From Monozukuri Hub Meetup: DFM and prototype experts meet hardware startups

Sabrina Sasaki

This is a guest post by Sabrina Sasaki, a marketing representative of Kyoto-based hardware startup accelerator Makers Boot Camp, together with volunteer Takako Teruyama. The accelerator holds the Monozukuri Hub Meetup event in Kyoto on a monthly basis.

Additionally, all photos in this article were taken by professional photographer Kengo Osaka.


Makers Boot Camp’s monthly event, “Monozukuri Hub Meet up” had its 7th edition on Wednesday, 16 October at MTRL Kyoto, entitled as “Design For Manufacturing for Startups”.

Sabrina Sasaki, Marketing at Makers Boot Camp, got events rolling with a brief introduction on Design For Manufacturing (DFM). She broke down each stage of Manufacturing starting from concept to retail, the final stage startups want to reach, and also mentioned about how conventional ways of manufacturing, a.k.a “Over Wall Manufacturing”, where each expert at different stages are separated, are inefficient and time consuming because one needs to find the right person to move up to every stage, even if coming up with superb ideas for products.

Literally there is a wall existing between each stage because there is no direct relationships among the experts. When it comes to startups, obviously they have limited financial and human resources so that these walls stonewall their way. As startups always have to start from scratch, how are they going to jump over these walls, when they can keep only limited things in handy? Also, how to keep prototyping until getting some results, when they can not afford to? Well, in the bridge Paris-Kyoto, the French team of prototype experts, guest-speakers, can provide some insights for makers.

Natsuo Akazawa, PLEN projects

First speaker was Natsuo Akazawa, CEO at PLEN projects, where he has developed biped robot “PLEN”. “PLEN2” robot was crowdfunded through Kickstarter as a printable open source, meaning that anyone can build up robots on its own, anywhere in the world, as long as referring to their 3D open source data. In terms of their business model, the company can’t make money out of it because it’s an open source, however, people who used their data and assembled robots share their own robots through SNS, which spreads widely and effectively compared to advertisements.

It does not pay money back but the company lasts as a collaborative platform for humanoids. In the end, Akazawa also introduced their new joint venture “PLENGoer Robotics”, which was first offered by Chinese EMS company, Goertek and launched this year. They are now teamed up and working together to develop new robots that will be first shown next January. Born in a small town factory, now he is involved in this huge international project where the size of manufacturing is bigger than he has ever experienced before.

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Jean-Dominique Francois, La French Tech Tokyo

Second Speaker, Jean-Dominique Francois from La French Tech Tokyo, explained about the special agency launched by the French government. He works to bridge startups between France and Japan. Well, we all love France for its food, wine, fromage and arts but also as a source of very good IoT startups, like the case of the software ones giving Pepper a Latin movement.

With 20 years of International Business Development Experience in Europe and Asia (mostly Japan), Jean-Dominique acquired a comprehensive understanding of start-ups and their ecosystem. For the last years, as member of the French Economic Diplomacy, he is also helping French high-tech start-ups and SMBs to develop in the Japanese market.

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Akihiko Tanaka, Dassault Systems

Akihiko Tanaka, Director of the Academic Program at Dassault Systemes, spoke about their 3D Experience Lab Incubation startup related to CAD systems and System Management tools required for better Project Management, all in the cloud. Toyota, Honda and many others already use this platform that is also available for startups. Imagine the future using the virtual world, with amazing stories from clients.

Startups incubation project – gathering together startups from all over the world. There are 6 categories that startups can apply to join their City, Life, Lifestyle, IoT, Ideation and FabLabs. The criteria for being selected are being collaborative, disruptive innovation in products and services, and also make a positive impact on the society.

Benjamin Davoult, crossEffect

After a break, the Design for Manufacturing experts had the chance to introduce their company and their work, before joining the panel discussion.

The first one panelist was from crossEffect, Benjamin Davoult (Product Designer), who introduced himself as a French nerd. He came to Japan after finishing his Master Degree in Industrial Design, when he was hired by crossEffect. His work as a Product Designer also consists as a Silicone Mold Designer for Vacuum Casting and Prototypes/trial models creator.

He explained the process for rapid prototyping: receiving a 3D data from a client, upon a new project request, so they can check the design details and make sure it’s ready to build the physical part- that’s when they use a 3D printer, a huge laser machine called stereolithograph, where a laser soft with metal plates sink inside the liquid resin, and then the laser fits again and become a new layer of the part. This process is done during the night (it takes around 8-10h), so the team can start building the model on the next day. Sometimes the physical model is provided by the client, but either way, they still have to finish the master model. The next part is to frame, with the silicone inside, and then, after one day, the master model is ready for vacuum casting machine, where they fill in the model with resin. Then they open the machine to finalise the details, in the painting room, so the prototype will look very similar to the industrial mass-manufactured product: if you have both side by side, you can’t say which one is the prototype.

The company where he works also started a new branch focused on Industrial Design, so the main idea is to start from concept to 3D modelling, 3D printing and vacuum casting.

They can start any project just by concept (an idea), from hand drawing, from hardware with a PCB (a circuit board). Within one week, his team is able to come with many proposals, as speed is their main focus. They can also offer multiple services like, but of course the price can vary a lot, depending on the specialty.

He showed some recent IoT products by crossEffect for brands like Panasonic, Rohm, Sanyo and Omron.

Ben likes to make things, especially useful new inventions, spending most of his spare time creating devices and machines of all kinds, with his own 3D printer at home.

Emery Delmotte, Saijo Inx

Emery Delmotte, Sales Specialist at Saijo Inx, a Japanese company founded in 1950, was also born in France. He is now in charge of International sales at Saijo Inx, where he’s been supporting the company to expand its business overseas. Currently, their main customers are Japanese large corporations, as Kyocera, Omron, Murata, Fujitsu, Denso and NIDEC. Saijo Inx main business is to make prototypes from thin sheet metal working and plastic resins, press stamps, folding and cutting and die-sets making.

Their production speed is focused on small pieces for high precision 0.03mm margins, for prototypes with less than 2mm² and sheet metal thickness until 0.05 mm. The lead time is about 7 days: prototype corresponds to 46% of Sales, while Mass production is around 45% – the other small fractions are molding and thins. Over 400 projects are handled a month from medical products, motors, in-vehicle relays and connectors, industrial equipment, communication modules, electronic components, switches, batteries & fuel cells to heat fins.

Together with Kyoto Shisaku Net, Saijo Inx provides a complete support: from development, prototyping, mass production, fast realisation, smooth transition to mass production, early market introduction, implement incrementations.

Antoine Andrieu, Hilltop

Antoine Andrieu works for the Development Department at Hilltop.

The French Engineer introduced his company, showing a photo with not many workers in the factory ground, and they’re starting an automatization process to control machines with new customized software – Antoine is the Project Leader of the Smart Factory Project, in charge of the factory’s automation, using IoT and Industry 4.0 concepts and technology to bring the company to the new era of fast prototyping.

His team work is focused on automation and right now there is a new trend in the company with IoT devices and consumer products. He showed some cases of B2B solutions created internally by his development team, from idea to the next steps of development for customers, such as testing devices, bicycle safety lights, aroma diffusers, transporting robots, etc.

Hilltop can provide Prototype, Mechanical Design, Assembly and even mass production support for IoT.


The final session with the experts was moderated by Sushi Suzuki | Kyoto Institute of Technology, Kyoto Design Lab Associate professor. Sushi’s link to Paris comes from when he co-founded Paris Est, teaching design innovation at École des Ponts ParisTech.

The panel discussion spoke about maker’s issues and how Kyoto Shisaku members can support hardware startups as a group, part of Makers Boot Camp main activities.

Click here if you would like to check the presentation deck from all speakers, with detailed information about each one.