Searching for the ultimate “motion through designs,” Sugatsune's Motion Design Tech


Sugatsune is a hardware maker that was established in East Kanda, Tokyo, in 1930. Not only do they make hardware for furniture and interiors, they also provide hinges, and other components with a variety of different functions for the telecommunications industry and manufacturers. In 2009, the Motion Design Tech brand was created, a selection of all the hardware that enable unique movements. We spoke to Kazuyuki Ishigaya from their Research department and Norihiko Kaneko from the PR department about “Motion Design”:

▲Chiba Factory R&D's Kazuyuki Ishigaya (right) and Norihiko Kaneko

“Motion” adds value

What kind of place is Motion Design Tech?

Ishigaya Labo was established in 1998 at our Chiba Factory, at the time it was called “Technical Center” and developed a wide variety of products. In 2012, the current CEO, Jun Sugasawara, decided to place a spotlight on “Motion Design” and the facility's name was changed to “Motion Design Tech Labo.” Currently, there are 35 people in that R&D department.

Sugatsune has been an early innovator in design, having participated in the Good Design Award Competition since the 80s. What were some of your reasons in starting Motion Design Tech?

Kaneko In 1987, we developed hardware for motions such as “soft control” using dampers (Lapcon) and a large number of other products like stays and door closers. For instance, producing stays that will hold position at any location because of the torque hinge or developing the power assist which makes heavy things easier to lift, made us want to create a more comprehensive framework to include everything.
At the time, producing components for furniture and interiors was thought to be one of the most thankless kinds of design. Because of that, we were not able to fully explain the merits of products with “good motion.” For example, soft motion creates a quieter setting, which gives users a feeling of luxury. We rebranded Motion Design Tech so people could understand and identify the added value from motion.

Ishigaya My background is in engineering and Labo is full of engineers. Honestly speaking, I think that 10 years ago, we were mainly interested in satisfying the functionality requirements with our designs. However, after Motion Design Tech started, our products have been featured in design shows abroad and we have had an increasing amount of opportunities to hear directly from our customers. This has changed the way we think about design. Sometimes, it is hard to measure value. We pay a lot of attention to how people sense and interact with our products.

How do you perform research and develop at Labo?

Ishigaya Firstly, we focus on 5 different types of motion: Soft motion, free stop motion, power assist motion, click motion, and unique motion. Generally, there are teams of people assigned to each different kind of motion. In cases where there are two kinds of motion in one product, these teams work together. There are times when we develop products for client's needs and other times when we develop prototypes after deciding on them in a meeting. The latter usually works that we can combine a client request with market demand. Other times, we bounce ideas off each other and say, “Next year, let's do this.” Currently, we are working on 30 different items and are projected to bring them to market before 2019.

Motion Design Tech is the design of motion.

Can you tell us a little about the “Design of motion”?

Ishigaya For instance, “free stop motion” allows for entrances, and openings to hold place at any angle. This functions using the friction created from torque hinges. Getting a door to hold any kind of position is not simply a matter of increasing the power. For instance, just increasing the strength means people with less strength won't be able to move the door. Or, for instance, preventing that unpleasant feeling of doors springing back when they are closed, to the maximum possible amount. It is in areas like this where we excel.

Kaneko Power assist motion helps make heavy doors and lids over 10 kg open and close with ease. In terms of functionality, you can use the same mechanism often used in cars, the “gas spring”. Nonetheless, the gas will slowly leak and lifting assist benefits will also decrease. Sugatsune's power assist does not use any gas springs. This has several merits, including consumers not having to worry about the gas leaking and also being very compact. This allows users to utilize the maximum amount of space and it also does not stand out aesthetically. This is used in different medical facilities and laboratories.

Ishigaya Inside Sugatsune, “Unique motion” is almost the standard bearer for what design of motion is. Unique motion is created by links, connecting different components to create interesting movements. The link mechanism is a collection of many different joints that moves the central axis to create complex movements. By moving the axis, we can hide the hinge and make sure the doors don't collide with the unit it is attached to.
For instance, when the door is a little thick and the unit itself is in a complicated shape or position, you can have the door open in a parallel path to the unit. This minimizes the amount of space necessary to open the door or lid to a unit like a cabinet.
Originally, someone conceived of the idea and started creating plans mentally. After the initial axis was decided on, we used CAD software to simulate and develop the motion we were looking for. Currently, we use a 3D printer to test prototypes we developed with CAD software. In this way, developing complicated movement has become rather quick.

One of the advantages of Labo is that it is inside our Chiba factory.

Ishigaya I think it is quite rare to have a research lab inside a factory. Ultimately, our job is to develop things for a much larger market. Because we work closely with the production team, it helps us to think realistically about how to develop a new product and utilize our craftsmanship to create top quality products. In this way, we can be cost sensitive during procurement while continuing to develop high quality products. I think the environment is really important to preserving the superior quality of our products.

Motion Designer's perspectives

Currently what kinds of things are you developing?

Ishigaya For instance, we are trying to make larger Load Capacity power assists that incorporate soft motion, a number of different items that combine different kinds of motion, some are being used on large glass door right now. We are combining several different techniques to make increasingly more complicated movement, increasingly compact.
Also, we are developing products with new kinds of motion. For instance, if too much force is applied to the soft motion mechanism, it could get damaged. So we are thinking of ways to diffuse the power, thinking of ways so that there is no wear on the metal components inside the links. We are currently examining materials that we could use and developing motion which will give customers a taste of even greater luxury.

What is a “sense of luxury”?

Ishigaya Smoothness. With your laptop, when you open it and then release your grip, you want it to stay in place without any extra movements, don't you? To use an extreme example, the ideal is that when someone is touching an object, it feels as if there is no resistance whatsoever.

As a designer of motion, is there any everyday form of movement that grabs your attention?

 I am interested in everything but particularly in how the doors of cars open and close. I pay close attention to that. Sometimes the door at my home slams shut with a loud noise and I think to myself “I want to do something about that”. I pay attention to that too. (Laugh)

Going forward, is there anything you would like to try making?

Ishigaya In the future, I would like to develop products that can be used outside. When creating a product for use outside, the damage and abrasion caused by contact with water and dust significantly raises the level of difficulty of development. I would like to produce a product that can be used in that kind of environment. (Interviewer: Reiko Imamura)

▲Tokyo Showroom's 6th floor “Motion Design Tech”

Motion Design Tech Websites (English)

Sugatsune (English)

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