Saturday, Aug 17, 2019
Industry & Trade | Asia-Pacific | Japan

Chemical equipment, Japan

Mixing Technology Leader to Expand in Asia


7 months ago
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Mitsutoshi Nishioka

President and Representative Director of Satake Chemical Equipment Mfg., Ltd.

In this interview for the Worldfolio, Mitsutoshi Nishioka, President and Representative Director of Satake Chemical Equipment Mfg., Ltd., gives us a unique insight into the importance of mixing technology, discusses the trends and opportunities of the market, and exposes the future objectives of his company.

 

There is a misperception in Europe and America that Japan had stopped innovating. As the president of a Japanese company, how would you answer this claims?

First of all, I would like to look back at the history of Satake. In 1987, we developed a laboratory specialised in mixing technology, the first one in Asia. Since then, we have expanded in Asia including joint ventures along with China, Korea and Taiwan, and developed our business into South East Asia as well. Our basic philosophy is that unless we have expertise in a specific field, we cannot lead the joint ventures or establish overseas business locally. That's why we specialise in mixing technology. Therefore, making such a laboratory was crucial to our expansion

Mixing technology supports every type of industry and company in monozukuri. The most important goal for our R&D is to save energy and search for more appropriate ways of mixing techniques.

Our largest business share is found in the chemical and fine chemical field. In these areas, the most important matter we are requested to look into is the balance between safety and quality. Our ability to provide the most appropriate and efficient high-level mixing technology is the most important concern for us.

Other areas such as the food industry, water treatment, or garbage recycling, have asked us for many types of mixing techniques. We develop different technologies for each industry's needs. How to address our client’s needs is our most important concern. So we do a test for every customer and develop the most appropriate method based on their requirements.

In the water treatment industry, our technology allows to reduce mixing energy consumption by 25%, and to promote methane gas generation for energy creation.

We have also made breakthrough advances in induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) for biochemicals. Our machines allow to limit the stress received by cells.

All our innovations are supported by our mixing technology simulations. We compare the simulation results and testing results each time and we improve our technology in response to the given results.

 

You just mentioned that you work to fit the needs of everyone. Many experts have argued that we have exited the era of mass production and entered the era of customization. I would like to ask how you ensure that you can customize your products to your different customers, whether they are here in Japan, China or Korea.

Our success comes from our ability to combine standardized and tailored products. When we standardize, we introduce machine tools that can work unmanned. Doing this can reduce costs for standardization.

When we compare our mixer and our joint ventures' mixer, I don't see a big gap between them. Even in our joint ventures, the Japanese quality has already been reached.

Another important thing is the impeller system. All the impellers we have are strong. We develop mixers according to each customer's needs thanks to the reliability of our impeller system. As we have the Mixing Technology Laboratory available, we continuously research the best technology possible.

Of course, we sometimes do joint R&D with our users or customers. Because we are here in Japan, we can have much more frequent contact with our customers and that makes a huge difference.

 

You just mentioned the value of Japanese products is the quality. Many experts have claimed that because the quality is so high, when you sell a product to a client, he can keep that product for 20-40 years. This means a client you sell a product to is a client you've lost. I'd like to ask what ways you are finding to continue to have a stable source of revenue, whether that will be through after-care or after-service.

First of all, the actual work begins before the clients even receive the products. The main characteristic of Japanese factories is their short starting time. We are able to do this. It is because beforehand, we have very frequent and intimate meetings with our customers. Before providing our products to the client we argue amongst ourselves until consensus is found. It is almost like offering a consulting service. So that's why a vertical start is possible in Japan. This is the difference between Japanese companies and other companies. This means we can start on schedule.

The second point is that it's very true that Japanese products can work for 30 or 40 years. But I don't think it means a customer is lost. It enables the customers to engage in lowering costs. That's why the vendors evaluate us so highly. In communicating with them, we do many consultations and when we develop new technologies, we provide it to them along with an explanation of best usage. Furthermore, if they want to replace their equipment, we provide the information based on the working data of the old product. Based on that data, we can provide better equipment in the future.

 

Are there any exciting current products or technologies you'd like to share today?

I am proud of our iPS cells or animal cells products. Our “HiD4x4 3D floating iPS cell differentiation induction BioReactor” is one of the only animal cell reactor worldwide. Another characteristic it has is that it can be adapted for single use. How it is evaluated is explained in the American science magazine called Cell. In one edition of Cell, Dr Eto from Kyoto University wrote an essay which was co-authored by the head of our research lab. This was how we are evaluated. And, there is an item, highly precise wet process classifier, called “SATAKE I classifier”, which was newly developed. This new item can precisely remove uniform particles only, which the particle range is from submicron to a few microns. “SATAKE I classifer” will mechanically bring about innovative improvements to high-performance material, film and electric material etc.

 

You started of course as a mixer manufacturer and then you moved into bio-engineer and environment testing equipment. More recently, you made a move into bio-reactor manufacturing. Why did you diversify like this? What were the reasons for these three branches and what competitive advantages does it bring for your company?

Originally, we were more diversified. Before we started manufacturing mixer machines, we had another business in laboratory devices. At that time, many Japanese companies imported their technologies from the United States. We nationalised the production of these equipment. Originally, we were more diversified than we are now. But the management did not think it was interesting to simply copy American machines. They selected mixer machines with the objective to add a technical essence, making the product more profitable and more unique. That's why we selected mixing machines and environment testing machines. This was our start, but it was selected from a more diversified base.

Speaking of mixing machine technology and environment testing technology, the bio-reactor is an extension of these technologies. Technologically speaking, it is easy to get into the bio-reactor market. But there are giants in the industry who we cannot copy or replicate. That's why we put another essence into these technologies.

When we do joint ventures with international companies, we do not get the majority in shares. We do this is because we would like to localize the companies. We want them to manage the joint ventures. Our basic stance is to provide high-level technology and a certain level of capital. Because of that, there are some unique technologies that evolved locally. For example, in Japan, there are no environment tests on automobiles in every type of climate. However in China, they developed a unique technology to test automobiles in every type of climate. This has not been done in Japan, but in China, they uniquely developed this technology and we provided machinery to them.

 

What is your international strategy and what areas of the world do you believe have the highest growth potential for Satake?

We are currently focusing on South-East Asia. We already have sales offices in Thailand and in Malaysia. We are planning on building a production plant within Malaysia in one year. After Malaysia, we might want to aim for India and then perhaps the United States but there is no concrete plan so far. Our current plan is to settle things in Asia. We plan to do this through joint ventures.

 

I know you were founded in 1920 so it will be a very important anniversary in 2 years. Do you have a mid-term strategy that will be implemented once you reach that point?

If I had to talk about an objective for 2020, we would like to be the Number One in Asia for mixing technology and environment testing equipment. As we are developing a reactor for iPS Animal cells, at our 100th anniversary, it would be good if we could launch an in-house venture or allow another company to use this technology.

It would be wonderful if we could have a new venture or new company at the moment of our 100 year anniversary. We haven't thought of doing an IPO just yet, but maybe in the future.

 

As a concluding statement, if we were to come back here in 10 years and have this interview again, what legacy do you hope to have left with the company, and what do you hope to have accomplished in that time?

To answer this question, first of all, I will accomplish the wonderful 100-year anniversary. In 10 years, we will have many young employees, so I'd like to have my company be in a position where they can work more internationally.


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