Thursday, Jun 27, 2019
Industry & Trade | Asia-Pacific | Japan

Japanese Monozukuri

Totally wired: Sumitomo Electric, the Japanese cable king

10 months ago

Osamu Inoue, President & COO of Sumitomo Electric
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Osamu Inoue

President & COO of Sumitomo Electric

A global leader in the manufacture of electric wire and optical fiber cables, Sumitomo Electric is a true 21st century innovator, providing high-end harnesses for the automotive industry as well as state-of-the art-fiber optics. President and COO Osamu Inoue talks to the Worldfolio.


Why can we consider Sumitomo Electric to be a 21t century innovator?

Last year, our R&D expenditure amounted to 117.7 billion JPY (1,070 million USD). For this year, we have budgeted a staggering 125 billion JPY (1,136 million USD). This dedication to R&D allowed us to create new businesses, such as a concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) system that has twice the conversion efficiency of standard crystalline silicon photovoltaic. While developing new businesses is a crucial goal of our R&D, we also focus on enhancing the quality of our existing businesses. For example, we have developed low-attenuation optical fiber for submarine transmission systems. For submarine optical fiber, high durability and reliability is required to realize long-term use without repair or replacement, and low-attenuation performance is essential to improve transmission efficiency and reduce system costs. Last year, we made a world record for the lowest attenuation fiber.

In the area of wire harnesses for the automotive industry, we developed new aluminum-based products and they have been in widespread use across the globe. Since aluminum weight is half that of conventional materials, it has been used to create lightweight vehicles. We have also developed aluminum pipe harnesses mounted under the floor of the electric vehicle. The use of aluminum pipe for the high-voltage harness achieves space saving and weight reduction.


What will be the impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution on our societies?

Together with the 4th industrial revolution comes the rise of new businesses, such as Amazon’s innovative logistics. In our modern world, the very core of business is changing. From production to sales, the entire lifecycle of consumption is altered. Service-based industries are being transformed. Soon enough, health, pharmaceutical, and public services will have evolved into new models. Over the last 20 years, manufacturing has been about mass production, and all consumers utilized similar products and devices. With the 4th Industrial Revolution, service is adapted to individuals and products are customized to suit specific needs. Under the scheme of Japan’s decreasing demographic, customization will further be accentuated. Innovative technologies, such as AI and IoT, are becoming means to personalize services to customers.

At Sumitomo Electric, we are leveraging on the 4th Industrial Revolution by playing an active role in the development of 5G networks. To that end, we are developing advanced optical fiber products. We have developed ultra-high density optical fiber cable, and we are currently developing even more advanced products soon to be commercialized.


Experts claim that the 4th industrial revolution will also be a green one. What activities do you pursue towards sustainable business development?

Sumitomo Electric contributes to the sustainable development of the world by focusing on renewable energies. In Morocco, we recently installed an R&D plant for concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) system generation. We have successfully completed the construction of advanced solar panels. Our 1MW CPV enjoys high energy production efficiency and is able to operate in high temperature areas. The technological uniqueness to Japan and to Sumitomo Electric is that these panels follow the sun’s movement so as to maximize solar power generation.

Our technological advances in power transmission is another example of Sumitomo Electric’s sustainable drive. In our efforts to develop overhead conductors and power cables, we have achieved various important technical milestones, such as HTLS conductors and HVDC (HTLS: High Temperature Low Sag, HVDC: High Voltage Direct Current) cables, and we are pursuing further research to constantly ameliorate the characteristics of our materials and products. For example, our low-loss overhead conductor can diminish electrical power loss by 20% compared to conventional overhead conductors.

Another example is found in batteries. In order to store energy from renewable generation such as solar or wind into the batteries, we have developed a redox flow battery. Using this battery system, we can store enough energy in the daytime to supply electricity during the nighttime into one single battery system. The2MW / 8MWh pilot project is currently under operation in California in order to collect data for the further optimization of its unique characteristics.

We have also developed EV quick-charger connector assembly (CHAdeMO Conformity) for electric vehicles. The product name is SEVD™-Series. Within the EV field, we are also producing next-generation ultra-light wire-harnesses.


SUMITOMO ELECTRIC has been involved in international submarine cable project since the 1960’s. More recently, you are participating in a project that aims to install the world’s highest voltage DC XLPE insulated cable across the English Channel, effectively connecting Belgium and England. Can you tell us more about the technologies that were utilized in the cable project?

For high-voltage direct current (HVDC) cables, our unique insulation technology has allowed us to pursue extra-high voltage cable technology with other valuable characteristics. HVDC transmission interconnectors used to be built with cables using paper and oil for insulation. Since the 1980’s, Sumitomo Electric researched new plastic-based materials, and has successfully developed its own proprietary DC-XLPE (XLPE: Cross - linked Polyethylene) insulation material. This state-of-the-art material does not used any paper nor oil, and is therefore more eco-friendly.
We have also achieved a world record for the most powerful HVDC XLPE cable systems. In its long history, Sumitomo Electric also supplied the world’s first DC-XLPE 250KV cable system. Aiming for connecting Hokkaido island and Honshu island in Japan, this project was completed in 2012 and has been successfully operated since then.

We also commercialized the DC-XLPE 400kV cable system in 2010. While we began our in-house prequalification test aligned with the international standard, Nemo Link, --the joint venture between National Grid in UK and Elia in Belgium, and the owner of the interconnector cable project between Belgium and the UK- recognized our innovative technology excellent quality control system, and proven track record in Japan. We were awarded the Nemo Link project by showcasing our DC 400kV interconnector using the DC XLPE cable. This HVDC cable can carry up to 1 GW of power, an astonishingly high bulk power for a transmission line. And also, HVDC technology can lower the electrical loss for long-distance power transmission compared with HVAC technology. After the commissioning, this project will enable NEMO link to fulfill the energy transmission demands between UK and Belgium. This groundbreaking technology combines higher bulk power with lower transmission loss.

Throughout its history, Sumitomo Electric has always been a pioneer in material development and power cable innovation. We were the first in the world to develop numerous era-defining power cables and we will further expand our business to meet the demand of modern societies. Europe shows excellent growth potential and we will contribute to the creation of a more prosperous world through our superior technology.

In order to strive into this ever-evolving market, we are introducing innovative products. First, our DC-XLPE cable can be operated at a high temperature of 90 degrees Celsius, compared to the 70 degrees of our competitors. In warm areas such as Asia, this technology provides answers to climatic issues, reducing investment burden, and enhancing transmission capacity.

In Japan, our first HVDC-XLPE cable system was built by combining underground cable and overhead conductors under severe conditions. In comparison, HVDC projects in Europe are built with underground cables and there are no overhead lines. In the case of overhead lines, lighting and thunder strikes pose a great risk. Technically speaking, when lightning strikes an overhead conductor, the electric polarity within the line consisting of overhead conductors and cables can quickly change to negative or positive, causing system failure. In order to provide reliable cable systems, we have created an original design suited for special cases. Our insulation material is robust and strong, and prevents system failure as our HVDC cable system can be operated under polarity reversal. This combination of expertise can save cost, enhance reliability, and ameliorate transmission capacity. We have two on-going HVDC-XLPE cable projects which comprise underground cables and overhead conductors in Japan and India. We expect these systems to flourish in other countries as well.


Can you tell us more about the regions that will be affected by this project and technology?

Everywhere. Wherever the area and whatever the climate, our HVDC solutions offer great adaptability. As our HVDC technology is characterized by low loss for long-distance power transmission, it will be utilized to connect regions and nations alike.

Because of its need for interconnectors, the European continent will be our main target, with England and Germany showing outstanding potential. To answer for this growing demand, we recently expanded our manufacturing facility in Hitachi City. The plant can deliver submarine cables in a range of 100 kilometers in a row, without any offshore joints.


With the NEMO-link project, you became the first non-European corporation to win a contract for an international interconnector project in Europe. How did you do convince the market to entrust Sumitomo Electric?

Although we were a newcomer to the European market in terms of HVDC cable business, we have always been recognized as a technological leader in the field. In our century-old history, we have established an outstanding track record of reliability and quality on cable systems. Domestically, we have undergone massive projects, such as the project commissioned in 2012 for manufacturing cables to connect Hokkaido and Honshu as the world’s first DC-XLPE 250kV cables. Our long history and our proven technology convinced Nemo Link (National Grid and Elia).

As a result, we were awarded the world’s highest DC 400kV XLPE cable project among all the HVDC XLPE transmission line. Our superior technologies and proven track records were enough to convince the market of our capability.


What products do we employ every day that couldn't exist without SUMITOMO ELECTRIC? 

First of all, we have a 27% share, in wire harnesses for the automotive sector in terms of volume. If you drive a car such as Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford, Volkswagen, Fiat or Chrysler, you probably use our products without realizing. Our production of these wire harnesses is essential for automobile manufacturers to produce their cars and delivery them to the consumers. We are proud to keep delivering our wire harnesses on time.

Secondly, we are one of the leading players in the optical fiber sector. We produce optical fiber preforms that only a limited number of companies can produce. We supply the preforms to fiber manufacturers to meet globally growing demand for optical fiber cable. Today, global data traffic is rapidly increasing to support Internet and mobile phone networks, and we support the daily life of people with our technologies.


What is your Vision for the future of Sumitomo Electric?

In short, we want to pursue the business philosophy of the three principles*. This philosophy has been our foundation in conducting our business activities for 120 years. In the era of AI and IoT, the way of business itself is changing. But I would like to sustain our company for another 100 years, placing a high value on the basis and culture.

As we are a leading manufacturer and our products are essential for industry, we shall fulfill our responsibility to industry and contribute to society in any circumstances.

* Sumitomo Electric’s corporate philosophy abides by these three philosophies:
Banji-nissei, which means “do your sincere best, not only in business, but also in every aspect of your life.”
Shinyo-kakujitsu, which emphasizes the importance of integrity, or being worthy of other’s trust.
Fusu-furi, which underlines the importance of working proactively by quickly and appropriately responding to changes in society and not being content with the status quo. It also emphasizes the importance of harmonizing business gains with the public interest and scorns reckless or careless actions in pursuit of easy gain.




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