December 16, 2006


JFS English Guided Tours -- Sekisui Chemical

Report of the Eco Products 2006

One of Japan's leading manufacturer of housing, urban infrastructure, and high performance plastics.


Factory based unit production system

  • The Sekisui Heim system uses pre-fabricated units to assemble and disassemble a house on location. These are then transported to and from a factory where they undergo intensive refurbishment and inspection to ensure that the units are as high in quality as new units. Parts that can not be reused, such as plumbing, front door, and kitchen are replaced with new units in the factory. After undergoing another intensive inspection the unit is returned to the original owner for a home renewal, or sold to a new customer.

  • The interesting thing about this business is that it is not so much focused on offering new "eco-materials" as it is offering a new "ecological business model" that focuses on reducing the overall amount of materials, and reusing the existing materials. Rather than selling homes in a one-time deal, they are in effect selling the life-long service of "having a place to live".

  • As people's life-stage changes, so do their housing needs, and with this system, so does their home. When they have children, they can add a unit to their existing home. Later when the kids are gone, and they don't need as much space, that unit is returned to Sekisui for refurbishment and sale to some other family. When the couple ages, and climbing a stairs becomes a problem, the top floor can be placed on the ground level, or sold back to Sekisui, and the money used to refurbish their existing ground floor to meet their changing needs.

  • One challenge they have faced by doing so is that the Japan consumers are not used to such a service model where they have a life-long relationship with the builder. Rather they are accustomed to the housing model that has developed since the after the war when most of Japan was devastated, and the focus was on building many homes quickly, rather than long-lasting homes customized fit a customers particular life-stage. This, together with the fact that Japan's historically use renewable materials such as wood, has led consumers to expect a house to be rebuilt or renovated after only 30 years.

  • Sekisui's factory construction model allows them to focus on and measure quality of work and materials. And the fact that their business depends on buying back good condition units means that it is in their best economic interest to ensure a longer-lasting, higher quality product. One example of how factory production can result in higher quality is the builders' ability to work easily on hard to reach places. By turning the unit upside-down, the builder can reach the roof without leaving the ground, increasing work-place safety as well.

  • Question and Answers:

    Q. "How strong are these houses against earthquake?"

    A. "During the Great Hanshin Earthquake when 30,000 homes collapsed, not a single Sekisui home was destroyed. This shows to what extent Sekisui has perfected the pre-fabricated units system."

  • Food for thoughts: Do you think that the kind of pre-fabricated housing system that Sekisui has developed would be useful in your region? Do you see a possibility of applying the similar "from goods to service" innovation in other fields?

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