A visit to Aster Hobby Company, Inc.
by Jason Musheno
We arrived at the Aster factory in Yokahama, Japan early in February 2006 after an exciting and interesting journey using the Tokyo Metro system. I think in total, we passed through the Kawasaki station five times on at least three separate train lines and so we got to know that station quite well. Eventually we arrived in the somewhat residential area where the factory is located and were greeted by Satoshi Tamada and several other employees from Aster. Immediately we felt welcomed by all of the employees at Aster and our visit began with a strong cup of coffee and a few cigarettes.
Satoshi and the employees at Aster took us to the showroom floor where were given the opportunity to view the many display cases containing all of the prototype locomotives that Aster has produced over the years. Kim and I spent a fair amount of time looking through all of the locomotives that have been produced by Aster and were impressed to see the progression of models over the years and how the complexity has increased in each of the subsequent models.
Satoshi and the employees at Aster took us to the showroom floor where were given the opportunity to view the many display cases containing all of the prototype locomotives that Aster has produced over the years. Kim and I spent a fair amount of time looking through all of the locomotives that have been produced by Aster and were impressed to see the progression of models over the years and how the complexity has increased in each of the subsequent models. .
After a lengthy visit on the showroom floor, we had the opportunity to view the test track on the roof of the Aster factory, which was followed by a tour of the manufacturing area in the first floor of the 3 story building. The manufacturing facility was full of activity with approximately 10 or so employees performing various assembly operations and packaging kits. Satoshi and our guides described the various operations and work stations where some employees were performing quality checks on various parts prior to packaging while others were manually finishing some of the finer parts that probably are too complex to automate the final finishing steps.
I was given a better appreciation for the complexity and precision that is required to manufacture such detailed kits and models - one example of this was at one work station, a woman was fitting screws into a part and every single screw was inserted and then backed out to ensure a proper fit. I have always been amazed at how every part in these models fits together with rarely any glitches and the reason that is the case is due to the fact that someone at this facility has probably tested the parts prior to packaging.
In the rear portion of the manufacturing floor, there was a machining area full of large milling machines, lathes, drill presses, and grinding and finishing tools. All machining work in this area is done manually; I did not see any CNC machines in the facility (I assume that all of this work is done offsite by 3rd party vendors).
After viewing the manufacturing area, we then went to see the drafting room where there were approximately 4 design engineers that were busy working on computers drafting parts and plans for future models. During several portions of the tour, it was requested that we not take photos. The drafting area and the manufacturing facility were not photographed for this reason. Upon completion of the tour, the employees at Aster took Kim and I out for lunch and we enjoyed some pleasant conversation and they answered several of my questions from the tour.
Kim and I had a great time visiting the facility and I am very happy that during my short stay in Tokyo that I was able to visit Aster Hobby. I would like to thank Satoshi Tamada (Tama-san) and all of the employees at Aster for their hospitality and for the very informative tour.
Appreciation is expressed to Jason Musheno for this report and photographs of his visit to Aster Hobby Co., Inc., Japan.
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