Last week I attended the Canon Europe Digital Camera Journalists tour to Japan. There were a total of 29 journalists from various European countries. Despite some initial guesses this visit didn't turn up any new products but was rather an opportunity for Canon Inc. (Japan) to meet us and for us to learn a little more about Canon's digital imaging strategy. During the tour we also visited the Canon factory at Oita, which is essentially the birthplace for all of Canon's digital cameras.

Canon HQ, Shimomaruko, Tokyo

Canon HQ Canon HQ

Canon's HQ is home to approximately 6,000 staff responsible for R&D, management, sales and marketing. It covers a large area and several buildings. Inside the walls of these buildings engineers are probably busy working on the next generation (and the one after that) PowerShot and DSLR digital cameras...

The presentation given at Canon Shimomaruko covered Canon's current digital imaging strategy. This featured a variety of products from consumer level PowerShot and IXUS digital cameras to the EOS-D30 and photo printers. Nothing, as we'd expected was revealed about any new upcoming products (sorry, no new DSLR announcements yet!). While there we also got to visit the Canon Museum and current products showcase.

Canon HQ: Presentation to EU journalists Canon Museum: The first 'Canon' (an update to previously unreleased Kwanon)
Canon HQ: Current product range

Taken with the EF 50 mm F1.0 lens @ F1.0
Click here for original EOS-D30 image
(No, it's not me)

Canon Oita Factory, Kyushu

The Canon Oita factory is located on the Kyushu Island which is the third largest of the major islands that make up Japan. The visit there started with a brief summary of the plants status in Canon's overall production . The plant itself is referred to as the Oita Canon company.

Canon Oita Canon Oita (model)

The factory can be seen as the birthplace of all Canon Digital cameras as it produces all of the current range, the whole PowerShot range, the IXUS/ELPH/IXY ultra-compacts as well as the EOS-D30. It also produces all of the higher end film SLRs such as the EOS-1V, video camcorders and special visual-communication cameras. Lenses (both EF and digital), compact APS, (some) compact film and lower end SLRs are produced at other plants in Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia.

The company was operational in December 1982 with a capital investment of ¥80 million it covers 126,000 m2 (building area 22,500 m2). The company first started producing digital cameras in the fourth quarter of 1996. As of 2001 the company employees approximately 1,000 staff.

One of the most amazing graphs we saw during the presentation at Oita Canon was the breakdown of production output by year (specifically for this factory, not total).

Remember that this is output only of the Oita Canon factory, so certain products may have been moved to different factories at certain stages, although all digital cameras are produced at Oita Canon.

The graph shows the huge explosion in the production (and therefore sales) of digital cameras, most notably a four fold increase in 2000 (PowerShot S10 / S20 time) compared to 1999, this is estimated to double again in 2001.

It also shows how first APS squeezed out compact 35mm and now digital camera production is now greater than both APS and 35mm. This years projection is for 2.4 million units of digital cameras, that is more than the total production of all products in year 2000.

Oita Canon also acts as the 'Mother Factory' for overseas supporting factories (Canon Zhuhai, Canon Opto Malaysia and Canon Taiwan).

Oita Canon, at the end of 1999, changed their production practice from that of an automated production line to the newer "Cell Production" method. This method involves 'cells' (teams) of workers building one camera from beginning to end (boxed), all of the individuals in the cell perform a particular task though they are typically capable of doing different jobs.

The cell production method has increased production from 328,000 units/year in 1983 (production line) to 2,000,000 units/year. Cell production also allows the factory to easily move cells between products enabling a responsive 'just in time' production system depending on market demand. This has reduced the turnover ratio from 24 days to 9 days and the lead time from 30 days to just 8 days. (Comparing 1983 and 1999). Oita Canon also now ships directly to the sales company in each country / region rather than storing items in Canon Inc.'s warehouse first (again this supports the 'just in time' supply principle).

Obviously there is still a good deal of automated equipment at Oita Canon, responsible for the mounting of IC's and production of printed circuits and other small / complex components.

Next we took a tour of the factory itself. Seeing first the production of the IXUS 300 and IXUS v models then A10/A20 and finally SLR's, including the EOS-D30 which is produced by a cell along side Canon's other high end 35mm SLR's (EOS-1V etc.).

Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take any photographs of the inside of the factory or the production line. The images below were provided by Canon Inc. shortly after the visit.

IXUS 300 production PowerShot A10 production PowerShot Pro90 IS production

The actual production is a like watching someone assembling a model kit, the camera itself split into tens of pre-assembled units (case, lens, processor circuit board, LCD etc.) stacked in trays which are simply attached / clipped / screwed or glued together. This assembled (or half-assembled) product is then powered-up and run through various test stages, finished off, tested again and boxed.

After the tour we requested a breakdown of how many cameras would be produced on the day of our visit (bear in mind that because of the cell production system these can be varied):

  • EOS-D30 - 200 units
  • PowerShot G1 - 400 units
  • PowerShot A10/A20 - 7,000 units
  • IXUS 300 - 2,100 units
  • IXUS v - 3,200 units

The amazing 7,000 PowerShot A10/A20's are produced by cells consisting of a total of 300 workers, this means that each worker was responsible for producing 23 A10/A20's that day.

Overall it was an excellent tour, educational and informative. The factory visit was especially interesting and it was amazing to be at the birthplace of the digital cameras we've reviewed. Of course there was also plenty of opportunity for sight seeing as well as shopping in Tokyo!