Future dream

When Miyuki Ishihara was in elementary school, his teacher said aluminium was a ‘future dream metal’. Now he serves as chairman at one of the largest aluminium manufacturers in Japan. Nisa Ali hears his story

With a history dating back to 1897 and based in Japan’s capital Tokyo, the UACJ Corporation describes itself as a world- class manufacturer of flat-rolled products.

As chairman, Miyuki Ishihara has firm plans for the continued growth of the company, as set out in the UACJ’s agreed Vision 2030 roadmap. He tells The Canmaker: “We are taking concrete measures to achieve the goals of UACJ Vision 2030, our long-term roadmap for contributing to society through to 2030.”

These long-term goals are framed by four policies: to capture demand in growing markets and industries; add value to aluminium products; develop and expand new products and businesses; and reduce environmental impacts.

A mid-term management plan was implemented in May, as part of the company’s aim to achieve its Vision 2030 plan. This included appointing the “next generation of leadership”, with Shinji Tanaka becoming the new representative director and president of the company to “further accelerate the pursuit of global sustainability”. UACJ aims “to be a central player in the supply chain through aluminium and provide environmental value through the ‘added value of enhanced materials’”.

Canstock demand

Central to the UACJ’s long-term growth plan is boosting the annual supply of aluminium products to 1.5 million tonnes across its global manufacturing network. In the 2022 financial year, he says that UACJ “produced about 870,000 tonnes of aluminium canstock”.

Ishihara explains: “With the shift toward carbon neutrality, interest in recyclable aluminium cans has been growing around the world, so demand for canstock is projected to rise accordingly.

“Anticipating this trend, UACJ boosted the Group’s total production capacity through proactive investment in manufacturing facilities in the US and Thailand.”

The company operates five rolling mills worldwide. Three are main producers of aluminium canstock: in Japan, Fukui Works in Sakai, Fukui Prefecture; in Thailand, Rayong Works; and in the US, Logan Mill, through Tri-Arrows Aluminium. The other two mills are in Japan, Nagoya Works in Aichi Prefecture, and Fukaya Works in Saitama Prefecture.

When demand for canstock rose during the Covid-19 pandemic, the mills were quick to react, he says: “We carried out a variety of initiatives, such as installing casting and cold-rolling equipment, increasing the capacity of hot rolling equipment, and improving rolling methods.”

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Efforts to build a circular economy include increasing recycling. Ishihara says: “Our aim is to reduce the amount of primary aluminium ingots used when melting the metal for product manufacturing.

The proportion of recycled aluminium contained in UACJ’s products accounted for 65% of the total as of 31 March 2020, but we are targeting 80% by 2030.”

He says in relation to this that canmakers have been increasingly requesting low-carbon and sustainable aluminium canstock, adding: “We are working together with canmakers to promote aluminium applications and maximise the proportion of recycled aluminium used in canstock.”

Based on this collaboration with the UACJ’s canmaking customers, he says the company is seeking to “raise productivity and improve the performance of canstock materials”.

He adds: “We keep updated on their needs by regularly holding technical meetings with each customer and by visiting their production facilities to conduct trials when developing new products.”

In response, the rolling mills are “all striving to stimulate more demand for canstock while working to raise productivity”, he states. “Another challenge they share is maximising the proportion of recycled aluminium used in flat-rolled aluminium as they work to lower the environmental impact of their products,” he notes.

With this in mind, the company is also aiming to become carbon neutral by 2050 with a targeted 30% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in Scope 1 and 2 by 2030, and in Scope 3 Category 1 emissions, from a 2019 baseline. “Through to 2050, the Group will work together with various suppliers with the goals of maximising the amount of materials recycled and minimising GHG emissions across the entire supply chain,” he adds.

One of UACJ’s projects aiming to meet that goal is with canmaker Toyo Seikan.
The EcoEnd technology, announced in December 2023, substantially increases the amount of recycled aluminium used to make beverage ends, saving around 40% of GHG emissions from the manufacturing process, he comments.

In the short term, he says UACJ has three objectives for 2024: “Maximise earnings and increase profitability, make our business more agile and flexible, and strengthen foundations for new value creation and stable business operations.”

Earlier this year, Tri-Arrows announced plans to increase annual production of canstock and other products by about 13%, with investments at its hot and cold rolling mills in Louisville, Kentucky. Ishihara enthuses: “The capital improvements are well under way, on-time, and on-budget. The teams at Logan Aluminum and Tri-Arrows Aluminum are doing a terrific job to advance the project and meet customer demand.”

Essential products

With a Group Philosophy and a set of guidelines based on safety and compliance known as The UACJ Way, the company encourages employees to endorse “the values of respecting and understanding your associates, embracing honesty and foresight, and being curious and challenging”.

Ishihara says of the values: “I enjoy working for the benefit of people and society as a whole, and I am motivated to practice the UACJ Way and Group Philosophy in my work. I believe that all of the Group’s members feel the same way, and work with a strong sense of purpose and pride. Working together with them is a source of joy for me.”

He is keen to meet people working at as many of the UACJ’s workplaces around the world to discuss the Group Philosophy.

His background is steeped in the metal. Ishihara joined Sumitomo Light Metal Industries (one of the companies that merged to form UACJ Corporation) in 1981 in the equipment department, which installed new flat-rolled aluminium processing equipment. He was also involved in designing and installing surface processing and coating lines for aluminium used to make beverage cans.

He moved into management and worked with flat rolled aluminium products as a production manager at the Nagoya Works and Fukui Works, and as head of the
UACJ’s production division. He welcomed opportunities to meet canmakers to discuss beverage can material applications and quality improvements.

He tells The Canmaker: “I am proud to work in the aluminium can industry and the aluminium products industry because they manufacture products that are essential for people’s lives, including beverage cans, automotive parts, pharmaceutical packaging, building materials, and components for air conditioners.”

With the company’s slogan ‘Aluminum lightens the world’, he continues to work towards that dream his teachers told him about as a child, and is optimistic about shaping that future with firm plans.

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