I participated in JFE Steel's plant tour (Kurashiki area) held in January 2023.
JFE Steel regularly holds plant tours for shareholders and local elementary school students, and this time I participated in the tour as a job hunter (internship student). Here is a summary of what I learned and my impressions through the tour.
JFE Steel is the second largest producer of crude steel in Japan and has the world's 10th largest production capacity. 2021 crude steel production rankings for Japanese steelmakers are as follows(Citation)
- Nippon Steel
49.46 million tons
- JFE Steel
26.85 million tons
- Kobe Steel, Ltd.
6.75 million tons
Note that domestic crude steel production in FY2021 increased by 15.5% over the previous year to 95.637 million tons. (Quote)
This means that JFE Steel produces about 30% of the total crude steel production in Japan.
JFE Steel's three main production bases are the western Japan Works, the eastern Japan Works, and the Sendai District, and their respective crude steel production volumes are as follows.
JFE Steel manufactures two-thirds of its total production in western Japan (Kurashiki and Fukuyama).
The difference between the products manufactured in the two areas seems to be that the Kurashiki area manufactures electromagnetic steel sheets for motors and transformers, while the Fukuyama area manufactures cans for beverages. The East Japan Works is unique in that it manufactures stainless steel.
If the production in western Japan (Kurashiki and Fukuyama) were equal, the amount of crude steel produced in the Kurashiki area, which I visited this time, would account for about 10% of the total production in Japan.
【JFE Fukuyama Achieves Cumulative Crude Steel Production of 500 Million Tons, First in the World 56 Years and 3 Months after Commencement of Operations】 [quoted in Chugoku Shimbun].
According to the Chugoku Shimbun, in October 2022, the JFE Fukuyama District will become the first individual plant to achieve a cumulative total of 500 million tons of crude steel production.
The JFE Fukuyama District has produced the most crude steel in the world, and along with the Kurashiki District, is a key plant that supports Japan's steelmaking industry.
Flow of the day
The following is a bulleted list of the day's events.
took the Shinkansen from Kyoto, and all transportation expenses between Kyoto and Shinkurashiki were covered.
In most 1-day internship programs, there is a limit to the amount of transportation expenses that can be provided, or in many cases they are not provided at all, but I was very grateful to JFE for providing me with full transportation expenses of nearly 20,000 yen.
The Kurashiki area is so large that it is necessary to travel by car. A total of 10 plants, each in charge of a different steelmaking process, are clustered together to form a single city, and the distance from one end of the site to the other is 7~8 km.
The distance from one end of the site to the other is 7~8 km. It is assumed that visitors to the plant must be traveling by car, and it seemed that only cars were accepted at the gate to enter the plant area. Naturally, no one rides a bicycle. Also, many of the cars in the Kurashiki area have "JFE" license plates and are only used for people and supplies in the Kurashiki area only. In the Kurashiki area alone, there are several thousand cars with JFE license plates.
Most of the electricity used at the plant is provided by power generated on site. They have constructed a plant for power generation on the site in cooperation with the power company.
The site is lined with railroad tracks for the transportation of goods, totaling more than 50 km in length. This is because rail is more energy-efficient than cars for transporting heavy products and unnecessary materials produced in the ironmaking process.
There is also a 7-Eleven on the premises for the exclusive use of employees.
During the plant tour, we had the opportunity to visit two of the plants: a converter plant and a rolling mill.
The converter furnace is a process where pig iron made by melting iron ore is poured into the furnace and oxygen is blown into the furnace to refine it into molten ore. We observed the process in which pig iron in liquid form, which glows red, is carried in barrel-like containers and poured into the furnace.
The rolling mill produces H-shaped steel and steel sheet piles. Both are components used in civil engineering and construction work. The long, thin bars of steel are transported by conveyor belts and processed into thin sheets in multiple processes, a process that may be difficult to see if you are unlucky.
Car is a must
It seems that once you join JFE Steel, you are required to get a driver's license and buy a car.
If you buy a car, you will inevitably have to pay for maintenance, car inspections, and insurance, so this may be a bit of a disadvantage for those who want to save money and save as much as possible after joining the company.
However, the rent for a bachelor dormitory is about 20,000 yen including parking, which is much cheaper than living in Tokyo, so the cost of purchasing and maintaining a car may not be a major concern.
In addition, the company provides a 70% rent subsidy for those who get married and move out of the bachelors' dormitory.
Q&A session between job hunters and the person in charge
- First Strengths
Although JFE is inferior to Nippon Steel Corporation in terms of the scale of production, it is not inferior in terms of technology in making high-end products such as electromagnetic steel sheets. Electromagnetic steel sheets are steel materials used for automobile motors, etc., and are characterized by their ability to improve electric motor efficiency. Only four companies, Baoshan (China), POSCO (Korea), Nippon Steel Corporation, and JFE, have the technology to independently produce electromagnetic steel sheets of sufficiently high quality, making them among the world's top companies in the field of electromagnetic steel sheet production technology.
- Second Strengths
JFE's strength lies in the fact that its production bases are concentrated in four locations: the Western Japan Steel Works (Fukuyama and Kurashiki) and the Eastern Japan Steel Works (Keihin and Chiba). The concentration of production bases allows the company to concentrate its resources in a single steel mill, leading to cost reductions and greater efficiency. JFE has production sites all over the country, and employees joining JFE have the advantage of being able to transfer to only a limited number of locations, whereas those joining Nippon Steel Corporation may not know where they will be transferred to once they join JFE.In addition, JFE's research laboratories are located adjacent to the plants, so if you are assigned to a research laboratory, you will not feel inconvenienced by inaccessibility. Other companies in the same industry tend to have their laboratories deep in the mountains, which is often inconvenient.
They said they would focus on the following four areas
- Electromagnetic steel sheets
Focusing on the development of electromagnetic steel sheets with better electrical conduction efficiency as EVs attract more attention.
- Environmental Issues
Work to utilize electric furnaces to reduce CO2 emissions.
JFE has been selected as a DX stock by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and will continue to focus on DX.
Current overseas sales ratio is 48%, but the company will aggressively invest in overseas markets where steel demand is expected to increase, especially in Southeast Asia and India.
JFE Steel's current staffing levels are
Field positions: 11,000
3,500 career-track employees (including 2,500 in engineering and 1,000 in clerical positions)
Of the engineering positions, 20% are in R&D, 35% in manufacturing technology development, and 25% in facilities development.
Basically, employees are assigned according to their wishes.
Stories from other job hunters
When I spoke to the person next to me on the moving bus, he told me that he had come from Kyushu that day and was a first-year master's student at a certain public university in Kyushu.
He was a first-year master's student at a public university in Kyushu. He was hoping to work for a Toyota-related company, but I was embarrassed to say that I did not know the name of that company. I later found out that it is a large company with sales of over one trillion yen, but it is not so well known, perhaps because it is not listed on a stock exchange. Toyota is very popular among job hunters and competition is fierce both during and after employment, so they are looking at companies that are not so well-known but have strong capabilities.
As a job seeker, it may be possible to focus not only on large, well-known companies that everyone knows the names of, but also on their affiliates and subsidiaries.
Although it was only a one-day plant tour, I think I was able to deepen my understanding of steel manufacturers. Both Nippon Steel Corporation and JFE Corporation reported their highest profits for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022, and we will continue to pay attention to how the steel industry, which is currently performing well, will continue to do in the future.