Sunday, Aug 19, 2018
Industry & Trade | Asia-Pacific | Japan

Japanese Monozukuri

Quality and innovation: the proof is in the paper


4 months ago

Yasuhiro Miki, President of Awa Paper & Technological Company
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Yasuhiro Miki

President of Awa Paper & Technological Company

The Worldfolio sits down with Yasuhiro Miki to discuss his company’s century-long history in the paper industry, the applications of its products, as well as some of its latest innovations, such as Carbon Fiber-Reinforced Thermo Plastic composites and Electronic Magnetic Wave Shielding paper

 

In regards to monozukuri, what is the difference between Japanese companies and its regional competitors, such as China and Korea, ?

Our company is having its 102-year anniversary this year, it is quite common in Japan for a company to have a long history. Throughout these years, companies have been able to develop traditional skills, this is a trend for all Japanese companies, however they have also revolutionised certain techniques. For example, we ourselves manufacture pulp and paper, but this is an industry that has been around for 2,000 years in Japan. We have kept traditional methods but have introduced techniques to evolve the process. Also, development and revolution was achieved through collaboration with many raw material makers, which is definitely the case of our company.

Furthermore, to focus on only one manufacturing process does not allow the expansion of the business. We are trying to include different types of raw materials in new types of productions. For example, we do not only select wood pulp for the creation of our materials, we also use other materials which allows us to expand our supply chain to other companies, such as chemical companies.

 

Could you please highlight the key milestones in Awa Paper & Technological Company’s century-long history?

‘Washi,’ Japanese paper, has been made in Japan for over 2,000 years. However, the first paper produced by a machine was designed by our company 100 years ago. There are different types of ‘washi’ in Japan. For example, there is ‘washi’ that is used for construction purposes, like the Japanese style sliding doors, ‘shouji.’ Also, there is the tissue material and the wrapping material ‘washi.’ However, we were the first companywhich managed to produce industria calligraphy paper meant to write kanji which is amongst our greatest achievements.

Moreover, throughout these years we decided to not just focus on ‘washi’ but to research other manufacturing processes and expand our product portfolio. Nevertheless, the process to expand by producing other materials was very slow and it took us around 30 years to enable it. Around 50 years ago, it was a key moment when we switched from just the production of washi to other type of products. For example, we introduced the cotton lintre pulp as a fibre in producing new paper. It is a very difficult manufacturing process to implement, much more complicated then using traditional wood pulp. However, as a consequence of using a different materials, we were able to start catering for the agricultural and medical sector.

 

Could you please explain the various uses of your products?  

The cotton linter pulp, as previously mentioned, is used in the automobile sector. For example, the filter papers or the battery seperators.

We used to use asbestos as a raw material for producing paper. Asbestos itself has good functionalities in regards to heat resistance and transparency. However, due to asbestos not being eco-friendly, we stopped our production of it. In spite of that, there was still a demand from our customers for this product. Consequently, we tried to manufacture a product with a similar fibre but that causes less damage to the environment.

In recent years we also expanded our portfolio to include highly functional fibres to develop friction materials, such as carbon fibre. We can use these for manufacturing car clutches. This was a turning point for our company, we went onto using glass fibres as well, using these different fibres allowed us to supply products to other industries.

 

Your carbon fibre production started recently in 2016, what was the strategy behind this implementation? Which markets do you target?

We actually call it CARMIX and it is divided into two types of products. One is called CFRTP (Carbon Fiber-Reinforced Thermo Plastic composites), which is used in the production of plastic products. The second one, (Heat Diffusion Sheet), is good for heat resistant products or electric conductivity.

Previously, we used carbon as just a raw material and did not think about producing actual products from it. For example, the blue LED produced by (Nichia Corporation) is a company that is across the street from ours. These lights need heat diffusion and they asked us if we could produce a paper product to do so, instead of aluminium.

Also, we recently introduced Electronic Magnetic Wave Shielding paper, (EMWS). While studying the market’s demand, with the rise of EVs and autonomous cars, new products are in demand. A key factor in the EMWS is how light it is. All these products could be replaced by metal, however, metal will always have disadvantage when it comes to weight in comparison to paper.

 

Due to the fact Prime Minister Abe is pushing for Japanese companies to internationalise as a tool to combat the declining demographic in Japan, which markets for your company have the highest growth potential, and why?

Well due to Japan being located in the Asia-Pacific region, these neighbouring countries are key to us. For instance, China, with a huge population of 1.3 billion, is obviously a target export country. Also, developing India and South East Asia for their proximity and increasing population.

EV’s are our main target area as this market will grow in the upcoming years. Up until now, we mainly focused on the enginge of the cars. However, we are trying to expand our portfolio for manufacturing more products for EVs. For example, fuel cells, batteries and even the body of the car to make them lighter. Additionally, we will work with any country in regards to getting the raw materials to produce such products. Finding a Joint Venture is essential for our company, to find a production or development plant outside of Japan is something that we should do.

 

What strategic objectives would you like to achieve in the next 10 years?

Even though we have the strongest market share in Membrane Backing Paper, we would like to develop this product further. To do so, we will carefully listen to the needs of the customer in order to follow market orientations. The implications this will have for purification of water supply will be remarkable. Seawater purification for drinking water is something that will benefit developing countries and we would like to keep up this work. It will come in the near future. We would also like to undertake the difficult task of making the most efficient use of recycled CFRTP.

 


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