News Bobsleigh Canada

Japanese factories try hand at crafting Olympic bobsled

A number of small factories in Tokyo have co-developed a prototype bobsled that they hope will speed the Japanese team to victory in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The prototype, named the "Shitamachi Bobsleigh" (downtown bobsleigh), is on display at an international machine tool fair in Tokyo. Its developers aim to conduct test runs by the end of the year.

Bobsled racing, a high-velocity sport, has been described as "Formula One on ice." World-famous automakers such as Ferrari and BMW are involved in sled manufacturing.

Until now, no Japanese manufacturer has joined the big players, but now several small-scale entrepreneurs in Tokyo's Ota Ward hope to change that.

One of them is Junichi Hosogai, president of local metal processing firm Material Co. The team came up with the idea of sled development last year. They saw it as a chance to showcase their manufacturing skill.

"I hope that a bid by small factories to make their global dream come true will appeal to young people," Hosogai said.

Ota Ward has many small factories, but some have disappeared in recent years because orders have increasingly been going overseas.

Japan has no major manufacturer of world-class bobsleds. Its teams have consequently resorted to foreign equipment and have been unable to attain high scores in Olympic competitions.

The Ota Ward manufacturers believed that with their experience they could build a competitive machine, because the bobsled has a simple structure but many metal parts.

After analyzing sleds from Germany and elsewhere, they drew up a blueprint in September.

More than 20 small factories donated time and skill and manufactured 180 or so metal parts, such as components of the frame and blades, all at no charge.

The Shiga Prefecture-based racing car manufacturer Dome Co. group took care of the body, a structure made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic, a material used in aircraft.

The prototype measures three meters in length and is designed for the two-woman crew racing category.

The developers said they used their metal processing skills to reduce the welding needed, which has the effect of reducing vibration while the sled is speeding along the track.

They plan to put the prototype through its paces at a test course by year's end, and will petition Japan's bobsled association to use it.

"We can respond to requests with a very short deadline. By tomorrow, if needed," Hosogai said. "We will add improvements in a swift manner."

The sled went on display Nov. 1 at the Japan International Machine Tool Fair at the Tokyo Big Sight center in Koto Ward, where it can be seen through Nov. 6.