. The skill and capabilities of all our staff were truly tested in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and the accident of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Their commitment and skill impressed me greatly. Applying their new talents and re-focused energy to the company will further strengthen our position in the industry with even better products and services.

Watch our exclusive interview with Haruo Morita, President and CEO of J. Morita Corp.:

An interview with Kumiko Suzuki, a company spokesperson for SunstarWithout question, people’s thoughts would go first to friends and family. How did Sunstar respond to the immediate needs of its staff?
Shortly after the tragic incident, the Chairman of Sunstar sent the following message to all global employees: We express our heartfelt condolences to everyone in the areas that were affected by the recent earthquake.

We are also extremely concerned whether Sunstar employees working in the Tohoku and Kanto regions, as well as their families, are suffering from a lack of food, water, electricity and other essential services. We at Sunstar intend to provide full-scale support regarding these circumstances, and will also consider and implement any aid we are capable of to the areas struck by the disasters.

This unprecedented situation calls for unity and teamwork between all workers and employers and we ask once again for each employee to act with composure and in an organized fashion.

What were some of the initial problems the company encountered as a result of Fukushima? How did you work to address those issues?
Sunstar quickly considered what we should do after the earthquake. As a result, we decided to provide oral care products to as many survivors as we could.  We placed advertisements in a national newspaper, five local newspapers and created posters for survivor and health centers with the same content, all advocating the importance of oral care for anyone out placed by the earthquake.  It was key to communicate how the lack of water makes it impossible for people to keep their mouth clean, which can potentially cause decayed teeth, periodontal disease and pneumonia in the elderly.

Even when water is scarce or toothbrushes are unavailable, there are still some things that one can do to improve the situation. Thus, this project was carried out keeping in mind survivors overall health preservation.

   Quick Stats   

  • Founded in 1932 as a manufacturer of rubber glue for bicycles

  • The first Sunstar toothpaste was launched in 1946.

  • In 1988 Sunstar acquired the American company John O. Butler, a toothbrush manufacturer. This step led to the development of the GUM dental series.

  • 4,000 employees

Sometimes, disaster can be the catalyst for innovation. Are there any examples of this with Sunstar?
Due to the Great East Japan Earthquake, the local road network was totally destroyed. However, Sunstar was able to deliver products more speedily than any other company and was thus highly regarded by its customers.

What would be your message to U.S. customers on the anniversary of Fukushima-what main things do you want them to know about how Sunstar is doing?
Even a year after the tragedy, many of the affected areas remain largely untouched. Under these circumstances, the employees who are disaster victims have been, and still are, struggling in their respective communities.   Each employee as well as the entire Sunstar Group needs to keep in mind the above circumstances and act in a shared effort to improve the situation.

An interview with President of Tokuyama Dental Corporation, Sunao Urabe

Where were you on March 11, 2011, when the earthquake and resulting tsunami first hit?
In a strategic meeting at Tokuyama Headquarters in Tokyo.

Where are Tokuyama headquarters in relation to the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant?
Tokuyama Headquarters is located 250 km southwest from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

Without question, people’s thoughts would go first to friends and family. As the head of a major company, what were some of your initial concerns regarding the potential impact on Tokuyama?
Tokuyama has, and always will be, an employee-focused company. The lives and well-being of our employees is a primary concern. In addition, Tokuyama was also concerned in maintaining the production of materials, and following our rigorous quality standards, to ensure the safety of our materials for customers.

What were some of the initial problems the company encountered as a result of Fukushima? How did you work to address those issues?
No initial problems were presented, however the production equipment was seriously damaged. Our employees quickly addressed specific issues that impacted production, and concentrated on resolving these issues first.
 
What has the response been from the dental community?
The dental community is very much a family, like Tokuyama. The dental community reacted with compassion and understanding that many lives were affected.

   Quick Stats   

  • Established in 1918

  • Headquartered in Tokyo, with 15 divisions worldwide

  • Committed to Corporate Social Responsibility, and preserving the Environment (Green Initiative)

What, if any, negative messages did you deal with after Fukushima?
As with any natural disaster, there is support from your peers, competitors, friends and family. There were no negative messages surrounding Tokuyama and our products, just heart-felt support.

Since the incident, has Tokuyama been forced to change, or willingly adapted any of its processes?
To ensure proper fulfillment of the supply chain, Tokuyama divided our inventory into two places and started establishment of a Business Continuity Plan.

Sometimes, disaster can be the catalyst for innovation. Are there any examples of this with Tokuyama?
Tokuyama has always been concerned about operating as lean as possible. Since the disaster, senior management has implemented several cost reduction initiatives to save and reduce energy. Our goal is to be as efficient as possible, eliminate any waste, and pass this savings on to our customers. Our Japanese term for this is Kaizen, which means to continually improve the processes in manufacturing, engineering, product development and business management.

A commitment to quality has always been a hallmark of Tokuyama products. How did you continue to demonstrate that to patients after this event?
Customer communication is very important to Tokuyama. After the event, we informed our customers about the level of radioactivity around our factory, to ensure our employee’s safety as well as our customers.

What, as a company, do you feel you’ve learned over the past year?
It is important to prepare your company, and employees for unforeseen events. The Fukushima disaster unified our organization even stronger than before. We are now even closer aligned with our other branches in the United States, Europe and Italy.

What would be your message to U.S. customers on the anniversary of Fukushima?
The Tokuyama history spans for nearly 95 years. We continue to care about the health and well-being of not only our employees, but our customers that we consider part of the Tokuyama family. Tokuyama is aggressively investing in future technology, to enhance patients’ lives. Quality care is our utmost priority, and Tokuyama will continue to deliver tomorrow’s dentistry, today.