In 1896, Riichi Satake created the first power-driven rice milling machine to ease the burden on millers in the city of Higashi-Hiroshima, Japan. Now, 125 years later, the new leaders of Satake are solving problems for the global rice, wheat and corn industries.

The Japan-based company successfully expanded its focus and offerings because of its continual emphasis on research and development.  

“Manufacturing companies will not be able to survive market competitions without having robust technological development,” said Kazuhisa Matsumoto, president, Satake Corp. “With that understanding, Satake has constantly refined its technology and worked on developing new technologies and products.”

Higashi-Hiroshima, which is known for production of sake-Japanese rice wine, became the birthplace of Ginjo Sake (a premium quality sake) with the development of Riichi Satake’s vertical abrasive rice mill. The city is now one of the top three major sake brewing regions in Japan.

Since then, Satake has introduced a variety of grain processing machines worldwide, eventually expanding the scope of development from machines to processing system design and consumer products. For example, in rice milling the company introduced paddy dryers, paddy huskers, polishers and packers along with the system to control and manage the machines. From there, it developed the commercial rice cooking equipment, dehydrated rice and then functional rice.

“As time goes by, consumers’ demands for foods have gradually changed,” Matsumoto said. “They are looking for more delicious, safer and easier to prepare foods. Satake has provided the market with machines and systems that satisfy these market demands in a timely manner. Satake is constantly developing cutting-edge technologies and has transformed itself into a company that is not just a machine manufacturer, but also the one that develops products and systems that satisfy the needs for both milling industries and consumers.”

Overall, Satake has 54 bases in 14 countries with a total of 3,000 employees.

Constant innovation

Before Riichi Satake created the power-driven rice milling machine, they were operated by manual or hydraulic power. Riichi Satake continued to innovate, introducing a high-speed milling machine with abrasive rolls in 1925. He was awarded the Blue Ribbon Medal in 1944 for his inventions, becoming the first in the agricultural processing sector to receive this recognition.

The company’s second president, Toshihiko Satake, published “The Theory of Rice Milling,” which is the basis from which the rice processing technology of today has evolved. The Pearlmaster Rice Milling Machine, invented in 1955, became the first rice milling machine to be exported from post-war Japan. The following year, Satake developed the one-pass rice milling machine for use by farmers.

The focus during that time was increasing the volume of production with mass production and improved efficiency. Satake’s Compass Rice Milling System allowed the Japanese government to centralize large-scale rice milling facilities. Because of the government’s endorsement, the system was used by a majority of rice mills in Japan in 1962.

In 1966, the company developed the tempering dryer, which could dry rice up to 10 times faster than previous dryers, and in 1974, the Rice Master, the first husker with an oscillating paddy separator, ushered in a new era for husking.

Satake also started expanding its physical locations, opening Tohoku Satake Co., Ltd., in northern Japan in 1968 and Satake Inc. in Houston, Texas, US, in 1980. Physical expansion continued in the 1990s with the establishment of Satake UK Ltd., through the acquisition of Robinson/Simon; Satake Manufacturing (Suzhou) Co. Ltd., in China; and Satake America Latina Ltda., in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

After production volumes reached a satisfactory level, the focus shifted to the quality of the products. Consumers were increasingly demanding better tasting and cleaner rice. Conveniences were much sought after, including wash-free and quick-cooking rice. At the same time, safety and security, including the absence of foreign material and discolored grains, were sought after by the consumer, and Satake responded.

“Satake has led the grain processing field by developing innovative products that have never been seen before, one after another in response to the needs of society and the times,” Matsumoto said.

In 1986, Satake developed a “Taste Analyzer” that objectively measures the taste of rice.

“The new method, which determines the taste of rice based on its component content, has made it possible to conduct simple and consistent taste tests,” he said.

In recent years, the company developed “rinse-free rice” by safely and gently removing bran from the surface of the rice so it can be cooked without rinsing. This had been desired by the industry and consumers for a long time, especially since it did not produce wastewater.

Satake also developed a technology to naturally transfer the functional components of brown rice to white rice. This technology transfers the GABA found in the germ of brown rice into white rice through the natural germination process and moisture transfer of the rice. It has been commercialized as “GABA Rice.”

“In today’s Japan, the focus on safety and security have further expanded into the areas of health and beauty,” Matsumoto said. “We have always been committed to satisfying the needs for our customers and consumers by promptly incorporating these market needs and changes into our product lines.”

Change comes not only from people’s preferences, but technological advances, changes in lifestyles, work styles and other societal changes.

“Now rice milling plants are seeking automation and labor savings, maintaining the quality of products and diversifying risks,” Matsumoto said. “Satake faces ever-changing demands of the markets and consumers squarely. To meet the demands, Satake keeps working on improving our capabilities for developments and technology.”

Challenges and success

Several factors have allowed Satake to survive and continuously develop new products over the past 125 years. The top three include leadership and foresight of the management; research and development capabilities; and its employees, Saita said.

Each of the last four Satake owners has demonstrated strong leadership and were very proactive in investment of company resources in technology in anticipation of the future. Because of its capabilities in research and development, the company has invested in innovative products while incorporating advanced technologies.

“With a sales team bringing in accurate customer needs, and with best suited equipment developed by the highly capable engineers, we have been able to introduce the right equipment at the right time,” Matsumoto said. “This was highly appreciated by customers and often led to the creation of new markets.”

A final key to Satake’s success has been its many employees who can think and act freely. Top management sets the direction, but it takes a wide range of ideas and the ability to realize it.

That’s not to say the decades haven’t been without challenges. Development of new products is never easy, particularly when they are first of their kind.

“The development of groundbreaking products such as the power-driven rice milling machine at the time of the company’s founding, the germ-retained grain milling machine that followed, the optical sorter, the rinse-free rice production equipment, and the high-performance motor were notably difficult,” Matsumoto said.

There are many cases where the new products do not lead to purchases, even if their performance and quality are proven. Many times this is because customers are not made aware of the benefit of the new product or where sales methods have not been established.

To overcome this hurdle, Satake established a system where R&D and sales work together to promote the products to customers.

“Being very close to the customers, listening to their issues and wishes for new technologies, Satake’s R&D team was able to hear customers’ voices and grasp their potential needs,” Matsumoto said.

Satake also is focused on improving the work ethic and working environment for its employees. Its policy is: “Happiness to everyone involved with Satake.”

“We firmly believe happy employees are the ones who make happy customers,” Matsumoto said.

To the future

Looking to the future, Satake continues to position itself for success. In 2015, the company started a strategic partnership with Alapala, and in 2017, the companies reintroduced the Henry Simon line of flour milling equipment. Henry Simon was founded in 1878 in the UK and was known as an innovator and driving force that helped create today’s milling industry.

“The addition of Henry Simon brand technology and products has greatly expanded the company’s sphere of business activities,” Matsumoto said. “With this (Alapala partnership), Satake hopes to contribute to the global flour milling industry by leveraging each other’s strengths in research and development, production, marketing sales and after-sales service.”

Satake also recently introduced its Kit Silo to the Australian market. They can be shipped in containers, reducing the freight charges, and easily installed on the spot by the customer. Conventional silos require time consuming assembly and installation works on site, which adds to the costs and labor even before starting to use the silos.

“The convenience and profitability of Satake Kit Silos are contributing greatly to customers,” Matsumoto said. “The use of Kit Silos improves the shelf life of grains and agricultural products, and from a larger perspective, contributes to the effective use of the world’s food supply.”

Similarly in rice milling, Satake has introduced an innovation that simplifies and improves efficiency of the process. The REACH rice milling system features all Satake equipment, which allows for speedy installation.

“By continuously operating REACH with high efficiency, high yields are possible,” Matsumoto said. “The innovative concept has been well received by many customers and is attracting interest from all over the world.”

A large part of the immediate future will be dictated by the current COVID-19 pandemic, which Saita said in some respects has made conventional wisdom and methods no longer applicable.

“Business trips to foreign countries are restricted and face-to-face contact between people is restricted,” he said. “The situation will eventually be eased, and things will return to normal, but at the same time, we believe that digitalization such as online data transfer/monitoring and automation of the facility operation will continue to evolve.”

The current situation has given the industry an opportunity to rethink how to face the issue and continue to provide solutions.

“Satake’s mission is to protect and preserve the basic principle of ‘eating,’ which is the basis of maintaining human lives and activities,” Matsumoto said.