Saturday, Jul 2, 2022
Industry & Trade | Asia-Pacific | Japan

Japan

Constant innovation to breathe new life into film for future applications


8 months ago

Takashi Kameshima, CEO of Higashiyama Film Co., Ltd. (HYNT)
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Takashi Kameshima,

CEO of Higashiyama Film Co., Ltd. (HYNT)

Higashiyama Film, with a presence all over Asia and over 70 years of experience as a maker of polyester film-based materials, doesn’t believe in resting on its laurels. Having won the full confidence of clients from across the world with its high technological competencies and high-quality products, Higashiyama Film has once again been displaying its knack for effortless adaptation to the changing nature of the times, while never neglecting existing market needs.To unwaveringly meet customers’ needs while advancing current technologies requires an innovative company culture and Higashiyama Film certainly has that. Takashi Kameshima, president, sees and explains the firm’s core focus clearly: “We respond flexibly and promptly to client and market needs. Everything from prototyping and testing to post-production is conducted in close collaboration with the customer to ensure the best fit solution to their needs.”

Japan was a leader 30 years ago when it came to manufacturing in polymers and also in textiles. In more recent years we know that in terms of production volume China has outpaced Japan. However, when we look at niche, highly technological, precision fields, Japanese manufacturers are still dominant. Why do Japanese manufacturers still reign supreme in these niche sectors?

The fact is that there are many companies that have access to high quality raw materials and it’s just a matter of how to best use those materials and enhance them during the manufacturing process in order to make excellent finished products. This type of transformation of quality materials into finished products is something that Japanese companies are most famous for, and we are no different because we take film and convert it by adding special features to it.

The film on its own would not be of much use to anyone but once we give it extra properties it becomes a valuable product of high quality and this is an example of why Japanese companies can remain competitive in overseas markets.

 

Society 5.0 is a Japanese concept which promotes a combination of the biological, digital, and the physical world all in one with new devices such as IOT based devices, AI based devices and robotic devices. Can you tell us what these technologies will bring for Japan and how your company will contribute to this development?

We see this concept as the next step of our evolution, meaning that the IoT and AI might eventually be applicable to our company, but maybe not in the near future. This is because we have strong traditions in the ways that we satisfy customer requirements which have proved effective over time. We want to instill confidence in our clients around the world with our highly technological, effective and competitive products.

Our product development is always focused on what customers require rather than us just designing something and hoping it will be useful to customers. This customer-driven product development is our traditional way of conducting business and it has been successful for us.

Of course we understand the possibilities and benefits that digitalization might bring to our production sites. We could actually increase our effectiveness and our production capabilities by introducing some new features of IoT to make our job easier or faster, for example.

 

Your company has an automated storage system and automated vehicles for transporting the films. Can you tell us more about how these technologies benefit your processing and how they allow you to produce the most advanced functional films?

Our production sites are already fully automated. As you know, (original) film rolls come in huge and heavy units that are difficult for human beings to carry. These film rolls are stored in a three-dimensional automatic warehouse, and are carried by an AGV (automatic guided vehicle) between the warehouse and the production line. During that time, film rolls are carried safely without human intervention. We introduced AGV 15 years ago, and we will continue to introduce a state-of-the-art system to streamline the production of functional films.

 

Your company offers five different categories of products: Optical Hard Coat Films, Automotive Functional Films, Adhesive/Protective Films, Printable PET Films and PET Release Film. Can you tell us which is your main focus and which is your best selling product?

Currently we actually can say that going by volume of sales, our optical hard coat film used in touch panel displays is our number one product. However there are particular sectors on which we focus more than others as we see them as more promising sectors in the future and one of them is the automobile sector. Our automotive function film has anti-reflection (AR) performance for applications such as center information displays (CID), meter cluster panels (MCP), and head-up displays (HUD) in automobiles.

We will continue to invest more management resources in AR film. It is a film that has optical interference layers and requires nano-thin film design and nano coating technology. There are only a few companies in the world that can mass-produce AR films. Furthermore, we have developed the world's first technology that can improve the durability of the surface, which was a weak point of AR film. In the future, we are confident that we will be able to supply AR film not only to the automobile sector but also to the new display sector represented by foldable phones, and grow our business as the market grows. AR film has various applications such as partitions and face shields, and we look forward to further growth in the future.

AR film can realize improved visibility by preventing reflection on the surface. It is a product that can be widely applied to various applications. The reason that we are focusing on AR film is because the domestic market for touch panels is not really in a good shape right now because of the presence of cheaper Chinese alternatives. On the other hand, AR film requires extremely high technology, so it can be said that it is difficult for Chinese manufacturers to start production immediately.

Now because of the mass production of touch panels in China, some local film manufacturing companies have stepped in and gained market share at lower prices so whilst we are still operating in that market we may not be in the more distant future.

 

The automotive sector is going through huge changes at the moment. Not only do we have EV’s coming on stream, but we also see the adoption of connected autonomous shared electronic (CASE) vehicles. Can you tell us though how your products are adapting to this new era and how you're supplying products that meet the CASE demands?

With regards to our functional films for the automotive industry, there are a lot of rapid changes happening right now with many features being added for the display and navigation systems of cars. The trend is towards unifying many separate controls into one control panel display. This means that LCD panels in cars are getting bigger in order to house larger displays and this will be lucrative for our company as it gives us an opportunity to expand our product portfolio to cater for the new sizes and functionality.

 

We're now seeing LiDAR technology being introduced into car mirrors. Is this something that you're looking to get involved with as well?

Yes that is also on our agenda as car driving becomes more automated and the demand for 360 degree sensor coverage increases. Actually, manufacturing companies have already requested that we supply them with film which has special properties applicable to sensors and mirrors in particular.

There is a need to improve infrared transmission in LiDAR. In fact, the technology of optical interference film used to develop AR film can be applied here as well. AR film is a film that prevents the reflection of visible light. This technology can be applied to increase the transmittance by selectively reflecting and transmitting the infrared rays used in LiDAR, which can improve the performance of the sensor.



Regarding your ‘Clean Sepa®’ PET (polyethylene terephthalate) product, which is a very versatile material that can be used in different colors and with different adhesive properties, can you tell us what functional demands this product is meeting and what are some of its main applications?

Clean Sepa® is a product in which PET film is coated with a release layer in a highly clean environment that can give it varied peel conditions. Whilst PET film is not new in the film market, our Clean Sepa® product lineup is aimed at specific applications in niche markets where customers can specify the nature of its properties for example in terms of adhesiveness, peel conditions and anti-static capability.

As a result, the product has a relatively small customer base and does not require mass production, but is suitable for companies such as semiconductor and electrical parts manufacturers who have niche applications for it, particularly with the anti-static property in place.

Furthermore, in the future, we will strengthen our high-performance Clean Sepa® business that does not use silicone. Since silicone causes performance deterioration in high-performance substrates such as 5G, clean separators that do not use silicone are desired in the market.

 

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You have a highly customizable approach to product development. You work very closely with customers from prototyping all the way to mass production. Can you tell us more about your unique tailor made service and how it differentiates you from other film makers?

Our custom made approach is something that came about due to the sophisticated demands of our customers and is a core strength of our business. We can implement this flexibility because of the advanced technologies we use in the preparation of the products. Everything from prototyping and testing to post production is conducted in close collaboration with the customer to ensure the best fit solution to their needs.

This way of developing products to achieve the required quality is a key competence of ours and works in tandem with our long experience in the film market to provide us with a significant competitive edge.

 

In terms of R&D what are the new functional challenges that you're trying to meet currently?

Among several enhancements and new features that we are currently researching are improved anti-reflection properties, which is always a key factor for touch panels. Another item is anti-glare hard coated film for bending screens. Self-restoring films for anti-scratch surfaces is another important area we’re researching. Anti-fingerprint, and anti-reflection properties, as we have already mentioned, have also been a focus.

We have a development laboratory inside our R&D department which enables us to respond promptly to the demands of our customers and develop diverse films as required.

 

Since becoming president of the company, what achievement in terms of product development are you personally most proud of?

Actually I haven’t been president of Higashiyama for very long but I’m proud of the fact that we have been able to come up with films for customers which we’d never previously thought about developing but were nevertheless able to develop in order to perfectly fit the customers’ needs. In doing so, we were able to become more efficient, enlarge our product portfolio and increase our revenue as a result.

 

In terms of how you will develop new products in the future, are you doing everything in house or is co-creation with partner companies either domestically or overseas something that you engage in?

Currently we are proud to say that our ‘monozukuri’ is made in Japan. Higashiyama film is produced domestically, but to some extent we’ve already introduced our film to overseas markets. These are the markets in Asian and Southeast Asian countries particularly. Maybe in the future this pattern will change, but for now we are producing everything in-house and selling it either domestically or in nearby Asian countries.

 

India and China will be the biggest markets in terms of these products moving forward. What are your key strategies in order to take advantage of the growth in these markets?

Yes, we’ve been thinking about that and also the high pace of economic development in South East Asian countries. In China we are considering entering the market using the same strategy that we have here in the domestic market in Japan. That is to say, we buy raw materials from local manufacturing companies and then we process them locally too.

 

And moving forward, what do the European and American markets hold in store for you?

We hope that in future we will eventually have the marketing power to go into the EU and the US but in the meantime we plan to expand slowly but surely into nearby countries such as China first, before going further afield. After all, many countries around the world produce cars so our automotive films could eventually be sold widely around the world, including Europe and America.

Another reason why our primary focus is on nearby countries is that a lot of Japanese car manufacturers and electronic component companies localize their production facilities in countries like China, Taiwan and Thailand so it is advantageous for us to also be there with them in order to effectively supply them with our products.

 

Looking at the future, what is your mid-term strategy for further expansion?

Our mid-term strategy plan will be based on things like expanding into display manufacturing and by that I don't mean things like LCD or TV sets but instead more like the smaller sized displays such as those for smartphones, including the types which bend, because these are areas that are experiencing growth right now. The automotive functional films are also a key factor in our plans as there is a revolution going on in this field at the moment which we are well placed to take advantage of.

 

Let's say we come back to interview you again in a few years' time. What would you like to tell us about your goals and dreams for the company in that timeframe, and what would you like to have achieved by then?

A couple of things. Firstly, as I mentioned before, we’d like to increase our portfolio of products in our display oriented lineup as well as in the automotive related films. We are a unique company that possesses a wide range of processing technologies such as optical interference film coating (nano thin layer coated), functional hard coating (thin layer coated), and adhesive coating (thick layer coated), and we are proud that our technology is at the top level in the world. In addition, it is very important for us to try and transform into a more R&D focused company. As a result, we will introduce more features and better solutions into our line-up, enabling our clients to make better products. We want to be a materials manufacturer that enriches the lives of consumers around the world.

 

Thank you.


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